A result of the incredible number of elements that make up the concoction called Indian culture is that you never stop experiencing, and learning, new things. There’s always an interesting place to visit that you have heard little, or not at all, of. There’s always a new story to regale you at every crossroad. I have traveled extensively through Rajasthan, and can never stop marveling at how much more it keeps offering on every visit. Jodhpur is one of my favorite destinations in the state – a great deal because of the imposing Mehrangarh Fort, which takes my breath away every time I see it in person. But, just about 70 km from the Blue City, on a diversion off the Jodhpur – Bikaner highway, is an ancient town that I knew very little about, and which I got to visit recently. This is the beautiful town of Osian, often called the Khajuraho of Rajasthan because of its many stunning temples with intricate carvings.
Photo by Icekrish
Osian had occasionally come up in my conversations with a couple of friends about the history of Jainism in the past. Oswal Jains, one of the main groups in the Jain community, find their origin in this town. The opportunity to visit the place was also because of this connection – a friend’s family was organizing a major function here, and I had the time to join him for a weekend trip. I was, of course, more interested in sight-seeing than sitting through another religious ceremony.
The town is believed to have established itself as a major business center by the Gupta period (320-550 CE). Known by various names, including Uvasisala and Upkesapur-pattana, it probably saw the greatest prominence under the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty, which ruled from the 7th to the 11th centuries. An important Shaivite center for many centuries, the people of the town are believed to have converted en masse to Jainism sometime in the 10th century, turning it into a major hub for the fast spreading religion. The town’s prosperity attracted an invasion from Muhammad Ghori in 1195, resulting in destruction of many of its temples and mass exodus of its residents. Some temples did remain standing, most of which have been carefully restored over the years, making it an important pilgrimage center for Jains, especially the Oswals and the Maheshwaris, as well as Hindus.
Photo Courtesy Tourmet.com
Places to Visit
Osian is predominantly a religious town, so pretty much all sites worth visiting are temples. Even if you are not particularly into religion (like me), the variety of these temples, and the beautiful architecture, will floor you completely.
Sachiya Mata Temple – Built in 12th century, this temple is dedicated to the wife of Indra. The magnificently carved arches that form the entrance to the temple are a testament to the design prowess of the people who built this structure. The complex houses a number of beautiful temples and sculptures apart from the idol of Sachiya Mata. This is an important pilgrimage center for both Hindus and Jains, particularly for the Bafna Jain community.
Photo Courtesy CheersBye Blog
Jain Mahavira Temple – Built in the 8th century, the temple is probably the most architecturally refined in Osian. This is saying a lot, given the general exquisite nature of construction across most historical structures in the town. The carved images of gods and goddesses (and young maidens), are a sight to behold.
Surya Temple – Dating back to the 10th century, this temple dedicated to the sun god also houses idols of Ganesha and Durga. The temple’s ceiling is covered with images of serpents, a throwback to the pre-Jainism Naga traditions of this region.
Harihara Temple – Built across 8th and 9th centuries, this three-temple complex is dedicated to Harihara, the combined form of Vishnu and Shiva. The architecture of these temples is very distinct from that of other prominent temples of the region, but no less exquisite, the Radha-Krishna sculptures on its walls being a particular treat.
Photo Courtesy CheersBye Blog
Other Temples – There are close to 20 temples of varying importance in Osian, so you are not going to run out of options on a short visit. Two of the other more prominent ones that I could not visit, but have heard a lot about are the Kali Temple, an 8th century structure, and the Pipplala Temples, a relatively small complex dating back to the 9th century.
Other Things to Do
Osian is an oasis in the Thar Desert, which means it offers plenty of options for the adventure junkie in the form of desert jeep safaris and camel safaris. The town is also a great place to experience some royal desert camping, where you get to stay in luxury tents in the middle of the desert and pamper yourself with true Rajasthani hospitality.
Photo Courtesy The Osian Sand Dunes Resort & Camp
The best option to get to Osian is by road from Jodhpur, which is also the nearest airport. The closest prominent international airport is at Jaipur, about 350 km away. The town lies on the Jodhpur-Phalodi railway line and is served by several important trains. Accommodation can be an issue in the town itself, especially if your visit clashes with any of the frequent religious or marriage functions, so staying in Jodhpur and making a day trip might be a better option. The best time to visit is between November and March.
Featured Photo by Schwiki