At the pilgrimage site of Shatrunjaya, near Palitana, more than 900 temples crown the summit of a pair of hills. Each temple enclosure is named after the merchant who funded it. A young Jain man at Shatrunjaya explains:
“Many of the Jains were wealthy traders and merchants, and they would use their wealth for philanthropic acts such as building temples. The temples here were built by such people. There are many others all over India but this is the most popular site.
There were many Jains in places like Ahmedabad and Surat doing trade with the Arabs who were just across the sea, and then the British arrived in Surat so we did trade with them too. I’m a student and I’ve travelled here on a kind of pilgrimage from Bombay, where there’s a big Jain community. As well as the religious aspects, the temple complexes are important as they first provide work for people building them, and eventually the area becomes a centre for trade and commerce.”
Although Jains make up less than 1% of the population of India, their community has been very influential for more than 2,500 years. Jainism has similarities to Hinduism, with a shared respect for nature and non-violence, and the number of Jains has declined as some have converted to Hinduism.
Jains are found working as merchants and traders all over India, but a very large proportion of them live in Gujarat. As many Jains avoid using public transport, white-robed figures, often barefoot, can frequently be seen walking along the roadsides in Gujarat.