Jainism in Karnataka flourished under the Ganga, the
Chalukya and Rashtrakuta dynasties. Due to the impetus given by
them, Jainism prospered like never before and what we see today is
the exquisite creativity that flowered under these dynasties.
The Jain legacy in
Karnataka can be traced back to a great event that occurred in 297 BC
when Chadragupta, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty, abdicated his
throne and came to Sravanbelagola in Karnataka to become a Jain
ascetic at the instance of his mentor, Bhadrabahu. He breathed his
last at this Jain centre and the place where he is said to have
sought recluse is appropriately name Chandragiri. A basadi
(Jain monastery or temple) at Sravanabelagola also carries his name.
In a number of later records he is referred to as Pradbha Chandra
Soon thereafter the Jain
church exhibited a steady growth and succeeded in firmly establishing
itself as a vital and powerful force due to its doctrines and
asceticism, morality and ahimsa (non-violence). With such
lofty notions, Jainism enjoyed the highest repute among the people
particularly the ruling classes and the mercantile community thus
virtually becoming the state religion. Imbued with an intense
religious feeling, lavish patronage was extended towards the building
of basadis, temples and magnificent statues. An epoch of
literary activities also ensued.
The earliest dated
structure is a basadi at Halasi built under the Kadamba
dynasty of Banavasi thus laying the foundation for Jain architecture
in Karnataka. Besides the Kadambas, dynasties such as the Gangas,
the Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas made liberal endowments towards
the propagation of art and architecture to which the Jain
contributions have been of classical significance. The Chalukyas of
Badami built cave temples at Badami and Aihole. Puligere was a
strong centre of religious activities of the Jain monks during this
era. Many Jain basadis erected by them are proof of their
secular spirit in encouraging this religion. However, it was the
reign of the Gangas of Talkad and the Rashtrakutas, that were very
noteworthy in the annals of Jainism.
Jain architecture can be
classified into two categories namely basadis and bettas.
Basadi is a Jain monastery or temple where an image of one of the
twenty-four tirthankaras (saints) is installed and worshipped
and most of them are located in Sravanbelagola. They were built in
the Dravidian style and the oldest basadi can be traced back
to the 8th century AD. Betta is a hill with an
open courtyard containing the image of Gommata or Gommateswara.
These hills form a special feature of the native art and the most
outstanding examples can be found at Sravanbelagola, Karkala, Venur
and Mudabidri in south Kanara district. The image at Karkala is
nearly 42 ft tall and was erected in 1432 AD, the details of which
are described in the work Karkalada Gommateswara Charite by
Chandrama. The statue at Venur was set up in 1609 AD and is 35 ft in
height. Mudabidri, which is hailed as the Kashi of the South has
eighteen basadis, the most important of them being the
Tribhuvana Tilaka Choodamani Basadi. Completed in circa 1430 AD
after about 50 years of painstaking craftsmanship, this basadi
has one thousand exquisite carved pillars each embellished with
different designs and with no two pillars alike. The sanctum
possesses an image of Chandranatha which is more than seven feet in
height and is made of five alloys. In addition, the temple has an
invaluable collection of dazzling icons of Jinamurthis made out of
translucent marble, raw emeralds and other semi precious stones
which, when illuminated, create an ethereal effect. There is also an
attractive Manasthamba, the free standing pillar, and a bronze
Sahasrakoota Mantapa adorned with over 1000 images of Jinamurthis and
32 hanging lamps. Apart from the above, Lakkundi and Humcha have,
over the centuries, been some of the important centres of Jains, in
South India. Replicas of the statue of Gommata can also be found at
Gommatagijri near Mysore and at Basti, Hosakote and Tipur near
Mandya. Panchakuta Basadi in Nagamangala taluk of Mandya district
has a group of seven shrines that are considered the oldest Jains
monuments of the State.
