Jain Temples of Manjeswaram: Jainism in Kerala

Chathurmukha Basati, Jain temple in Bengara, Manjeswar

Jainism was the first missionary religion to reach the present Kerala in BC fourth century itself (Gopalakrishnan 2009).  The Pattanam excavations prove this historical fact beyond doubt now.  Indian rouletted ware with the inscription “Amana” meaning Sramana or Jain/Buddhist recently recovered from Pattanam near Muziris or Kodungallur testify the presence of Jain monks even in central Kerala itself around BC fourth century.

Parswanatha Basati Jain temple, Bengara near Hosangadi, Manjeswar

Jain texts and inscriptions also talk about the southward migration of Chandragupta Maurya under the guidance of his Jain guru Bhadrabahu following a prolonged drought in the north in BC 4th century.  They settled down in Sravanabelgola (white pool of Sramanas or Jains) in present Karnataka so close to north Kerala.  Jainism and its culture and architecture spread to various parts of ancient Tamil country including Chera kingdom from here (Damodaran 2002).

Remnance of an ancient stone temple near Manjeswar river mouth close to the Arabian sea. Clearly Jain according to granite archetectural patterns, motifs and Dwarapalaka reliefs

Manjeswaram was the headquarters of a Jain kingdom called Bengara-Manjeswar towards the northern frontier of present Kerala for atleast 500 years from 12th century onwards (Pathmakumar 43).  According to scholars involved in Jain studies more than 800 families where here and the debris of a destroyed fort is still found in the region.  The relics of an ancient stone temple near the river mouth of Manjeswar close to the Arabina sea is also a clear evidence of the Jain antiquity of the place.  Manjeswaram still has two Jain temples or Jaina Basatis on the southern shore of river Manjeswar still called Bengara after the Jain kingdom.  There are also a few surviving Jain families here near Hosangadi to the west of NH 17 around the Parswanatha Basati.

Ancient Asoka tree and Naga deities before Chathurmukha Basati, Manjeswar

There is a Chathurmukha Basati housing four idols of Jain gurus Adinatha, Santinatha, Chandranatha and Mahavira facing to the four directions.  This ancient structure belongs to 12th century according to experts (Pathmakumar 42) It is situated on a small idyllic hillock  and is a green and calm retreat for the culturally inclined visitor.  The Sramana sages loved peace and tranquility of nature.  There are also sacred trees like flowering  Asoka underneath which Naga or serpent idols are worshiped by the ancient Jains. I found plenty of birds, butterflies and even a peacock there in Jan 2011 when I visited the place alone.

Ancient alter or Bali stone in Mallinatha Basati, Manjeswar

The second temple is the Parswanatha  Basati named after another saint  or Thirthankara of Jainism.  This temple renovated several times in its long history is identified as belonging to 14th century.  It has idols of Parswanatha, Pathmavathy Devi, Khusmandini Devi and Saraswati as well.  In many places in Karnataka and north Kerala Mallinatha Basatis are converted to Mallikarjuna Hindu temples. A Jain family is also attached to this temple.  I met the family who are fourth generation Jain priests called Indrans of the temple and they informed me that most of the community had migrated to Karnataka because of various social pressures and extreme marginalization and exclusion under hegemony.

Small Blue Kingfisher on the helm of a fishing boat in Manjeswar estuary, Kasaragod, Kerala

These temples at the northern boundary of Kerala like the Chitharal (Tirucharanthumala) rock temple and Nagerkovil temple at the southern frontier now being Hinduized along with Kallil in Ernakulam district and Kaviyoor rock temple in Pathanamthitta district prove the basic presence and foundation of Jain culture as the primary civilization of Kerala.

Entering Jain temple near Hosangadi, Manjeswar

All the bahujans or the people or subaltern in Kerala have their Jain/Buddhist ancestry and that is why they were considered as untouchables by Hinduism till a few decades ago. The Avarnas or former untouchables in India  as a people have their Sramana heritage and ethical legacy to fall back that lie at the bottom of things.  The still surviving Jain centers of Moodbidri, Karkala, Venur and Dharmasthala are also geographically close to Manjeswar like Sravanabelgola.

Green hillock housing the Jain temple in Manjeswar

Irinjalakuda Kudalmanikya temple was also a Jain temple till the 14th century (Valath 1992: 127; Gopalakrishnan; Pathmakumar).  Almost all the Brahmanical temples having an antiquity of more than a thousand years were violently Hinduized during the Brahmanic conquest with the help of Sudra henchmen who served as the militia and pimps of Brahmanism in establishing its material, sexual and mental colonies in Kerala during the 7th and 8th centuries AD through caste and pollution. The Savarna or upper caste Hindu hegemonic culture in Kerala is built on bloody and violent forms of invasion, brute aggression and inhuman oppression including genocide and annihilation.

