Nov 22, 2007

Moodbidri — woods of yore


"I'M going to see the Jain basadis tomorrow," said the participant ata heritage seminar at Manipal. The light in his eyes came not from aconservationist's curiosity, but a pilgrim's devotion. It inspiredyou to undertake a similar, shorter trip to see the monuments of acreed that some scholars trace back to Harappa and Mohenjadaro.

With asceticism and ahimsa as its ideals (inspiring the Buddha?),Jainism is identified with metaphysical reflexivity anduncompromising ethics. Reduced to a minority through centuries ofreligious persecution, Jains are best known today for their businessacumen and practice of charity. The national anthem names them, butthis country knows little about Jain culture past and present.

The two-hour drive from Manipal (35 km from Mangalore) offers ampletime to recall that Jainism sees God as Infinite Knowledge,Perception, Consciousness and Joy. The universe has no beginning, noend. As the yugas roll on, the 24 tirthankaras (Fjord Makers) teachhumanity to reach moksha by burning up the karma of innumerable birthcycles, Parshvanatha (877-777 B.C.) and Mahavira (599-527 B.C.) beingsuch archetypal guides in the present age. The five-fold mantraoffers obeisance not to God, but to perfected beings (Arahanta),liberated souls (Siddha), masters (Acharya), teachers (Upadhyaya),virtue seekers (Sadhus). Individuals must find release through theirown efforts, not through divine intervention.

Unrelenting austerity? But did it not spark awesome creativity inarchitecture, sculpture, painting and poetry? Ancient tongues Tamiland Prakrit are rich with literary contributions from the Jain monks.Shravanabelagola (Karnataka), Palitana (Gujarat), Bawangaja (MadhyaPradesh), Shikharjin Madhuban (Bihar) stun the eye with theirmagnificence.

Shrine cluster

Moodbidri, our destination, known as Kshemavenupura and Jain Kashi,has a cluster of 18 shrines. Enter the 1,000-pillaredTribhuvanatilaka chudamani (crest jewel of the three worlds) basadi,and you see the realisation of a vision as vast as it is intricate.Known also as Chandranath basadi honouring the eight-foot tall figureof Bhagwan Chandranath, and Hosa basadi to signify its agelessbeauty, the temple's many mantapas are supported by pillars. No twoare alike. Each has its own design, some achieving incrediblydelicate results on granite.

Built in 1430 by local chieftain Devaraya Wodeyar, with additionsmade in 1962, this shrine has a 60 feet tall monolith manasthambha(erected by Queen Nagala Devi) that rivets your gaze. Circle theshrine and you see Chinese dragons and African giraffes jostling withlocal elephants and mythical yalis, testifying to prosperous tradeand protean imagination. The sloping roof is propped by carved posts,and ruddy wooden bars bloodshot under the noon sun.

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