Palitana: The world’s first vegetarian city

Palitana in Gujarat's Bhavnagar district is the world’s first vegetarian city where consumption and sale of non-veg food is prohibited. There are over 800 Jain temples on Shatrunjay Hills around Palitana where nobody is allowed to stay after the evening 

Team 30 Stades
Updated On
New Update
Palitana: The world’s first vegetarian city

Palitana: The world’s first vegetarian city. Pic: Bernard Gagnon

Palitana in Gujarat's Bhavnagar district is the first vegetarian city in the world where killing or eating animals or their eggs is prohibited. A revered destination for Jain followers, Palitana around the Shatrunjaya Hills is also called the Jain Temple Town. 

Housing 823 temples, it is a major pilgrimage centre dedicated to the 24 Tirthankaras or the holy saints of Jainism. Rishabhanatha (also Adinatha), the first Tirthankara of Jainism, gave his first sermon at the hilltop where his temple is located. The area is popularly known as Shatrunjay Teerth after the name of the hills.

Historically a site of salvation and nirvana for Jain saints, Palitana has another record to its credit – it is the only place in the world with over 800 temples on a hill. 

The temples were built over 900 years beginning the 11th century. Originally built by King Kumarpal Solanki of the Solanki dynasty, the temples were destroyed by Turkish Muslim invaders in 1311 AD. The current structures, mostly added in the 16th century, were reconstructed by wealthy local merchants who practised Jainism. 

Also Read: How one family has taken India’s 1,000-year-old temple architecture to the world

How Palitana became a vegetarian city

While Jains follow strict dietary rules and non-vegetarian food is a complete no-no, Palitana was not always a vegetarian town. Until 2014, people consumed meat and poultry and the town also had non-vegetarian restaurants. 

In June of that year, around 200 Jain monks went on a hunger strike for four days demanding a total ban on the sale of eggs and meat in Palitana given its status as the biggest pilgrimage centre for the Jains. 

The Gujarat government intervened and on August 14, 2014, it declared Palitana a ‘meat-free' zone. There is a complete ban on the sale of meat and eggs and animal slaughter and consumption is prohibited. Even fishing is not allowed. With this, Palitana became the world’s first vegetarian city. 

Palitana is the biggest Jain pilgrimage centre. Pic: Paras Shah/Wikipedia

However, there is no ban on the sale or consumption of dairy products. 

It is believed that Palitana is an abode of the divine, and therefore no one, including priests, is allowed to stay overnight. Some temples also remain closed during the monsoon months.

Also Read: Ellora’s Kailasa: The 1200-year-old temple carved from a single rock

The town serves as a hub for pilgrims, especially around the Shatrunjaya Hill, drawing large crowds from across India. As per the 2011 India census, Palitana had a population of 64,497. However, the numbers more than triple during festivals like Kartik Purnima which marks the end of four months of spiritual retreat and material self-denial coinciding with monsoon. 

The rising crowds during festivals have resulted in a proliferation of hotels and temporary accommodations across Palitana. 

Temples and architecture 

The temples are organized into tunks (enclosures), each featuring a central temple surrounded by smaller ones. The hill, located at an elevation of 7,288 feet (2,221 meters), can be reached by climbing over 3,750 stone steps. To assist those who find the climb difficult, sling chairs are available.

Intricate marble carvings on the temple show exquisite craftsmanship. Pic: Flickr

The code for climbers is stringent, reflecting the rigours of the Jain faith. Food is neither to be eaten nor carried along the way. The descent must begin before evening, as no one is permitted to remain on the sacred mountain overnight.

The temple complex is extensive, featuring both large shrines with marble halls and smaller shrines, some as small as 3 sq ft, each adorned with rich ornamentation. The use of marble transforms the appearance of the temples under sunlight, giving them an ivory-like sheen.

Also Read: Udaigiri caves: A repository of ancient shrines and mythological tales

The Adishwar Temple is the most prominent in Palitana. Made of marble with intricately carved interiors, it features geometric lace designs, elaborately carved ceilings, and clusters of canopies. The marble deity is adorned with gold ornaments studded with precious jewels. 

The town has an employment rate of 40 percent, with most residents involved in temple activities, business, or hotel management. A minor portion of the population engages in agriculture, as animal rearing is illegal.

Also Read: Maluti: Jharkhand’s 17th-century terracotta temples built by royal women to outdo each other

Look up our YouTube channel