May 24, 2011

Thousand Pillar Temple of Moodbidri

-Amritha Nayak

Mangalore : India is a land of diverse religions and history. Each religion has got its own captivating history and legends. Every religion has its own historical monuments, each of which is an unique piece of art and architecture, and thus has tremendous individual importance of its own. Architectural wonders have been an intricate part of every religion. They lend every religion an individual identity and also are evidence of the important events and incidents which took place in the past. These important events and incidents shaped up the religion they belonged to, and thus were catalysts to the religion’s spreading far and wide and gaining popularity.

Jainism is a religion which has its origin in India and which gained strategic importance and popularity in course of time. Jainism has its own plethora of historical monuments, each of which is backed by unique and mesmerizing stories and legends, which lend the monument an aura of vibrant and elegant past. These stories and legends beckon people to visit and explore the beauty of such monuments. Some of the important Jain monuments are located in some interior places of India.

About an hour from the city of Mangalore is the city of Moodbidri, which has been an embodiment of some of the architectural wonders of Jainism. Here is the world’s unique and magnificent Jain temple, The Thousand Pillar Basadi, which is located in the main city, and which lends particular enchantment to the city of Moodbidri. The Thousand Pillar Basadi is in fact, a misnomer, as it only means many pillared Basadi and not exactly a Basadi with a thousand pillars. There is no considerable surmise as to how it became a misnomer, as there is no inscriptional evidence on the matter.

Jainism in Moodbidri started around 12-13th century A.D. During the Vijayanagara Period, Jainism in South Canara reached its zenith, since Moodbidri developed into a great center of Jainism. This was made possible because of the patronage given by the then ruler of the Vijayanagara Empire, to the growth and development of all the religions flourishing in his empire. All the Jain monuments in Moodbidri were constructed during the Golden Vijayanagara Period.

The surrounding areas of the city were ruled by the localites called the ‘Chautas’. The administration of Moodbidri was under the direct control of the Vijayanagara Empire, with a certain amount of autonomy. The Jains had a central board of religious authority in Moodbidri, known as the Jain Mutt, which was presided over by the head of the Mutt, Charukirti Battaraka. The word Battaraka means ‘Swamiji’.

The 1000 Pillar Basadi, as also the other Basadis in Moodbidri, were not constructed by any king or ruler. Charukirti Battaraka wanted to construct a Jain temple in Moodbidri, with the help of local people. He requested the then ruler of Vijayanagara Empire to grant him a piece of land for the construction of the temple. The Vijayanagara ruler, being a person of generous virtue, granted him the piece of land, on which the Basadi stands, for its construction. In 1430 A.D, under the guidance of Charukirti Battaraka, the merchant organizations of Moodbidri, the locally well placed people and the Chautas contributed to the construction of the 1000 Pillar Basad

The 1000 Pillar Basadi is a marvelous magnificent place of worship of the Jains. The temple was constructed in 3 stages. In its 1st stage in 1430 A.D, the Main Building, which forms the 1st main part of the temple, which houses the idol of Chandranatha Swamy (Theertankara, who is the temple deity) was constructed. In the 2nd stage of construction, which began in 1451 A.D, the Bhairadevi Mantapa, which is the 2nd main part of the temple, was constructed. It was also constructed by the local well to do merchants. The 3rd stage of construction began in 1462 A.D, when Nagala Devi, wife of King Bhairava, who was a Jain ruler, decided to construct the Manasthambha, which constitutes the 3rd main part of the temple. There is inscriptional evidence of the 3 stages of construction on the walls of the Main Building.

The Main Building, which houses the idol of the deity, is the most beautiful part of the temple. The Bhairadevi Mantapa is the most ornate part, which has 48 pillars with beautiful carvings on them. The Manasthambha, is a sacred pillar of the Jains, and thus is found only in Jain temples. After the 3 stages of construction got complete, the local people attributed the construction of the Mantapa also to the wife of King Bhairava (Nagala Devi), and thus the Mantapa came to be known as Bhairadevi Mantapa.The idol of Chandranatha Swamy is a 9 feet solid Panchaloha idol, which is one of the biggest Panchaloha idols in South India. The Manasthambha, is a solid structure of over 50 feet, which happens to be one of the tallest sacred pillar of Jains in South India.

Starting from the entrance, the entire temple can be divided into 7 distinct parts, which are as follows:
2.Bhairadevi Mantapa
3.Gaddige Mantapa (Also known as Chitradevi Mantapa)
4.Namaskara Mantapa
5.Theerankara Mantapa
6.Lakshmi Mantapa
7.Garbha-Griham (the sanctum-sanctorum)

The temple has 3 storeys-the ground floor, 1st floor and the 2nd floor. The ground floor has the 3 main parts of the temple on it, i.e., the Main Building, the Bhairadevi Mantapa and the Manasthambha. On the 1st storey of the temple, there are statues of 2 main Theertankaras,Parshvanatha and Suparushuva. What is fascinating though is that all the 24 Theertankaras have been carved on one panel on this storey. The 2nd storey has more than 300 miniature crystal statues of Theertankara

Stone slabs and copper sheets have been used for the roofing of the temple. An astonishing fact of the temple is that, if one takes a close look at the pillars, one will notice that the pillars are adorned with the carvings of Hindu Gods and Hindu mythological characters. The outer base of the outer wall of the Bhairadevi Mantapa has a running panel of carved mminiature unusual figures, like those of Camel and Dragon. History has it that the merchants of Moodbidri had trade relations with China and the Middle East. As such, they were quiet fascinated by the Chineese and Middle Eastern traditional symbols like Camels and Dragons. That is the reason why they are found etched on the running panel of a Jain temple. There is inscriptional evidence to support this inference

The 1000 Pillar Basadi is referred to by different names. Tribhuvana Tilaka Chudamani, Chaityalaya and Hosa Basadi are the other names of the 1000 Pillar Basadi.

The number 18 has got a special significance to the city of Moodbidri. There are 18 Basadis, 18 temples and 18 lakes in the city. Moodbidri is a calm and quite city, with the various religions co-existing in peace and harmony. With the various avenues of education being made available in the city, it is on the road to growth and development as an educational center. Even though it is an interior place, its rich and unique history of Jainism and the various architectural wonders make it an indispensable and fascinating place in its own way.

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