Jainism has flourished in Karnataka owing to the patronage of various dynasties ruling the region at different periods of time.
The myriad bastis (basadis), Gomateshwara statues and stambhas (pillars) are testimony to this. Kadambas of Banavasi, Chalukya kings of Badami, Gangas of Mysore, Rashtrakutas, Kalachuryas, Hoysalas and the emperors of Vijayanagara have all contributed in their own way to save these important Jain monuments in Karnataka.
The statues of Gomateshwara at Shravanabelagola and Dharmasthala are famous, and tourists and devotees throng these destinations. The triangle consisting of Moodabidri, Karkala and Venur are often missing in any devotee or tourist’s itinerary as they are not as popular as other places.
Hidden inside the quaint little beautiful towns are some of the very old Jain temples that are a standing testimony to the Jain hagiographic narratives. Each of the monoliths of Gomateshwara in Karnataka have their own distinctive attributes — be it the calm and undisturbed face at Shravanabelagola or the child-like smile at Venur or the meditative face with gravitas at Karkala. You will experience a sense of satisfaction and calm when you look at these big monoliths erected at beautiful locations.
Moodabidri, a small town 37 km northeast of Mangalore, is considered ‘Jaina Kashi’ of the South by many. ‘Moodu’ means east and ‘bidiru’ means bamboo, hinting at a probable widespread growth of bamboo in the region in ancient times. Earlier, this town was also known as Mooduvenupura and Kshemavenupura.
Moodabidri was the seat of the Chowtas, a Jain ruling family, and was governed by them for about 700 years. Of the cluster of 18 shrines in this town, the main attraction is the 1008-pillared temple (also known as ‘Savira kambada basadi’ in Kannada or ‘Tribhuvana tilaka chudamani’, which means the crest jewel of the three worlds).
This temple was constructed in three stages. Construction started during 1429-1430 under the aegis of Devaraya Wodeyar, the then governor of Mangalore-rajya, by a group of traders, councillors and devotees. Bhairadevi, the queen of Garesappa, built a mantapa in her name in 1462. In 1962, Queen Nagala Devi, the queen of Bhairava Raja, installed a 50-ft-tall monolith manastambha (column of honour). In Jainism, a manastambha stands tall in front of the samosharana (hall) which implies that one has to give up one’s pride and ego before entering the samosharana.
This beautiful three-storeyed structure houses seven mantapas that, in turn, are supported by various beautifully carved pillars in the Vijayanagara style. The top two storeys are carved in wood and the lowest one in stone. It is believed that no two pillars are identical. The eight-ft-high idol of Chandranatha Swami made of panchadhatu (an alloy of five metals) is present in the garbha griha (sanctum) and is considered to be a very sacred image of utmost importance in Jainism.
This ancient centre of Jain learning also houses a Jain Mutt that preserves some ancient and rare Jain palm-leaf manuscripts of 12th century AD known as ‘Dhavala texts’. It is believed that these old Jain texts were shifted from Shravanabelagola to the safer Moodabidri during invasions.
Some of these painted palm-leaf manuscripts date back to 1,060 AD and were much revered, as this was the only copy of the ‘Siddhanta’ (collection of three ancient manuscripts: ‘Dhavala’, ‘Jayadhavala’ and ‘Mahadhavala’).
Situated in the Belathangady taluk of Dakshina Kannada district, 20km from Moodabidri and 54 km from Mangalore, Venur was the capital of the Ajila kings who ruled the region from 1154 to 1786.
The beauty of this place seems to be the origin of its name, as it is believed that people who were wonderstruck by its beauty used to exclaim ‘Enu-ooru’ (‘What a village!’) and with the passage of time, it became ‘Venur’ or ‘Venooru’. Another story says that the presence of 700 (‘elu-nooru’) Jain Śsravakas in the region was also a reason.
Jain king Thimmanna Raja Ajila, a direct descendant of Chamundaraya, the one who built the monolith at Shravanbelgola, is supposed to have erected the 35-ft statue of Bahubali. This statue was sculpted by the legendary Amarshilpi Jakanachari.
It is said that king Immadi Bhairavaraya of Karkala waged a war against Ajilas of Venur when they came to know about the construction of this statue and ordered that the statue be sent to Karkala. Ajilas refused and hid the statue under the sands of River Phalguni that used to flow along the town. Ajilas won and later installed the statue in 1604.
The monolith stands on a pedestal facing westwards. The long ears almost touch the shoulders, the curly entwined hair along with the juvenile smile flanked by two seven-tiered brass lamps on top of the pedestal blend in nicely in this sculpture.
Bahubali’s statue at Venur is the shortest of all the three statues in a 250-km radius. The first ever Mahamasthakabhisheka of this statue was performed in 1928 and the most recent one was in early 2012.
The etymology of the name of this town begins with Pandya Nagari and then Karikallu and Karkal and then finally Karkala. Kari-kal means black stone in Tulu and is the perfect name for this town which is supposed to be sitting on top of a 300–500-ft-thick granite bed. Karkala is situated 52 km north-east from Mangalore. The concrete steps off the road followed by a series of rock-cut steps lead us to a table-top on the hillock. The 42-ft -tall statue of Lord Bahubali, the second largest in the region, looks upon us with a gracious smile.
This statue was erected by Veera Pandya of the Santara family in 1432 AD. In 1437 AD, a 54-ft-tall Brahmadeva stambha (manastambha) carved out of a single rock was installed in front of the statue of Gomateshwara.
There is a sense of meditational gravity in the monolith’s face. The sculpture of Brahma on the top of the pillar (manastambha) is an example of excellent workmanship.
If travelling via bus, take the Moodabidri-Venur-Karkala route, in this order. There are buses from Karkala to Udupi and you do not have to come back to Moodabidri, if you are particular about not retracing your path.