However, the most
magnificent among all Jaina works of art is the colossal rock cut
statue of their saint Gommata at Sravanbelagola. It was built in
circa 982 AD and is described as one of the mightiest achievements of
ancient Karnataka in the realm of sculptural art. Also referred to
as Lord Bahubali, the image is nude an stands upright in the posture
of meditation known as kayotsarga, reaching a height of nearly
57 ft atop the Vindyagiri of Doddabetta hills accessible through a
flight of 500 steps. The image of Gommata has curly hair in ringlets
and long, large ears. His eyes are open as if viewing the world with
detachment. His facial features are perfectly chiseled with a faint
touch of a smile at the corner of his lips and embody calm vitality.
His shoulders are broad, his arms stretch straight down and the
figure has no support from the thigh upwards. There is an anthill in
the background which signifies his incessant penance. From this
anthill emerge a snake and a creeper which twine around both his legs
and his arms culminating as a cluster of flowers and berries at the
upper portion of the arms. The entire figure stands on an open lotus
signifying the totality attained in installing this unique statue.
Amazingly, inspite of being constantly exposed to weather elements,
the image has remained as new as ever.
On either side of Gommata
stand two tall and majestic chauri bearers in the service of
the Lord. One of them is a yakshi and the other one is a
yakshi. These richly ornamented and beautifully carved
figures complement the main figure. Carved on the rear side of the
anthill is also a trough for collecting water and other ritual
ingredients used for the sacred bath of the image. Around the statue
is an enclosure of a pillared hall where one can find 43 images of
tirthankaras in different cloisters. There is also a figure of a
woman called Gullikayajji sculpted with a good built and wearing
exquisite ornamentation, typical of the sculptures of the Ganga
period. The Akandabagilu or the massive door, carved out of a single
rock with an elaborately carved Gajalakshmi in her typical posture
flanked by two elephants, is another meritorious work of Jain
craftsmanship. This also said to have been under the guidance and
inspiration of Chaundaraya, the illustrious minister who served under
the successive rulers of the Gangas namely Marasimha II, Rachamalla
IV and Rachamalla V.
One of the largest
temples in the area is the Chaundarya Basadi dedicated to Neminatha,
the 22nd Tirthankara depicted under a seven hooded canopy
and flanked by male chauri bearers. This temple is unique in
its style. It belongs to the era of the western Gangas and is
evolved out of the Chalukyan styles at Badami and Aihole. One the
same hill can be seen the Chandraprabha Basadi dedicated to the 8th
tirthankara by the same name. It is one of the oldest basadis
on the hill and can be assigned to the early 9th century
under the reign of Sivamara, a Ganga king.
While at Sravanbelagola
one can also gain insights into Jaina mythology through some of the
finest paintings depicted on the walls of the Sri Jains matha. Rich
in colours and harmonious in composition, these paintings of the 18th
century depict royal processions and festivities, monks, women in
brightly coloured sarees, forest scenes of wild animals and other
topics that shed light on the domestic, religious and social life of
the people. Of particular significance is the durbar (court)
scene of Krishnaraja Wodeyar indicating the warm relations that the
Wodeyars of Mysore enjoyed with this holy pilgrimage.
expression of the intensity of Jaina art is the sthambha, the
free standing pillar in front of every basadi. Elegantly
carved out of granite, these are classified as Brahmadeva Sthambha
and Manasthambha. While the former portrays the figures of
Brahmanical gods, the latter is depictive of Jaina faith.
Manasthambha pillars can be found elsewhere in the country but the
Brahmadeva pillars are restricted to the South, a fine specimen of
which can be found in front of the gigantic statue of Gommata at
Sravanbelagola. Extremely attractive is the Manasthambha at
Mudabidri with a small shrine at the apex surrounded by four bells
and topped with a gold finial. Such pillars at Karkala and Humcha
are equally eye-catching. All these pillars, irrespective of their
connotations, are exquisite pieces of art, elegance and decoration.
