The Gori temple in Tharparkar was dedicated to Lord Parshwanath, the 23rd Jain prophet who preached in the 8th century BC. Several Jain texts give an account of the history of the temple and legends surrounding it. The text “Shri Gaudi Parshvanath Stavan” by Nemavijaya was written in Tharparkar region itself. It mentions that the legendary image was brought to Bhodesar by a wealthy merchant called Megha Sa, in 1375 AD from Patan, a famous city in North Gujarat. The image was originally installed in 1171 AD, however it was buried and later found by someone in Patan. Megha Sa purchased it for 500 coins and brought it to his hometown. An angel appeared to him in a dream and instructed him to build a temple at a specific site in the desert where freshwater and rocks needed for construction would be found. Megha Sa built a temple and established a village named Gori near it. The account narrates several dramatic events in his life and mentions that the shikhar or central tower was finished by his son Mahio.
The temple is built in the classical Jain style. Like the famous Vimal Vasahi temple of 1021 AD at Mount Abu and the 1848 Hutheesing temple at Ahmedabad, it has one main temple surrounded by 52 smaller shrines, each housing one or more images of Jain prophets. It has 52 domes just like Vimal Vasahi. Unlike Vimal Vasahi, however, the interior of Gori temple was adorned with paintings.
Gori temple became a famous pilgrimage centre. An inscription of 1715 mentions some repairs as well. An Englishman named Stanley Napier Raikes visited the area in 1854. He writes that the main image was moved by the local ruler Soda Sutojee to a fort in 1716. It was kept buried and used to be taken out after a few years with great festivities that lasted a few days, and reburied in a secret location again. In 1832, the local ruler died in captivity without revealing where the image was buried.
When Jain Muni Vidyavijayaji visited Sindh in 1937, he noted that the temple was empty, but was guarded by a local Bheel. The temple was damaged because of a battle between the local chief and the British forces at one time, and an earthquake.
Because of the changes in the coastline and trade routes, the Jain population had already declined when Raikes had visited. About 400 or so Jains still in the area, left in 1947 when Partition took place. But the memory of the temple survives.
Many temples today are named Godiji Parshwanath in the memory of the original. Many of them are believed to have an image brought from the Gori temple. A majority of them are in the adjacent Rajasthan and Gujarat, but some are as far away as Hyderabad in South India. The original temple is now a legend and an enigma to the Jains.
Many Kutchi Jains, who now have a presence in not only Mumbai, but in other countries as well, have a historic connection with Tharparkar region. Some Jain clans even trace their descent from Megha Sa, the builder of the Gori temple.
Even setting aside legends and tradition, there is still something that makes the Gori temple unique – the paintings within the ranga-mandap dome. These paintings are older than any other frescos in the Jain temples of North India, with the exception of Ellora. In India, the temples have been renovated and any old frescos have been painted over. Gori paintings are also older than any other surviving frescos in Pakistan, with the possible exception of some Gandhara fragments.
By Prof. Dr. Yashwant K. Malaiya