Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape
The Cultural Landscape of Nagarparkar is located at the southern limit of the vast Thar desert, where old stabilized sand dunes and the flat alluvial plain meet the marshy, tidal mudflats of the Runn of Kutch, and the Arabian Sea. Until as late as the 15th c. this area was covered by the Arabian Sea which extended northwards to the pink granite Karunjhar hills. Today these hills in the eastern part of the Runn surround the area of Nagarparkar and form the only raised, dry land in this dramatic locale. Areas to the west and east which were formally sea are now alluvial marshland and brackish ponds, part of the Runn of Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary and RAMSAR site.
The Nagarparkar landscape was an important centre of Jain religion and culture for centuries. The Jains were maritime merchants and financial advisors to the Rajputs, the Mughals and the Sultans of Delhi. They dominated trade and commerce in the region through the port of Parinagar, believed to have been founded in the 5th c. BC. Traces of port facilities are still visible in the nearby village of Dotar, or Doo ptar meaning two landing places.
The Karunjhar hills were a place of pilgrimage called Sardhara where there is a Jain temple of Mahadeve and a ritual pool. The hills contain many sacred spaces associated with Jain munis, followers of Lord Mahavira and Parsanatha, where Yogis and Jain munis prayed and practiced austerity.
The wealth of the Jain community was reflected in the richness of their temples. The towns of Nagarparker, Gori, Viravah, Bodhesar, contain remains of numerous Jain temples dating from the 12th to 15th centuries which appear to be the high point of Jain culture. The Temple at Gori is an excellent example; built on a high platform and reached by a series of steps carved into the rock, it is made of huge stone slabs and grand columns expertly carved with objects of Jain worship. The temple is built in the classical Jain style, with one main temple surrounded by 52 smaller shrines, each housing one or more images of Jain prophets. The interior of Gori temple was adorned with paintings of Jain religious imagery which are older than any other frescos in the Jain temples of North India. Apart from this fabulously carved temple, there is a cluster of three other temples at Bodhesar built in 1375 AD and 1449 AD. Two temples with corbelled domes are built of kanjur and redstone, and are finely carved. The third temple, which is raised on a platform, is believed to have been built by a Jain woman and is locally called Poni Daharo.
Other significant Jain temples and remains of religious institutional buildings and water tanks are found in the villages of Nagarparkar, including the outstanding “bazaar” temple, Bodhesar, Viaravah, Kasbo and Gori. The text “Shri Gaudi Parshvanath Stavan” by Nemavijaya, written in Tharparkar region itself in 1706, describes the Parkar country as the most glorious of all regions of India.
The Jain influence declined due to the shifting of the sea away from Parinagar and the other centres of Jain settlement and economic activity. Originally the Nagarparkar area was on the edge of an open marine gulf which gradually turned into an estuary as silt was deposited by the Indus River system. This was augmented by major tectonic events which led to the westward migration of channels of the Indus and the transformation of the Rann of Kutch into saline mudflats and land locked the area of Nagarparkar.
The changes in the coastline and trade routes caused the Jain population to decline significantly in the 19th century and the last remaining Jain community left the area in 1947 at Partition. The faith still thrives in Indian Rajasthan across the border and many of the temples there, all of them named Godiji Parshwanath, trace their ancestry to much earlier religious centres such as Gori in Nagarparkar.