Another pillar of immense interest is the Tyagada Brahmadevara Kamba
at Sravanbelagola where Chaundaraya has inscribed his genealogy and
his life time achievements. Only segments of the inscription are
The achievements of
Chaundaraya are indeed stupendous. Filled with visions of Jaina
unity, he was instrumental in carving out the statue of Gommata, one
of the engineering marvels of the world at Sravanbelagola. A great
scholar, he was the author of Charitrasara in Sanskrit and
Chaundaraya Purana or Trishahti Lakshana Mahapurana in
Kannada prose thus setting the trend for celebrated works of
literature by Jaina scholars. The period of the Gangas also
witnessed literary activity in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Kannada.
Notable among these are a translation of Gunadhyas Vaddakatha
from Prakrit to Sanskrit as well as a commentary on Kiratarjunaaya
by Durvinitha, a learned Ganga king.
The literary zeal of the
Jains continued well into the age of the Rashtrakutas, covering not
only religion but also embracing many secular branches of learning
including mathematics and astronomy. Giant literary figures like
Pampa, Ponna and Ranna, thrived under the enlightened rule of the
kings of this dynasty. Pamapas works included Vikramarjuna
Vijaya also known as Pampa Bharata, giving a Jaina version
of the Mahabharata Adipurana, narrating the story of
Rishabadeva, the first tirthankara. Another Jain, Ranna, was the
author of Sahasra-Bhima-Vijaya, describing the fight between
Bhima and Duryodhana. Neminatha Purana, a history of the 22nd
tirthankara, interprets the story of Krishna and the Pandavas the
Jaina way. Ganithasarasangraha was a work on mathematics by
Mahaveera, under the patronage of Amoghavarsha I. These are the
names of but a few men of letters who adorned the court of the
The fact that Jainism
exerted considerable influence over the cultural life of Karnataka
during the rule of the Rashtrakutas is borne by the fact that several
basadis were erected for the further propagation of the
religion in the State. Important among them is the Parsvanatha
Basadi at Ron with its exquisitely carved grills depicting gandharvas
in scroll work.
The vast inheritance of
early and medieval Jaina architecture has been effectively carried
into the modern world by Shri Veerendra Hegde by setting up a statue
of Gommata at Dharmasthala near Mangalore. This statue is nearly
40ft high and has been carve by Ranjal Gopal Shenoy. To assert thee
fact that Karnataka has been and continues to be the adobe of Jaina
art and architecture.
Altitude: About 3350 Feet
above sea level.
Location: Is situated at
a distance of about 50 km.
excellent roads from Bangalore and Mysore.
Conducted Tours: Daily
one day trip to Sravanbelagola including Belur and Halebid from
Bangalore by aerotech coaches.
Mayura Shantala at Halibedu. Tel: 08177-73224; Hotel Mayura Velapuri
at Belur. Tel: 08177-22209; 5 star ITDC Hotel at Hassan.
Guest houses maintained
by SJDMI. Tel: 08176-57254
with: Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation,
10/4 Kasturba Road,
Location: About 35 km
north-east of Mangalore.
Access: Connected by road
Cottages run by the Department of Tourism; Hotel Mayura Netravati,
Kadri Hills, Mangalore.
Location: About 52 km
Access: Connected by road
to Mangalore and Bangalore.
Cottages run by the Department of Tourism. Karkala.
Mahamastakhabhiseka - The Sacred Anointment of Bhagwan Bahubali
An event of special
significance at Sravanbelagola is Mahamastakabhisheka held once in 12
years according to certain conjunctions of heavenly bodies. During
the ceremonies that last for about 20 days, the image of Bahubali is
anointed with 1008 kalashas (painted earthen pots) of water,
milk, coconut water, clarified butter, saffron, jaggery, bananas,
sandal paste and marigold flowers. Since inception in the 10th
century, Mahamasthakabhiseka has been conducted 72 times, the
last one having been conducted in 1993. This event is also held at
Karkala with all religious fervour and gaiety.