Stone marvel

Kamal Basadi, a Jain temple built by Bichiraja, a minister of King Kartavirya IV of the Ratta dynasty in 1204 AD, is a cynosure of all eyes at the famous Belagavi Fort.
Kamal Basadi. (Photo | Express)
Kamal Basadi. (Photo | Express)

BELAGAVI:  Located near the Kote Kere (Fort Lake) in the eastern part of Belagavi city, one cannot miss the 12th-century Belagavi Fort with a vast moat. One of the oldest forts in Karnataka, it houses several temples, mosques, and Jain basadis, each an architectural wonder and living example of religious harmony. Hidden inside these gems is another marvel that shares its name with the national flower lotus Kamal Basadi. The Sri Neminath Tirthankar Temple, a Jain temple more popularly known as the Kamal Basadi, is truly a masterpiece in stone and will leave visitors awestruck. Wandering through the maze of the fort, one might not see this alluring monument right away. The basadi seeks shelter deep inside the fort at the end of Rampart Road and even when closer to it, plays hide-and-seek with the lush greenery surrounding it. 

The basadi, dating back to 1204 AD, was built by Bichiraja, a minister of King Kartavirya IV of the Ratta dynasty. Belagavi has been ruled by several dynasties, like the Chakukyas, Rashtrakutas, Rattas, Goa Kadambas, Yadavas, Vijayanagara rulers, Bahmanis, Marathas, and finally the British. Though the fort was rebuilt many times under different regimes, the basadi has stood the test of time and become a testimony to the skill of local artisans some 800 years ago. 

Though built by the Rattas, the basadi is greatly influenced by the Western Chalukya style of architecture encompassing the mukhamantap and garbhagriha which are central attractions. It has a tiered roof over the shrine. What adorns the mukhamantap is an inverted concentric massive stone-carved lotus, giving it the name. While marvelling at the lotus that is intricately carved with identical petals, it makes one wonder about the craftsmanship of the generations before the rise of today’s technology.

The convergence of two consecutive petals houses an image of a Tirthankara. A total of 72 images of Tirthankaras are found on the lotus petals, believed to represent 24 tirthankaras of past, present and future. The majestic ceiling partly rests on eight pillars each with a carved Digpala deity, signifying the four directions.  

Standing in the mukhmantap, the door towards garbhagriha unveils the next room as if one has unlocked the next level of a maze. The room farther from mukhmantap is the prayer hall for the devotees. It too has meticulous designs on walls and doors, with a partly open ceiling that provides ventilation. The next room houses the idol of the principal deity of the temple — Sri Tirthankar Neminath. The backdrop of the idol has a stone-carved Kalpavriksha tree. The garbhagriha witnesses daily rituals for the Tirthankara. Though it looks strong and sturdy today, the preservation of the heritage site was taken up by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) long ago.  

Swatee Jog, coordinator, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Belagavi Chapter, says the mukhmantap was restored by the ASI in 1996. Jog adds that the monument has all the ingredients to become a famous attraction for tourists, devotees, architectural and cultural enthusiasts. She says facilities like information centres, toilets, and drinking water kiosks are needed to attract tourists. She also urges social bodies and individuals to come forward and contribute for the cause. “We are grateful and happy about the preservation work that has been done... But much needs to be done to give this monument the recognition it deserves,” she says.

She adds that as a part of the preservation efforts, the community organises the anniversary of the consecration of the temple every year by holding cultural activities.   The temple has stood strong through changing dynasties and has been a witness to the rise and fall of empires. The beauty of this astounding creation has not withered for 800 years and remains a subject of wonder for each passing generation. A visit to Kamal Basadi is sure to leave you in awe.

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