Advocating nonviolence to all living things, Jainism – one of India’s most ancient religions – is also founded on the principles of renunciation and self-denial. It’s ironic, then, that its followers are among the country’s most prosperous. And money is clearly no object when it comes to their places of worship. Jain temples typically surpass all others in terms of sheer visual beauty, and many regard Mumbai’s best-known example as the finest outside the famed one in Rajasthan.
Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji, as it’s officially known, was built in 1904 in Walkeshwar in the Malabar Hill district. Two stone elephants flank the main entrance, where a series of ornate archways and pillars feature colourful sculptures and intricately carved flowers.
Inside, step across the beautifully tiled floors and you’ll find detailed paintings, statues and fine marble stonework that looks like lace. Then look up to marvel at the temple’s centerpiece: a dome ceiling painstakingly decorated with the symbols of the zodiac.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Adishwar (also known as Adinath or Rishabhdev), the first of 24 Jain ‘Tirthankaras’ or ‘Arihants’ – liberated souls who have attained omniscience. You can find statues of other deities, in addition to the main idol of Adishwar, throughout the temple, including an image of Lord Ganesh, the Hindu god, signifying the historical ties between Hinduism and Jainism. Scenes from the Jain scriptures also adorn many of the walls, providing further insight into this intriguing religion.
Due to their focus on nonviolence (ahimsa), orthodox Jains will go out of their way to avoid treading on an ant – some devout followers go so far as to carry brooms to sweep insects out of their path and wear masks to ensure they don’t breathe in even the tiniest living thing. Although visitors to Jain temples are obviously not expected to follow suit in this regard, you will need to be sensitive to the Jains’ customs around worship.
Dress modestly, don’t carry food, keep voices low and switch off your mobile phones. You may also have to leave shoes and other leather items outside. Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji is open daily from 5am to 9pm; you can get there by bus or taxi.