Nov 22, 2007

Karnataka's hotbed of Jain religion

By Kamala Vasudevan

The Jaina religion found a safe and welcome sanctuary in Karnataka and enjoyed a golden period during the Medieval period. The Karkala region became the most important centre of Jaina religious and cultural activities.

Although the question as to when Jainism entered Karnataka is yet to receive an accurate answer, there is little doubt that this religion had made its home here in the early centuries of the Christian Era.

The oldest and most sacred Jaina centre at Shravanabelagola dates back to the 3rd century BC when Acharya Shrutakevalin Bhadrabahu camefrom distant Pataliputra to the Southern regions with 12,000 followers.

Legends say that when he arrived in Shravanabelagola, he sensed the end of his journey and after dismissing his followers and bidding farewell to them, and keeping the company of only one of them, committed the rite of Sallekhana, a rite of ritual suicide, here.The disciple was none other than the celebrated Maurya King Chandragupta who continued to live on this hill worshipping the foot prints of his teacher and later he too followed his teacher in committing Sallekhana. There are two monuments on the hill recalling this event,a rock cut cave called Bhadrabahu cave and a structural shrinecalledthe Chandragupta Basadi.

The great Tibetan historian Taranatha has noted that Chandragupta'ssuccessor and grandson Bindusara, (298- 273 BC) ruled over parts of Karnataka and his celebrated son, king Asoka, (269-232 BC) sent his envoys to Banavasi, the then centre of power in Karnataka and amonghis rock edicts, ten are to be found in different parts of Karnatakalike Koppal, Maski, Brahmagiri etc.

Another legend in this regard is that of Samprati, the grandson of Asoka, an ardent Jain himself, who sent envoys to Maharashtra, Andhraand Tamil Nadu to propagate Jainism. Thus, we can assume that Karnataka never suffered from any political and geographical isolation and was exposed to the religious. political and social influences of Buddhism and Jainism from the north right from the dawn of recorded history.

By the 10th century, the mighty Ganga warrior Chamundaraya commissioned the colossal statue of Bahubali to be installed on the Indragiri hill. Around the base of the hill in the village of Shravanabelagola there sprung many Jaina Mathas, schools of religious teachings. The Chaturmukha Basadi is one of them. A number of temples or Basadis too were erected around this region, and these places of worship were store houses or Bhandaras of many illuminated manuscripts executed in great perfection by artists, some in palm leaf in the early years and later around the 12th and the 14th century, paper became the preferred carrier for transcribed texts.

One of the greatest Jaina woman Attimabbe, widow of a Chlukyang eneral who was a Shaivaite, built a staggering 1500 Basadis and is supposed to have patronised the three medieval poets, Ranna, Pampa and Janna. Many of these Basadis except about 35 or so have been vandalised and altogether destroyed with no one to care for them, butthe one at Lakkundi called Brahma Jinalaya has been somewhat restored to its former glory.

Many ruling dynasties in Karnataka like the Satavahanas, Kadambas and the Gangas were tolerant of other religions even though many of them were followers of Shaivism and made generous grants of land and wealth to the propagation of Jaina institutes and temples. The Talagunda inscriptions refer to Kakushtavarman (405-430 AD), a Gangaruler, built a large tank for the temple which is referred to in the inscriptions as Siddhalaya, possibly referring to some ancient Jaina monk who could have installed the icon in this temple.

He was succeeded by Vishnuvardhana (1108-152 AD), the most famous ofthe Hoysala rulers. The royal household encouraged both Shaivism and Vaishnavism. The Hoysala kings and their queens and wealthy ministers built many Jaina temples during their reign. Digambara sect of theJain religion became popular and this resulted in many Jain Basadis and temples being built resulting in new architectural and sculptural innovations, all named after the Hoysala dynasty.

The temples of Kambadahalli and Sravana Belagola duringVishnuvardhana's rule, the Trikuta Basadi in Cholasandra byNarasimhaI, the Satinatha Basadi in Jinanathapura during the reign of Viraballala II along with many Vaishnava and Shiva temples were built during the reign of the Hoysala dynasty.

But the most prominent supporter of Jainism was the Ganga kingMarasimha II (AD 961- 974) who later died committing Sallekhana, a Jaina religious rite that calls for voluntary death by starvation bythe devotee. In the Deccan, the Rashtrakutas too patronised Jainism and Amoghavarsha of this dynasty (AD 814-880) was an ardent Jain himself. Since the Rashtrakutas and the Gangas had matrimonial alliances with each other, Chandroballabba, the daughter of Amoghavarsha was married to Butuga, the Ganga heir , giving a nimpetus to the spread of Jain religion and art and sculpture. The famous Dance Drama tradition of Karnataka, the Yakshagana introduced many Jaina subjects in its performances. The story of Bahubali or Gommateshvara became a perennial favourite.

The history of Jainism in South India is actually the history of Jainism in Karnataka, even though historical evidences say Jainism came to the South during the time of the 12th Tirthankara,Vasupujya,who was senior to the more famous Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara.The religious tolerance in Karnataka was favourable to the advent of Jainism. The Jaina temples are called Basadis after the root word in Sanskrit "Vasati" meaning residence.

The Basadis housed not only the sanctum but also living quarters forthe ascetic monks to practice their austerities specially during the severe monsoon when they were forbidden from travelling. TheseBasadis are sometimes called Chaityas or Chaitalayas where thedevoutgathered for worship offered to the Tirthankaras and attendantYakshas and Yakshis and discourses were held here by the scholarlymonks. If the Basadi has images of three Tirthankaras, it is knownas "Trikuta Basadi" or "Ratna-traya."

If the Basadi opens on all four sides as in the Karkala example, then it is called "Chaturmukha Basadi". If there are five images of Tirthankaras installed in the sanctum, it is called "Pancha Basadi. "When all the 24 Tirthankaras are worshiped in a Basadi, then it is called "Chaturvimsati- Jinalaya." Apart from the Jaina Tirthankaras, the attendant Yaksha or Yakshis are also offered worship, likeYakshinis Padmavati whose image is found in all Basadis, and Jwalamalini, Yaksha Dharanendra etc. The Jaina architecture is distinct in its design and to be found only in the coastal regionsofKarnataka. The Jinalayas don't boast elaborate ornamentation, but are completely plain and simple in design and is usually rectangular in shape.

The traditional Gopura or super-structure seen in Hindu temples overthe sanctum is absent here or the Mahadvara or entrance doorway. The massive Chaturmukha Basadi of Karkala stands majestically on the topof hill and is a grand sight with its four sided tiled roof andimmense doors and statues of Jaina religious figures. It is entirely built of stone, pillars are prominent as in all Jaina structures.Itsimmense four faceted roof is supported by huge stone pillars that are simple with small carved figures at the base. A closed passage runs through the four sides for circumambulation of the devotees.

The main god in the sanctum in the Chaturmukha Basadi is Chandranatha who is shown standing with many attendant minor deities, including Padmavathi.

This Basadi is more recent in origin that the famous Sravanabelagolaor the Brahmajinalaya at Lakkundi and is extremely well preservedwith green lawns neatly kept. From the Basadi, on a clear day, onecan see the figure of Bahubali at Sravanabelagola , an extraordinarysight indeed. There are many legends attached to this Basadi and itcould be a wonderful visit for anyone. Several stone steps lead upto the temple.

1 comment:

Deepa said...

Hi there

Could you please tell me where i can get information on reaching to Jwalamalini temple from Bangalore.
Thank you

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