Recently, a former classmate Sofía posted that Palitana (A town in West India, Capital of the Jain Religion) has become the first town in the world where eating meat is illegal. This update by itself has caused a lot of controversy, even among my friends. I have vegetarian and vegan friends with a strong stand on the subject as well as devoted carnivorous friends. Far from wanting to have a discusion on this post, I will share my experience of my visit to this interesting place in India.
Traveling to Palitana
It has been already a long time ago when I was living in crazy India doing my AIESEC internship. Many memories are still very fresh in my elephant memory. I went to Palitana on a Sunday with my Bulgarian friend Verginia and my Polish friends Aleksandra, Joanna and Maciej. We took an overnight bus to arrive there. The bus was crowded. The girls sat all the way in the back seats. Maciej and me took other random seats. In the middle of the night, Ola (A Polish diminutive for Aleksandra) said to me if we can switch places. There was an Indian man bothering her. We switched place. The man with a funny moustache was deeply sleeping. Well, he can’t be that annoying I said to myself. I could not be more wrong! Obviously the guy was snoring louder than Donald trump with microphone. But that was not the only problem. With the movement of the bus, he started to lean to my shoulder, and then to my chest. India got me super patience abilities, but when I got fed up, I pushed him gently with my shoulder. The bus did an abrupt turn and the guy ended up sleeping on my lap. Well, this is India, I have to be always prepared to deal with humour with this kind of unexpected things.
Palitana is a small city in the state of Gujarat that should have less than 60,000 inhabitants, most of them belonging to the Jain religion (I will explain later). Palitana’s main attraction is a mountain called Shatrunjaya (Place of Victory). This hill has 863 temples squeezed at the top. They are not big temples and no one lives there. (Except the Gods). The Place opens around 6:30am so my European friends and me went down from the bus straight to hike our way up the mountain. The Indian man with the moustache didn’t even say “Dhanyavaad” to me for being his pillow the entire trip. As we were going up, I was amused to see that 2 very skinny Indians with a kind of hammock called doli between them, offered their services of being carried with the doli to go up hill. A very fat Indian man payed them to be carried up. Poor skinny guys!
The view from the top of the hill was amazing. An the great number of perfectly symetric temples was breath-taking. It took the Jain community over 900 years since the 11th century to construct this site. My European friends were grasping the spirituality of the place and breathing some air after the 2 hour walk uphill. I was monkeying around going up and down at all the temples. I wondered if the two skinny doli bearers should be still at the middle of the way carrying the fat Indian on the hammock. I don’t remember if we ended up visiting the 863 temples or if we did only 862. I’m not sure. However, it was very interesting to feel the peacefulness of the place and a nice spot to think about jainism and vegetarianism in India.
Jain Religion and Vegetarianism
Jainism was founded in the 6th century BC by a dude called Mahavira, a contemporary of Buddha and they rejected part of what the Hindu’s bible, the Vedas, preached. Jains believe that only by achieving complete purity of the soul can one attain liberation. Purity means sheeding all karma matter generated by one’s actions that binds itself to the soul. By following various austerities (fasting, meditation, lonely retreats, etc) one can shed karma and purify the soul. Fundamental to the right counduct they need to have is ahimsa (nonviolence) and this includes not killing any sentient being, including animals and plants. Thus, besides being vegan, they also can’t eat root vegetables (Onion, Carrot, etc) because you actually kill the plant for eating it. They also should use a broom to sweep the path before them to avoid stepping on any living thing. When I first read about Jain’s rule I first though it was too much and no one in this century followed this really hard rules, until I went to Gujarat, specially to Palitana. But it’s hard to believe too that Jain community is very wealthy compared to other religious communities in India and Gujarat’s fame of a wealthy state is part thanks to these folks. Strict vegetarianism is very common in Gujarat and there are many restaurants serving only Jain food (No Onion soup allowed).
That’s why I wasn’t surprised at all when Sofi posted the news that in this year, Palitana has become a strictly vegetarian town by law. You can decide what to think about it. Meanwhile, I will leave you some pictures of my trip there:
India, Lonely Planet, 9th Edition. 2003
In India, the first Vegetarian City, WorldCrunch. Consulted on March the 20th, 2016 at http://www.worldcrunch.com/culture-society/in-india-the-world-039-s-first-vegetarian-city/india-palitana-food-meat-fish-gujarat/c3s17132/