Osian: It is known as the Khajuraho of the desert oasis

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Osian is well defined with the quote-“When patience, perseverance and hard work merge; masterpiece is created.”-Aliena. And these were the exact sentiments when I visited Osian. The temples are a classic combination of pilgrimage & architecture in the dunes. Above all, Rajasthan is dotted with Temples, Forts, Baodi and many architectural marvels. But Osian is a prognostication. Considered among the earliest medieval, Osian is famous as the home of Hindu & Jain temples. And I was set to explore this desert oasis- Osian, a UNESCO heritage.

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

Osian is also recognised as the Khajuraho of Rajasthan. It is a small town located 65kms from Jodhpur. Early history shows this small hamlet used to be a Brahmin centre. Here Vedas & other sacred manuscripts were specialised. During the Harsha Kalin (Gupta period) between 320-550CE Osian, it became an essential stop for the silk route’s camel caravan. Only the glory ended abruptly when Muhammed of Ghor, in 1195 AD, attacked the town. 

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan
abandoned temple

However, the city did prosper again. Under the flagship of the Gurjar Pratihar of the Marwar dynasty during the 7th -11th century. Upon entering the town, a few small shrines greeted us on either side of the road. Evidently, no attempt was made to protect the structures, as idols abandoned most.

As I drew near the temple complex, the tranquillity deemed the street’s noise, eyes stuck in the intricate carvings and mind absorbing the silence around. I can’t exactly explain the feeling, but temples affect our souls as we research them. Evidence suggests that Osian is an ancient settlement and the presence of Jainism since then. Legend states this place was founded by Utpaladeva, a Rajput prince of the Pratihara dynasty in 900-950 CE. During the prehistoric era, Osian was known as Ukesha or Upakesapura- which was narrated as the ‘Svastika’ -a mystical mark denoting good luck of the world in Nabhinandanajirnodhara Prabandha. Hence Osian is an important pilgrimage site for Maheshwari and Oswal Jainain’s community. 

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

Though it is conjectured from several bits of evidence that Acharya Ratnaprabhasuriji persuaded the people of Osian, he was mainly to become Jain since he had impressed the region’s populace with his supernatural powers. There is a strong belief among the Jains that Lord Mahavira, the last Jain Tirthankar, did pass through the tiny village of Khimsar on his way to the Thar desert. Even the impression of a pair of footprints along a stone slab believed to belong to Lord Mahavira. It is preserved with great reverence in a small temple on the outskirts of Khimsar. And this legend attracts a significant number of devout Jains to Osian. 

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

Jain Dharma is the system or religious philosophy. It is neither theistic nor aesthetic but beyond them. It predicts that the universe evolves without violating the law of substance dualism (mind & body). 

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

This thought inspires me to look beyond the closed circuit of the world. I explored this philosophy and walked toward the temple dedicated to Lord Mahavira. The 24th Jain Tirthankar was perched along a hilltop. Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

Chiselled out of red stone, the temple was constructed in 783 AD by Pratihar Raja Vasta. The temple has a sanctum, porch, Torana or ornamental arch in front of the porch and a closed hall. This temple is among the splendid and well-preserved Mahavir temples built in the 8th century. The main shrine holds the icon of Lord Mahavira in the Padmasana posture on a lotus. Approximately 32 inches high, this idol was established by Acharya Ratnapradasur. I was stunned by the detailed carving & the silence on the premises.

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

The Mandap (pavilion) with convex ceiling and pillars is ornately decorated with exquisite figures, which open onto a vast hall with 30 gracefully decorated posts. These galleries were known to be used for large gatherings. The carving has floral patterns which follow the famous vase and foliage pattern, and the plinths of these pillars are unusually wide. 

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

Even the doorway towards the sanctum was chiselled with a horde of young maidens. And on the other hand, intricately carved pillars adorn the central porch’s site. Amazingly, the carvings still retain sharp details. Maybe the dry air of the area has helped preserve it.Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

A niche in Mahavira Temple contains a sculpture of intertwined snakes worshipped by Oswal Jaina as Adhisthatr – devotees. This directs us to believe that a sizeable part of the populace in that period may have belonged to Naga extraction. It is supposed that the Nagabhatta, a Pratihara ruler of Mandor, have defeated the Nagas, for which he was named Nagabhatta-‘master of Nagas’. Hence the Pratiharas may have conquered these regions from the Nagas, which is also indicated in Nagapriyagachha of Jaina. Therefore the Nagas of Osian and the surrounding area continued serpent worship, even after their conversion to Jainism.

