Jain Heritage of Hassan in Karnataka

Marvel in schist: Santinatha Basadi (Jain temple) at Halebeedu, Hassan, 12th century AD

Hassan is an elevated city high up in the Deccan plateau well beyond the Western Ghats on the Mangalore – Bangalore National Highway (NH 48), lying at around 1000 m above sea level. Halebeedu in Hassan district was the capital of the Hoysala dynasty from 11th to 14th century.  The Hoysala capital known as Darasamuda or Dwarasamudra which is currently called Halebeedu or ancient city is just 30km north of Hassan city.

Sunrise in Dwarasamudra the ancient mud dam reservoir at Halebeedu

Belur the town known for the Chennakesava Temple is just 16km south west of Halebeedu.  This small village was the capital city and central fort of the Hoysalas for a few centuries and was devastated in raids from north in the 14th century.  The ravages of this ancient city and its magnificent architectural and sculptural relics are still found here and it is well protected by the Archeological Survey of India which also houses one of its regional museums here.

Hoysaleswara temple on the banks of Darasamuda at Halebeedu, Hassan, 12th century AD

I visited Sakleshpur, Hassan, Helebeedu and Belur on 12 and 13 March, 2011 with Jaime Chithra.  We began our journey from Kasaragod and went to Mangalore in the morning.  But unfortunately our passenger train was stopped in the outer of Mangalore central station and Yashvantpur Express going to Hassan crossed us as we watched it smoothly passing from the local train with reserved tickets in hand.

The colossal Jain Thirthankara idol recovered and placed in the garden of Hoysaleswara temple, Halebeedu.

Without losing hope we cancelled the tickets and caught a state bus to Hassan.  The long journey took almost 5 hours and we went up the ghat-road to reach the top of the Western Ghats and crossed river Hemavathy and a few tributaries of Kaveri to reach Hassan.  The winding ghat road with hairpin bends and the tall mountain peaks with grasslands and sholas that are part of Bisleghat near Sakleshpur are breathtaking views from the bus.  We could also experience the slight chill of evergreen forests on the way even in this hot summer.

A pair of Rose-ringed Parakeets courting before Basadi Hills, Halebeedu

After getting down at Hassan we went straight to Halebeedu on a local bus.  We reached there in the late evening and straight away entered the beautiful archeological complex and well kept lawns spacing the Hoysaleswara temple and the museum.  Thanks to ASI this historic site is well conserved and all the facilities including guides are available for the people.

The old Neem tree in the garden of Hoysaleswara archeological site, Halebeedu

The monument is open for public from sunrise to sunset.  The lush green lawns and garden on the banks of the ancient mud dam reservoir or artificial pond Dwarasamudra are marvelous and refreshing.  The whole valley is landscaped and well maintained.  The museum has treasures related to the history of the place and the cultural pasts of Hassan.

Highly polished schist pillars inside Santinatha Basadi, Halebeedu

The importance of Halebeedu is that it has vestiges of a variety of cultural streams.  Halebeedu stands for plurality, diversity and co-existence of religions. It still has Jain and Hindu temples in closer proximity. As the place is close to Sravanabelagola (the white pond of Sramanas or Jains) the ancient seat of Jainism and Sramana culture in South India that is dated back to 4th century BC; the original civilization and settlements were developed and conceived by Sramana Jain ascetics and missionaries who spread the light of letters and ethics among the simple peasantry of the Carnatic plateau.

Last of the Jains in Halebeedu: Jaina Kumara before the idol of Jina in Santhinatha Basadi

They reached the present Kerala through the present Karnataka as both regions were part of the ancient Tamilakam in the last centuries of BC era.  It is also important to remember that they were the first to spread stone-based architecture in South India as manifested in various Jain temples and rock-cut caves throughout South India, especially in Kerala as in Kallil in Ernakulam district that is spread even down south to Nagerkovil and Kanyakumari districts in Tamil Nadu. Jain images and motifs are still visible in the currently Hindu temple of Nagerkovil as it is visible in Halebeedu Hindu temples.  These sustaining iconographic and architectural evidences substantiate the Jain origin and antiquity of South Indian Hindu temples.

