STANDING TALL: One of the finest specimens of a manastambha is found at Neminatha basadi  at Hiriyangadi, in Dakshina Kannada district. Photo by the authorPillars of history

Manastambhas — tall free-standing monolithic ‘pillars of eminence’ are an important part of Jaina architecture and are found in front of many Jain temples or basadis. They are also considered sacred pillars, with a few having a small statue of a deity on top of the structure. These majestic pillars are meant to curb the ego of the viewer. Manastambhas are also treated as Jayastambhas of Tirthankaras - Jina’s ‘pillar of victory’. They are not to be confused with other pillars such as Dhwajastambha, Garudastambha and Brahmastambha.

One of the finest specimens of a manastambha is found at Neminatha basadi in Hiriyangadi, in the Karkala taluk of Dakshina Kannada district. Usually, ‘pillars of respect’ are built in order to set up a Jaina shrine. But at Hiriyangadi, it’s the other way round. Here, a Jinalaya was founded for the sake of saving the grace of a ‘pillar of eminence’.

Standing at a height of 52 ft, it is the second tallest manastambha in Karnataka, right after the 65-ft manastambha at Chandragiri, which is placed before the Jina Parsva temple. The pillar was originally conceived to be set up in front of the thousand-pillared basadi — Tribhuvana Choodamani at Moodabidri. Local tradition has it that the Chowtas — local rulers of Moodabidri region, got the Manastambha made to order by skilled sculptors. But, after the artistes chiselled it to perfection, it was found that due to its size and weight, transportation, particularly crossing the rivulet, was impossible. With much reluctance, it was left at Hiriyangadi, the place of its execution. Realising this unique accomplishment, Bhairavarasa of Karkala, immediately swung into action and commissioned a new temple called Nemisvara basadi at Hiriyangadi, which was exclusively built to complement the magnificent manastambha. The construction of Nemisvara Chaithalaya (Neminatha basadi) at Karkala is referred to in an inscription of Bhairava I, who established the hegemony of the Kalasa house over Karkala region for the first time in the latter half of the 14th century. His grandson Pandya erected this manastambha, in the mid-15th century.

The manastambha is constructed over a platform with conventional mouldings in a pyramidal order. The high platform has all the angas, constituents of an adhishthana (seat, abode) such as upana (the footing of the adhisthana), jagati (a raised platform), vritta-kumuda (circular torus), kantha (recess between mouldings) and prati (plank moulding). The pillar is divided into many registers of which the lower portion is an austere square base followed by circular corrugated register and the rest of the entire circular pillar is divided into five registers with double circular bands. The apex of the pillar is treated with a series of tassels and over a huge palayi or abacus, it carries a small turret shrine. Inside the shrine is an exquisitely carved yaksha seated in the padmasana position.

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