PALITANA – A Beautiful State of Mind

Dawn was just breaking as I started my climb at 5.45 up the 3700 steps to the Jain Temple at Palitana, nestled on top of a hill. There was not a soul visible in sight, which is so uncanny given that it was the day after ‘Samvatsari’ which is the day of forgiveness. The peace, serenity and vibrations were such that I felt if anyone were to describe ‘Devlok’ it would be this.

Dawn was just breaking as I started my climb at 5.45 up the 3700 steps to the Jain Temple at Palitana, nestled on top of a hill. There was not a soul visible in sight, which is so uncanny given that it was the day after ‘Samvatsari’ which is the day of forgiveness. The peace, serenity and vibrations were such that I felt if anyone were to describe ‘Devlok’ it would be this.

My feet were agile and I was myself quite surprised that this 60 year old body was nimble footed and felt no ache or pain. To add to that I had been fasting for over 36 hours after observing Ayambil* for 11 days. Paryushan the Jain festival of austerity coincided with my 12th Varthaman tap oli. Which calls for 11 days of Ayambil* and a complete fast on the 12th day. Since Samvatsari is the last day of the Jain Festival of Paryushan and considered very important I chose to also fast on Samvatsari. Thus in a span of 12 days I did Ayambil* for 10 days and fasted for 2 days. It might sound very easy now as I write this but trust me such a big change from my regular eating habits is a tough process and can be appreciated only if personally experienced. So here I was on a specific kind of one meal a day for 10 days, interspersed by two fasts.

I experienced something incredible, something uncanny, something I have not experienced in the past, on my pilgrimage to the Palitana Temple this year. A round trip to the temple and back takes around 3 hours and is known as a Jatra.

I have been fasting for 36 years and have completed many Jatras in the past but none which were this close to each other, none on a 36 hour fast, none which didn’t come with their share of sore knees and none which didn’t demand a three day recovery period.

On a strict fasting schedule and a full working day I was able to climb the hill 4 times in a span of 8 days, the last being on a complete fast. Not once did I experience any knee pain. Not once did I require a three day recovery period plus I had just crossed my 60th birthday so older than before. What changed? Where did I get this energy to complete 4 strenuous trips every alternate day which I had never been able to do before?

I myself have been trying to wrap my mind around it to find an explanation. Spiritually I would say it’s the power and energy at Palitana. From a religious aspect Jainism is full of ritualistic fasting, which today, has become popular as intermittent fasting, one meal a day, long fasts and are backed by science and longevity studies. Maybe it was a fine balance between spirituality and ritualistic fasting. Who knows! for me it was simply a miracle which definitely questions what modern man knows about fitness, health, age and nutrition.

Come to think of it, after personally experiencing it myself I feel that if anyone wants to test their endurance levels and resilience 3x, forget marathons and half marathons. It is here at Palitana, in the midst of tranquility and spirituality, on a fast, climbing 3700 steps, can one actually comprehend the true meaning of mind over matter. For me it was a fine example of testing my body (physical), mind (mental) and soul (spiritual).

*Ayambil is eating only one meal a day in moderation, devoid of spicy, sweet or sour flavours. Dairy, oils, fruits, dry fruits, vegetables and beverages are also not permitted. Only food made from primary grains and pulses like wheat, rice, green gram, chickpea and urad dal are allowed.

Opinions in this piece belong to the author: Ramesh Kumar Shah

Ramesh Kumar Shah is the founder of the RK Group, founder of RK Trust (rktrust.in) and co-founder of Harvard Business School Angels of India. Apart from being a businessman, he is keenly involved in making as much of a difference in people’s lives as he can, most recently through the Let’s Mask India initiative, that provides a free mask to all the residents of Bangalore. 

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