Jina image precariously erased from the facade of Mallikarjuna temple. Originally Mallinatha Jain temple.

It is also important to note that the Samanas (Prakrit) or Chamanas (Tamil) or Sramanas (Sanskrit) that include Buddhist, Jain and Ajivaka missionaries educated the people about agriculture and irrigation using small mud dams.  Darasamuda the local artificial lake reservoir that supports the whole region in terms of drinking water and agricultural irrigation could be a direct contribution of the ascetic sages who paved the foundations of this ancient agrarian city.

Darasamuda or Dwarasamudra in Halebeedu: A foresighted contribution by the Jain ascetics that made the place a cradle of civilization

It is also important to remember about Bhoothathankettu in Ernakulam district in Kerala near Thattekad which was built by mysterious demons as per hegemonic legends.  These demons of the past are actually demonized Buddhist Sramana monks in Brahmanical narrative imagination.

Thirthankara image mutilated and modified into a Linga in Mallikarjuna temple, Halebeedu. The three tiered umbrella above the head is still intact.

It is also proved beyond doubt that the Hoysala kings had some special affiliations with Jainism and it is also possible that their ancestors were Jains.  The three Jain temples or Basadis near the Hoysaleswara temple now housing a Siva lingam or phallus-idol testify the Jain origin of the place.  The Mallikarjuna temple on a nearby hillock shows concrete evidences of mutilation, obliteration, erasure and violent conversion to Saivism after the Virasaiva cult and Bhakti movement in the middle ages.

Modified remnance of Mansthambha before Mallikarjuna temple, Halebeedu. Mansthambha is a typical archetectural feature of Jain Basadis. While entering the Jain pally you can keep your Mana or pride outside on it.

The façade and vestibule of the current Mallikarjuna temple still show the modified or mutilated Jaina Thirthankara images. It is also very easy to change the Thirthankara image into a phallus images with a few strokes of the chisel.  The very iconography of the linga adopted by Brahmanic Saivism tells about its ulterior motives.

Chennakesava temple, Belur, Hassan, 12th c. AD

It is also shocking to realize that plenty of Mallikarjuna temples exist even down south to Kasaragod.  History also tells us that Brahmanical ideologues including Ramanuja came and influenced the Hoysala kings towards the violent and furious but sensual and appealing forms of Saivism and Vaishnavism that could intoxicate the people.

The fragmented monolith of Jina recovered and reinstalled in the garden of Hoysaleswara site by ASI. Carbon dating of it could prove the reality of the past.

It is reasonable to conclude that Jainism lost its popular support and mass base in these extreme and violent forms of appropriation and persecution.  The place that produced more than three or four magnificent stone temples lacks substantial number of Jain families here in the present.  It could be realistic to assume that most of them converted to Virasaiva and Hindu cults fearing persecution and torture.

Debris at Hoysaleswara temple premise proving the refashioning and iconographic changes and erasures

Mr Jaina Kumara who works as a guide here hailing from the lone Jain family remaining in Halebeedu also reasserts that Mallikarjuna is a covetous reshaping of Mallinatha Thirthankara the nineteenth and only woman Thirthankara of the Jains.  Padmavathy Devi a consort of Jinas is also easily changed to Parvathy Devi of Hinduism.  There are plenty of conversion tactics and gimmicks used by Brahmanism with which they change anything within no time and still manage to appeal and beguile the masses with a few textual or narrative strategies. All the present Savarna temples in Kerala that are more than a millennium old were actually Buddhist or Jain originally.

Grandeur in Stone: Chennakesava temple complex, Belur, Hassan, 12th century AD

The same practice of appropriated conversion was practiced throughout South India and Karnataka is no exception.  So it is possible that all the temples in Hassan district were originally Jain and later converted to Saiva or Vaishnava order after the conversion of kings and queens in purticular who were the custodians of the hearts of despotic rulers.  Brahmanism used its erotic lore and epics to play with the desires of the queens and concubines as well.  It is vital to note in this context that the linga in Hoysaleswara temple is named after the queen of a king.