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

Still, there is parallel worship of Sachiya Mata by the Oswal community. This temple is a stark example of medieval architecture, built during the 8th century, but the existing structure is believed to have been constructed in the 12th century. The temple’s design was started by Upaldev, devoted to Sachi, Mata-known as Indrani, wife of Lord Indra ( the Rain God). In the temple complex are two other shrines dedicated to Chandi Devi and Amba Mata, respectively. Sachiya Mata Temple has been built in many phases, hence can be introduced through a sequence of a remarkably carved archways.

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

The temple’s core is decorated with beautiful icons and sculptures of deities from the Hindu pantheon. A statue of Varaha (Incarnation of Lord Vishnu as Boar) in the northern end, and on the east end image of Lakshmi-Vishnu, embellish the site. In the temple’s west end, a stone slab crammed with sculptures emerges from the wall. It’s worth watching the artistic brilliance of the temple. 

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

What astounded me more apart from the marvellous architecture was the monks dressed in pristine white & mouths covered, performing their daily chores and assigned duties—all undisturbed by the devotees’ presence, pilgrims or even tourists. I watched the head monk, dressed in a red dhoti and a bright yellow shawl, easily distinguished from the other monks, sit watching & delegating work. Everything was done in sync and in the same rhythm. Quite astounding!

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan


Walking around the complex, I saw that most shrines are devastated by the time’s ravages; however, 18 shrines still unfold the past majestic legacy. Amongst these temples, the oldest is the Surya temple dedicated to the God Sun. Built in the 10th century AD is perhaps the most elegant layout of the complex. Images of Gods and Goddesses that are reminiscent of the languid grace in the carvings of Khajuraho and the Sun Temple at Konark are engraved on the temple. The life-tale is depicted here in the form of murals and scriptures. 

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan
Sun Temple

The core sanctum holds a prominent Lord Surya idol; however, in the main hall, idols of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga could be determined. Also, the roof is adorned with pictures of serpents coiled around leaves and flowers. This temple is frequently compared with the structure of the Sun Temple in Ranakpur.

All at once, the spellbound sound of temple bells at dawn, announcing the time for prayers, adjoined the entire atmosphere of the place. And my nostrils are met by the known fragrance of sandalwood as I enter the Harihar temples. And the sound of rhythmic chanting was filling in the gentle wind. I could feel a sanctity and serenity of mind and heart that is little known outside the temples’ portals. Three red sandstone edifices with intricate carvings are dedicated to Harihar-symbolically the union of Vishnu and Shiva.

Established on a raised platform, this temple is considered an example of the most exemplary temple architecture, possessing the effusive and convoluted carvings adorning the pillars and walls, originating from the base and moving up to the pinnacle of the spires (known as Shikharas). 

Osian: The Khajuraho of Rajasthan

The first two temples are believed to be fabricated in the 8th century & the last one in the 9the century, where the architecture of these temples is considered far more advanced. My trip ended with the final temple dedicated to Pipala Devi temple built in the 9th century, a tiny temple among all structures.

Sitting on the temple’s porch, I realised life in Osian has not varied over the era. However, the rest of the nation did go through a metamorphosis. Travelling to these temples of Osian is like treading back in time. In contrast to the modern way of life we lead. The main religious premises of the Jain Dharma ahiṃsā (non-violence), Anekāntavāda (many-sidedness), Aparigraha (non-attachment) and Asceticism (abstinence from sensual pleasures) is seen accompanied by the sect rigorously. And the temples stand in their glory as living proofs of the architectural marvel. And yesteryear’s cultural ethos. As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said,” Architecture is the wall of an Epoch translated into space.” Osian is a fine example of it.

How to Reach:

By Air: 

Jodhpur airport is the nearest airport to Osian. About 70 km away from Osian. Outside the airport, a cab can be hired.

By Train: 

Osian is well connected, where the nearest Railway Station is Jodhpur, around 70 km away. You can hire a cab or bus from the railway station for Osian.

By Road: 

Osian is well connected to neighbouring towns and cities by road. There are state govt buses ply from Jodhpur and other cities. You can also drive your vehicle.






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