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The Jain Legacy In Karnataka

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 Muni.

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.

Another concrete 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 readable.

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 Gunadhya’s 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. Pamapa’s 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 Rashtrakutas.

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.

Access: Motorable excellent roads from Bangalore and Mysore.

Conducted Tours: Daily one day trip to Sravanbelagola including Belur and Halebid from Bangalore by aerotech coaches.

Accommodation: Hotel 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

Reservations: Details with: Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation,

10/4 Kasturba Road,

Bangalore – 56001

Tel: 080-2212901/2/3


Location: About 35 km north-east of Mangalore.

Access: Connected by road from Mangalore.

Accommodation: Tourist Cottages run by the Department of Tourism; Hotel Mayura Netravati, Kadri Hills, Mangalore.


Location: About 52 km from Mangalore.

Access: Connected by road to Mangalore and Bangalore.

Accommodation: Tourist 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.