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Towering Faith

Karkala near Mangalore will come to life this month for the head-anointment ceremony of Lord Bahubaliís statue.

For two weeks, starting the 12th of this month, Jains from all over the country will converge at Karkala-a place 52 kilometres from Mangalore in southwest Karnataka-to participate in the head anointment ceremony of the giant monolithic statue of Lord Bahubali (Gomateshwara).

This 42 feet high mammoth statue is second in height only to the colossal 58 feet statue at Sravanabelagola, near Mysore -the oldest and the most important Jain pilgrimage centre in India. The Bahubali statute is made of grey granite.

The religion was firmly established in the coastal regions of Karnataka during the 10th century. Even today, there is a considerable population of Jains in Mangalore, Puttur and Karkala.

There is an interesting legend surrounding the Bahubali colossus in Karkala. It is said that Bahubali ruled over Paudanapara while his step-brother Bharata was the king of nearby Ayodhya. Bharata nursed overriding ambitions of expanding his kingdom and asked Bahubali to surrender. But Bahubali was not the one to give up easily. He threw down the gauntlet at Bharata. Eventually Bharata was defeated by Bahubali.

However, Bahubali was filled with remorse after defeating his brother. He renounced his kingdom and become an ascetic. In observing severe austerities, he stood motionless in meditation for years, until creepers grew around his limbs and mole hills grew over his body giving shelter to cobras. Eventually, Bahubali attained enlightenment which is celebrated first at Sravanabelagola and later at Karkala.

The head anointment ceremony at Karkala follows the tradition started by the Ganga general Chamundaraya at Sravanabelagola in 981 A.D. At that time, it was called panchamrita abhisheka (bathing in five nectars: milk, butter, honey, sugar and water). The ceremony is held every 12 years.

Black rocks or Karaikallu that give Karkala its name can be seen as you travel from Mangalore by a road that winds through the foothills. As you enter Karkala, the skyline is dominated by Bahubaliís statue, which can be approached by climbing seemingly endless rock steps. This broad-shouldered, serene figure stands overlooking the placid Ramasundaram lake at the foot of its slope. Nearby is the Jain temple of Chaturmukha, which is architecturally identical on all four sides. On either side of the road at a lower level are four temples. The Venkatramana temple has four finely-carved rock pillars sculpted by Ranjaal Gopalkrishna, the Maari Gudi temple is dedicated to Mariamma, the Ananteshwara temple has Lord Vishnu reclining on the coils of Shesha serpent and the last of them, the Vishweshwara Venugopala temple, has been recently renovated.

R anjaal Gopalkrishna has also sculpted the 39 feet statue meant to be erected at Dharmasthala (in 1973), 75 kilometre east of Mangalore. It weighs 175 tons and a specially devised vehicle was used to transport it to its present site. Another statue sculpted by Gopalkrishna is a giant Buddha ordered by the Japanese, which had to be transported in several pieces and reassembled in Japan.

The Jain tradition in Karkala goes back to King Jivadha Raya of Hombucha in Shomoga district in the 8th century. His descendants were zealous Jains and built many temples in and around Karkala. Thus there are three life-size statues of tirthanakaras, small idols of 24 tirthankaras and one of Padmavathi yakshi. The famed Neminatha temple is also in the area.

The Bahubali statue in Karkala was consecrated on February 13, 1432 at the instance of Virpandya Bairasa Wodeyar, a vassal of the Vijayanagar ruler. The last mahamastakabhisheka was held here in 1990, and that too after an interval of 28 years. It is estimated that this year around 50,000 Jain pilgrims will be attending the enthralling ceremony organised by Sri Bahubali Swamy Mahamastakabhisheka Samithi.

From a specially constructed scaffolding, the consecration of Chamundaraya will be re-enacted. It will begin with the pouring of 1008 pots of holy water amid a chorus of drums and bugles and the blaring of trumpets. Urns of coconut water and sugarcane juice will also be poured over the statueís head, neck and shoulders. This will be followed by a torrent of milk, a snowfall of rice powder, turmeric, and sandalwood oil (chandan). A flow of ashtagandha (eight scents) will then make Bahubali appear pink. The ritual will end after flower petals are showered from atop the statue

Besides Karkala, there are other places close to Mangalore that are connected with Jainism such as Dharmasthala, Venur and Mudabidri. The Bahubali statue at Dharmasthala (75 kilometre east of Mangalore) is around 39 feet and is situated on a low hill above the Manjunatha temple. It was carved out of a single rock in 1973 and weighs 175 tonnes.

Eighteen kilometres south of Karkala is Mudabidri, known as the Kashi of Jains. It has 18 temples, the first being that of Parshvanath, established in 714 A.D. The so-called thousand-pillared temple known as Tribhuvana Tilaka Chudamani was built in 1430 A.D. by settis or Jain merchants and is considered the most significant Jain shrine in South India. Bhairadevi, the queen of Bhatkal, had appreciated the Jain merchantsí efforts and had a mandapam built in front in 1451. Another queen, Nagadevi, had a magnificent manasthambha (pillar) built here, and it stands 50 feet high in front of the temple. The large, open-sided mandapam is flanked by two stone elephants and the glittering deity in the sanctum is visible down the length of the temple.

Venur is 50 kilometres north east of Mangalore. It has eight temples and a 35 feet high statue of Bahubali-stationed on the south bank of Gurupur river-dating back to 1604. The Ajila chieftains of Venur were Jains who not only built palaces here but also in Alatangadi, Kela and Baraya. Timmana Akila V (1558-1616) built the 35 feet colossus which has creepers around the limbs as in the other statues.