Music in Stone: Moodabidri and Karkala

Thousand-pillared Jain temple in Moodabidri

No other culture is inextricably linked to stone like the Jain tradition of architecture in India. The Jain legacy has produced marvelous monuments in stone all over the peninsula. In South India Kallu or stone associated to place names refers to Jain Bastis or temples that once adorned those places, later raised down or changed utterly. Kallil in Ernakulam is a typical example. Though a lot of Jain stone temples are now Hindu like that of Nagarcovil, Madurai and Iringalakuda, South Karnataka still has some relics of the ancient heritage of Jainism which was based on non violence and pluralism.
For survival against the dominant religious onslaught and Brahmanical internal imperialism and subsequent persecution some have become partially Hinduized as the one found in Moodabidri, some 30km north east of Mangalore on the way to Karkala. Here even Hindu gods and goddesses spot the walls of the thousand pillared stone temple which was built in the fifteenth century. It was part of the Sarva Dharma Samanvay (consensus of all religions) survival strategy that sustained Jainism in compromised and casteist forms. But even this religious camouflage could not hold and eventually Jainism crumbled before the violence of Brahmanism, submitting and dissolving into the omnipotent Hindu order of caste.
I made a pilgrimage through cultural history early this September 2010 by making a sojourn to these last surviving sites of Jain civilization in the south. I visited Moodbirdi and Karkala via Mangalore on bus. The splendid architecture and carvings in stone are simply amazing and awesome. The male nude monolith of Bahubali or Gomata on top of a hillock in Karkala is a replica of the biggest one in Sravanabelgola.
These surviving polyphony in stone tells us a lot about the shared and composite culture and history of South India in a variety of ways. It also reminds us of cultural imperialism and the erasures and suppression strategies of hegemony still dominant in our society and polity. It is a beacon of hope and the abiding spirit of human resistance against the onslaught of internal invasions.

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