An enigmatic missing: A headless stone torso in the south of Belur temple complex, Hassan

The erotic sculptures also point towards this desire element of Brahmanism that was strategically embedded in architecture, sculpture and iconography to lure and entangle the public and women and the youth in particular.  Brahmanism used its erotic narratives in letters and sculptures to colonize the minds and bodies of the people.  That is how it was able to maintain the lasting patronage from ruling kings and chieftains (and their queens and concubines in particular) and ensured sexual slavery by the Sudras and Savarnas for centuries.  Vira Saivites still populate the place along with other minor sects of dalits.

Soap stone erotica, Belur

The colossal Jain Thirthankara idol that is more than 10m in height now installed in the garden near the Hoysaleswara temple is a concrete proof of the Jain antiquity of the temple and the place.  The ASI pamphlet also says that it was found near the temple in the huge wreck broken into pieces.  It was destroyed and broken into pieces in the violent Saivite take over and thrown out and buried in mud like the Karumadikutan (a mutilated black Buddha in granite) of Ambalapuzha or the Buddha idol of Mavelikara in Kerala (all the Buddha idols of Kerala were recovered from mud or underneath the earth).  The debris of stone sculptures at the site also proves that the temple was reshaped and refashioned several times.

Excessively decorative columns and pillors inside the Belur temple, Hassan

The same is the story in Belur which was a power centre of Vaishnavism in Karnataka.  Some iconographic features and motifs point towards the Sramana origin of the structure.  The headless torso seated in Padmasana in a turret chamber in the south and the stone foot images on the northern side are remarkable Jain signs and icons.  Jains traditionally worshiped footmarks of their Thirthankaras and saints.

Jaime on the bank of Darasamuda/Dwarasamudra at Helebeedu, Hassan

What is remarkable in the simple artistic and apolitically aesthetic angle is the craftsmanship of the architects and sculptors in soap stone or schist.  It allowed them to carve the details and give animate plasticity  and sensual suppleness to the form.  The ancient Viswakarma artisans some of their names are inscribed below the sculptures excelled in the art of chiseling the human form especially the nude female figures that are carnal and moving.

Details from Hoysaleswara temple, Halebeedu

But we must also remember that most of this work was done under lifelong slavery and forced bondages that even exceeded generations and decades.  So the erotic images that pull the crowds also remind us of the brutalities of the powerful who even manufactured the so called art and architecture through violence and extreme forms of subjection and torture.  The so called beauty of the temple sculptures in India also talks a lot about the brutalities of the mighty and the ruling classes of the time. Here again the Jain temples and Basadis show us the model by keeping restraint.  They leave their walls blank without hedonistic and scopophilic erotica in the true spirit of their Digambara or naked philosophy and minimizing human labor and meaningless toil. Islamic architecture in India is also a counterpoint for excessive erotica.

Foot engraving in stone on the north of Belur temple

A large portion of the Sramana architecture in the south is simple, austere and meaningful as the sole creation of the monks themselves. The legacy of Ajanta and Ellora prove that the true traditions of Indian art came from the great renouncing ascetics themselves who never employed external artisans and forced labor.

Popular insights in culture and history: Jina muni's soap stone heads sold by local crafts-persons in Halebeedu, Hassan. Hoysaleswara archeological site in the backdrop.

Only Hindu Saiva and Vaishnava temples built by tyrants of the early middle ages who were mentally colonized and enslaved by Brahmanism, used the slave-labor of the subaltern to create the excessive erotica and ensured the sustained mental and emotional slavery of the common people. The Sutras and Puranas as the narrative texts were also strategically deployed to subordinate the minds forever.

A typical erasure:Mallikarjuna temple (Originally Mallinatha Basadi), Halebeedu, Hassan.

Conservation of historic sites of any kind is the primary duty of any constitutional state.  But the state must also do something for the critical understanding of culture and history in a democratic way in the greater interests and welfare of the people.  It is also important for governmental agencies to educate the people on this lesser known aspects of our cultural pasts rather than focusing on a one sided and monolithic glorification and packaging of the so called classical arts and architecture in India.  We must rethink the ethical issues involved in the whole discourses related to history, archeology and heritage studies.

Well maintained lawn and garden by ASI, Hoysaleswara temple, Halebeedu, Hassan

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