On a path to ahimsa

Jainism’s journey in South India is a captivating tale woven through history, devotion and cultural integration — here are four South Indian Jain temples epitomising the religion’s heritage with this religion.
On a path to ahimsa

This ancient religion, founded in North India in the 6th century BCE, gradually made its way southward into the deccan and peninsular India, profoundly impacting the region’s spiritual and cultural landscape.

The spread of Jainism to South India is often attributed to the migration and missionary activities of Jain monks, known for their scholastic and ascetic traditions. With dynasties like the Kadambas, Gangas and Chalukyas embracing and promoting Jainism, royal patronage played a significant role towards their movement.

These rulers not only built magnificent temples and statues but also encouraged the establishment of Jain educational institutions, fostering a vibrant intellectual climate. Today, South India hosts numerous Jain pilgrimage sites, each narrating the profound history and enduring legacy of this ancient faith.

While Jainism was the most popular religion in the region as proven by several texts and rock edicts in modern Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the religion and a sizeable population of practitioners only continue to live on in Karnataka. We explore four basadis (temples) epitomising Jainism’s heritage in the region as a part of this trail…

Chaturmukha Basadi

Located in the quaint black stone town of Karkala, Karnataka, overlooked by a mighty Gomateshwara statue, the Chaturmukha Basadi sits majestically atop a hill, embraced by picturesque landscape that seems to suggest the town might have been constructed with it as its centrepoint. Made entirely of granite, in the Vijayanagara style of architecture, the simplicity of the temple has stood the test of time since the early 15th century. Although the structure may not boast the opulence of Hoysala temples, it is graced with 108 intricately detailed pillars that exude a timeless charm. This serene haven, located just an hour from Mangaluru, offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Nearest rail head: Udupi. Nearest airport: Mangaluru

Kulpakji Shrine

Tucked away in the quaint village of Kolanupaka in Telangana’s Nalgonda district,  the Kulpakji shrine dates back to the 10th century. Located just 80 kilometers from Hyderabad by road, this revered pilgrimage centre beckons travellers and the faithful. The temple’s crowning jewel, the image of Lord Rishabhanatha, known as Manikyaswami, is carved from a precious green stone. Alongside, the idols of Lord Mahavira and Lord Neminatha grace the sanctum, steeped in myth and legend. Today, the temple, dedicated to the first Tirthankara, Lord Adinatha, shines anew, thanks to an extensive renovation by over 150 artisans from Gujarat and Rajasthan. This rejuvenation, preserving the inner sanctum while crafting a new exterior, was masterfully executed, restoring the temple to its former glory. The Kulpakji Temple, housing the idols of eight other tirthankaras and stands as a beacon of Jain heritage.

Nearest railhead: Aler. Nearest airport: Hyderabad.

Saavira Kambada Basadi

Saavira Kambada Basadi, also known as the Thousand Pillars Temple, is a 15th-century Jain sanctuary located in Moodbidri, Karnataka, just 34 kilometres away from Mangalaru. Dedicated to the Jain tirthankara Chandranatha, it is also called Chandranatha Basadi. This architectural marvel is renowned for its 1,000 uniquely carved pillars, each depicting intricate designs from mythical creatures to natural inspirations. Wander through the enchanting courtyard and mandapams, their rustic clay rooftops whispering tales of yore. In the sacred heart lies the eight-foot-tall statue of Lord Chandranatha Swami. Explore this magnificent three-story temple, though the top floor opens only once a year. Don’t miss the majestic 50-foot-high manastambha pillar at the entrance. 

Nearest railhead and airport: Mangaluru.

Tirumalai Jain Temple

As you ascend this holy mountain, you encounter the grandeur of this Jain sanctuary, featuring three remarkable temples commissioned by the Chola dynasty, two Jain caves and an impressive monolith in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. The Tirumalai Jain Temple was built to showcase the stunning 17-foot monolith of Neminatha, the 22nd Tirthankara, making it the largest in the state. As you explore the vast boulders, rocks and scattered fields surrounding the temple, you’ll discover that Tirumalai offers much more than just Kundavai’s Jainalaya (built by the famous Chola princess). This historic site also features numerous ancient sculptures within its caves. One notable cave features over 30 chambers, each adorned with intricate carvings offering a fascinating glimpse into the past. The Tirumalai Jain Temple is conveniently located just a 25-minute drive from Polur, the gateway to the Eastern Ghats in Tamil Nadu. 

Nearest railhead: Madimangalam. Nearest airport: Chennai.

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