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Ashtäpad Tirth

e-Jain Digest I e-Jain Digest October 2009

Ashtäpad Tirth

Jain Center of America, New York (JCA)

Ashtäpad is one of the greatest Tirth in Jain Religion, which is regarded as lost. Jain Center of America, NY has created a replica of this Tirth carved out of crystal & gemstones and also trying to re-discover this lost Tirth.


History of Ashtäpad Tirth

The Jain scripture has singled out five central events (known as Pancha Kalyänak) that occur in a Tirthankar’s lifetime as the most auspicious moments. The last one is Nirvan Kalyanak. Nirväna-bhoomi, or the places where the Tirthankars attained the ultimate goal of breaking away from the cycle of life, has turned into key pilgrimage places (five Mahä Tirth) for the Jains.

As per Jain scriptures, the first Tirthankar Bhagawän Shri Rishabhadev had attained Nirväna on the Ashtäpad Mountain.Shri Ashtäpad Tirth is located in a tranquil region of the Himalayas. Chakravarti King Bharat (son of Shri Rishabhadev) had built a palace with precious stones at this place as a memorial to commemorate the Nirväna of Bhagawän Shri Rishabhadev. The name "Ashtäpad” is derived from the fact that there are eight (Ashta) steps (Pad) leading to the palace. Following legend associated with Ashtäpad describes details about the Tirthankars. Once after attaining absolute knowledge, Shri Rishabhadev Bhagawän was delivering a sermon while seated in Samavasaran. Out of curiosity, King Bharat asked if any human being present here would become a Tirthankar in the future. He replied affirmatively and said his son Marichi will become 24th Tirthankar after many life cycles and will be known as Mahävir. He subsequently explained the upcoming Chovisi (24 Tirthankars). This is how King Bharat came to know details of present Chovisi.


Development of Concept:

The Jain center of America in New York has constructed a new building for its temple and other religious activities. As a tribute to 24 Tirthankars, it is customary to make their idols and place them around Gabhärä - main place of worship in a temple. One wanted to install Shri Chovisi (24 idols of Tirthankaras) in the Bhamati area but due to lack of space this was not feasible. As thought process was evolving and the Jain Centre temple building blue prints were being finalized, one thought of making 24 idols out of gemstones and house them in "Ratna Mandir” which will need much smaller space. At this stage a preliminary design of the Ratna Mandir was drawn. While idea of the Ratna Mandir was taking shape, one happened to visit a temple in Jaipur & saw an Ashtäpad PAT; this was the turning point form "Ratna Mandir” concept into Ashtäpad”.


Preliminary work resulted in visualization of the actual Ashtäpad:

"Shri Ashtäpad Tirth is situated in the tranquil region of the snow covered mountains of Himalayas and is open to the skies. It is known by several names such as Ratnamay - A palace made of gemstones and houses 24 idols of Tirthankars made of gemstones, Rajatädri - Rajat Adri or Silver Mountain; because Ashtäpad Mountain is snow covered and looks like silver, and Sfatikächal - Sfatik Achal: meaning a mountain of crystal. The above description helped us in defining the attributes of the model for Ashtäpad Tirth. To be able to replicate the real scenario, a mountain should be carved out of crystal stone (naturally available in transparent and translucent shades) that could provide the look and feel of the snow-covered mountain. Provide eight steps at the base and 24 niches (Gokhaläs) for Shri Chovisi in the center of the mountain that will fulfill the desire of "Ratna Mandir”. The whole structure would be assembled to appear as a mountain. Thus the idea of making a model of "Shri Ashtäpad” with "Ratna Mandir” Chovisi installed on the Ashtäpad Mountain was born.


Development of the Ashtapad design:

Once the concept of Ashtäpad was firmed up, the next step was to develop a design of the model on the drawing board. It was important to identify all the constraints upfront because it is almost impossible to go back to make changes to a sculptured or carved product. Moreover precious material and months of craftsmanship work would be wasted if any constraints forced the change or necessitated discarding a particular model or part of it. Accordingly, a top down approach was adopted. The process began with assessment of available space for housing the final model, aesthetics and religious requirements and the process was carried on with required analysis to the material level.


