A legacy filled with culture

A legacy filled with culture

A legacy filled with culture
Karkala is a small town snugly seated amidst the sylvan environment of the Sahyadri ranges in Udupi district, about 52 km from Mangaluru. This town is of historical importance because of its Jain heritage and is a revered pilgrim centre for Jains. A recent visit to Karkala revealed the glory of the town’s heritage structures and monuments that have stood the tests of time, weather and human intervention.

This town was called Pandya Nagari during the period of the Jains, and later came to be known as Karikallu (due to the black stone abundantly found here) and finally, Karkala. According to history, Karkala was originally ruled by the Alupas, who were feudatories of the Kadambas in the 6th century. Later, the Bhairarasa Wodeyars came to power in this region.

Historically, Jainism received huge patronage from the rulers of Karnataka region, merchants and the common people. It became a powerful force, especially in the coastal regions. Several basadis were built all along, the prominent ones being at Bhatkal, Moodbidri, Upponi, Venur, Naregal, Kumta and Karkala.

Right from the reign of the Kadambas of Banavasi until the Vijayanagar period, Jainism received patronage as well as generous financial grants from Kannada kings. Jain monuments of the Rashtrakuta period are found at Pattadkal, Lakshmeshwar, Koppal and Bankapur. The Kalyani Chalukyas also built many Jinalayas including the ones at Lakkundi and Lakshmeshwar.

The Chathurmukha Basadi, Neminatha Basadi, Vardhamana Basadi and two Parsvanatha basadis are important Jain monuments built during the Vijayanagar era.

Towering wonder
The monolithic statue of Gomateshwara (Bahubali) stands tall and majestic on a rocky hill. This statue of 42 feet (13 m) is the second tallest in Karnataka. The statue is also in kayotsarga posture and has all the 32 mahapurusha lakshanas like broad shoulders, elongated ears, palms stretching up to the knees, curly hair, etc., with creepers entwining both forehands.

A narrow winding road takes you to the top of the hill, right up to the gates of the shrine. A huge prakara or stone wall resembling a fortress goes all around the  complex. A panoramic view of the town and the hills covered with lush green trees could be had standing inside the compound of the complex. You also get a long-shot view of the Chathurmukha Basadi built on another smaller hill on the western side.

Just before the gateway to the main parikrama (inner compound), you will come across a giant stone pillar on top of which is seated the statue of Brahmadeva, facing the sanctum. There is also a small carving of a yaksha within a niche on the pillar. The towering statue of Bahubali stands in the centre of the parikrama, bordered with low stone walls.

It is placed on an elevated granite podium, which is decorated with carvings of lotus flowers. It is believed that this statue was commissioned in 1432 by Veera Pandya Bhairarasa Wodeyar. Behind the statue of Bahubali, there is a small stone mantapa where several small statues representing the Jain Tirthankaras are installed.

Four-way symmetry
Chaturmukha Basadi is a symmetrical Jinalaya built on a rocky hill at Karkala. Built in the shape of a square mantapa, it has a lofty doorway and many pillared porticos on each of its four sides. It got the name Chaturmukha because of the four identical doorways in four directions with steep steps leading to the sanctum sanctorum.

Inside the sanctum, there are three polished black stone idols of Jain Tirthankaras on all the four sides. They represent Aranatha, Mallinatha and Munisuvratanatha. There are also small statuettes of 24 Tirthankaras and Yakshis inside the sanctum. One peculiarity here is that there are no bells, drums or cymbals, making the shrine’s environment absolutely silent and an ideal venue for meditation.

The basadi does not have a vimana or dome on top, but instead, has a flat terraced roof. There are 108 sculpted granite pillars inside and outside the structure. The basadi is surrounded by a tall stone wall like a fortress with an entrance gateway facing the road below. A flight of stairs cuts into the slopes of the rocky hill, taking you to the gateway on top.

It is believed that it took 30 years of toil by several sculptors to create this wonderful monument. Consecrated by Veera Pandya Deva, the king of Bhairavarasa royal family in 1432, this basadi was completed in 1586 by King Immadi Bhairava. Below the basadi, on the other side of the road, is a small lake called Ramasamudra.

The Jain basadis of Karkala stand out like splendid examples of architectural and sculptural beauty reminding us of the charms of the Jain heritage of the locale. Surrounded by the charming, serene and unpolluted environment of the Sahyadri ranges, Karkala is indubitably a delight to visit.

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