Nov 18, 2007

Jainism in Kerala

by Dr. Zacharias Thundy, Northern Michigan University

The Jain religion was brought to the South in thethird century B.C. by Chandra Gupta Maurya (321-297B.C.) and the Jain saint Bhadrabahu, according to Jaintraditions. These men came to Sravanabelgola inMysore. Later more Jain missionaries came to TamilNadu and converted many Cheras to their religion.Prince Ilango Adigal, the author of Shilappadikaram,is believed to be a Jain. The Jains came to Keralawith the rest of the Chera immigrants starting in thesixth century. The only evidence of their presence inKerala is the incontro-vertible fact that some Hindutemples of today were originally Jain temples.

In Matilakam was a famous Jain temple which Hindusshunned as late as the fourteenth century according toKokasandesam, though at present it is a Hindu temple.Today, the presiding deity of Kudalmanikkam Templenear Irinjalakuda is Bharata, the brother of Rama;originally it was Bharateswara, the digambara Jainsaint. Kallil, near Perumbavur, has a rock-cut cavein which we can still see the images of Parswantha,Mahavira, and Padmavati; the local Hindus worshipBhagavati in this temple today. Several places inwynad have Jain temples -an indication that NorthMalabar was once a flourishing center of Jainism.

Historians believe that the decline of Jainism startedabout the eighth century during the Aryanizationperiod of Kerala when Vaishnavism and Saivism wereactive and aggressive. Jainism seems to havecompletely disappeared from Kerala by the sixteenthcentury; the foreign visitors from Europe do notmention the Jains at all. One lasting contribution ofJainism to Kerala, according to wi'lliam Logan, isthat the architecture of the Hindu temples and theMuslim mosques of North Malabar was influenced by thearchitecture of the Jain temples.I may add here that there are some old Jain familiesin the Wynad-Kasargod area even today.

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