Religious considerations:

Shri Chovisi: Positioning of any religious object is determined by the religious guidelines laid out in the scriptures or as directed by the Acharyas. The original design of Ashtäpad was four sided, also called as Sarvatomukhi – Omni-directional. Space constraint forced us to make a unidirectional unit viewable only from the front. Now an architectural blueprint was developed to a scale based on the available space. Height and width of the mountain (Ht 13’. 1” x W14’. 6” x D 5’. 1”) were determined according to the space available in the conservatory. The idol positions were determined for a unidirectional unit in four horizontal rows, one above the other. Four Tirthankars will be installed at upper level # 3 to 6 (9” in ht), eight at middle level # 7 to 14 (7” in ht) ten at lower level # 15 to 24 (5” in ht) & two at bottom level # 1 and 2 (11” in ht). Each gokhala has been carved with Asht Pratiharya design. Mountain has five shikhars with a kalash and a dhwaja.


Crystal & Gemstones:

The rough crystal stone weighing 30 tons was imported. After processing & carving, final weight of mountain is 7.5 tons. This will be supported on a 1.5 ton steel frame. Various colored gemstones were imported from all over the world and used to carve idols of different sizes. Each idol is carved from a single piece of rough stone as found in nature. The Gemological Lab certifies all stones. Each idol is carved as per religious rules and measurements. One has tried to use the best quality. These idols will form the part of the final unit.


Ashtapad related stories:

There are many stories related to Ashtapad. All these stories have been carved out of gemstones. Some are installed on mountain itself and others are displayed separately.


Collection of Literature:

One has collected lot of material from scriptures & compiled it in XVIII volumes, which include original literature on Ahstapad, pooja, stavans, exhibits, seminars & research related topics, etc. All this material is available on 2 DVDs. A master index & cross-reference is available in a booklet form. One is also trying to put it on the web.


Exhibitions and Seminar in Major Cities:

The Ashtäpad Model and all 3 Chovisi (72 idols of Tirthankars) and other idols were exhibited to many major cities. This was done with the purpose so that many people can pay their respect to all the 3 Chovisi. This way one makes people aware of Ashtäpad Tirth. The sixteen Volumes of Ashtapad Literature and many other items were also exhibited. Making of Ashtapad and Kailash Mansarovar research trip video was very well received. We have already exhibited it at Mumbai, New York, Jaina at NJ, Los Angeles, Antwerp, Palitana, Surat, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Delhi, and Kolkata. Research oriented seminars were held at Ahmedabad & Mumbai. We will be having more exhibits & we are planning for international seminar.


Research:

We have already undertaken two field trips to Kailash Mansarovar (KM) region to do preliminary research work. Satellite studies have helped us a lot in trying to locate the buried structure. We are trying to form an Ashtäpad Research International Foundation (ARIF) to coordinate the research work. It will be registered in India as well as overseas. ARIF will coordinate with Geological, Archeological, & other related departments of government of India & China. They will also approach various research institutes for help. A team of Geologists & Archeologists are involved. They have left for KM area on 4th of June 2009 for further exploration. We are trying to get high-resolution space satellite data of the area shown on the map. We will publicize the research work. This will create a lot of enthusiasm among younger generations, professionals & researchers.


Conclusion:

Shri Adinath era was dawn period of world civilization & if it can be located, it will tell us about early growth of human civilization. This will open a new chapter on world history and will become a potential source of information about religion and culture of that period.


Exhibit at Mumbai:

Mountain carved out of crystal along with 3 Chovisi & 9 Graha idols carved out of various colored gemstones was held from 22-24th of April 2009 at Mumbai. The turnout at the event was tremendous.


Adhar Abhishek: of 24 Tirthankars (Shri Chovisi):

Abhishek was performed at Mumbai on 25th of April 2009 under the guidance of Pujya Shri Nay Padma Sagarji Maharaj Saheb. Eleven Jain Sanghs from Mumbai took part in Abhishek.


Ashtapad Pooja:

Pooja was performed on 26th April 2009. 603 Varsi tap Tapasvi took part in Ishru Ras Prakshal (Sugar cane juice) of Shri Adinathji pratima on 27th April 2009 prior to parna.

Mountain Installation Ceremony: This ceremony was performed at JCA temple on 21st June 2009 along with JCA Pratishtha anniversary.


Pratishtha:

It is being planned that ceremonies will take place on June 20, 2010. Details will be sent soon.

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