Photos of Jain gurus inside the Jain home near Parswanatha temple, Manjeswar. Saraswati on the left showing that she was originally a Jain deity

It is high time that the people in Kerala who have survived these material and symbolic violences for centuries  must realize their true ethical heritage in the Sramana egalitarian cultures of Jainism and Buddhism and rewrite the cultural history of Kerala that was erased, obliterated and mutilated by Brahmanism and Savarna hegemonic forces who infiltrated and destroyed the Baliraj or rule of the egalitarian and subaltern mythical Maveli of Kerala in the middle ages through Brahman-Sudra nocturnal alliances and knowledge/power monopolies built by barbaric violence, erasure and repression.

Alter or Bali stone in Manjeswar Jain temple. Another feature of Jain temple architecture later Hinduized in the Brahmanical appropriations


Damodaran, K.  Tamilnadu: Archeological Perspectives.  Chennai: Govt. of Tamilnadu, 2002.

Gopalakrishnan, P K.  Keralathinte Samskarika Charithram.  Trivandrum:  Kerala Bhasha Institute, 2009.

— ,   Jainamatham Keralthil.  Trivandrum:  Prabhat, 1992

Pathmakumar, P D.  Jaina Dharmam Keralathil. Kozhikode: Wayanad Jaina Samaj and Mathrubhumi, 2007.

Sarkar, H.  Monuments of Kerala.  New Delhi:  Archeological Survey of India, 1992.

Valath, V V K.  Keralathile Sthala Nama Charithrangal: Ernakulam Jilla.  Thrissur:  Kerala Sahitya Academy, 1991.

— , Keralathile Sthala Nama Charithrangal: Thrissur Jilla.  Thrissur:  Kerala Sahitya Academy, 1992.

Kerala and Karnataka: Historical and Cultural Linkages

Sravanabelgola: The pool between two hills
Icon of Indian Visual Culture: Imposing Nudity of Gomateswara

In the first week of April 2010, I was in Karnataka.  Southern Karnataka has historical connections with Kerala from pre-historic ages onwards.  The Sramana culture of Buddhism and Jainism came to Northern and central Kerala through Karnataka.  I visited Sravanabelgola which has been the centre of Jain culture from BC third century onwards. The very place name suggests the Vella Kulam of the Sramanas or the white pool of the Jain Munis.  In Sravanabelgola a large granite stepped pool with four carved gateways separates two hillocks.  Both are rich with history and cultural memory.

Temple atop Vindhya Giri above the carved steps

Emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya along with his Jain guru Bhadra Bahu migrated down south to this beautiful hillock now called Chandra Giri, after him and spent his last days here in ascetic renunciation.  The temple complex built in their memory still adorn the top of this hill after a series of renovations by various dynasties across millenniums.  Beneath the hill there is an ancient tank that is full even in summer.

On the neighbouring hill called Vindhya Giri stands the colossal monolith of Bahubali, the first Thirthankara of Jainism.  This 58 feet monolith is one of the tallest ones in the world.  It was carved by Aristanami, the renowed South Indian sculptor in the mid tenth century under the decree of Chamunda Raya, the Ganga king.  With the stark stone-nakedness, the calm and open posture, being one with nature with all the creepers, snakes and ants and anthills around him and at his feet the one and only Gomateswara statue represents the pinnacle of Indian visual culture and philosophy.

Gaja Lakshmi relif above the entrance, originally Jain
Cow and Calf: Relief on Pillor

The unique temple around this beautiful and eco-aesthetically harmonious gray-granite monolith houses the exquisitely carved smaller sculptures in granite and schist of all the other 24 thirthankara’s and Jain sub-deities.  Gaja Lakshmi, Yaksha/Yakshini, Saraswati, Ganesh… to name a few.  All most all these sub-deities and motifs of Jain sculpture and architecture are now being Hinduized in various temples across South India after the Brahmanical internal invasion that gained cultural hegemony by the 12th and 14th century through royal usurpation and patronage.

The granite reliefs and carvings on the pillors and side walls are

Meditation in Stone: Gomateswara or Bahubali in Sravanabelgola
Dancing woman/Apsara on the pillor

amazing and enchanting.  The images of men, women, and animals are evocatively animate and thrillingly dynamic.  There are also images of abstract forms and ideas like the music generated by a string instrument depicted in intricate carved patterns in stone.  The woman playing the Vina could be none other than the goddess of music.   Thee are monochrome murals depicting elephants, horses and bulls.  The rough semi carvings on the outer granite wall embellish with images of twin fish, snakes, apes, wrestlers, contortionists etc.   A visit to this ancient cultural center reveals the fact that it is the true center of South Indian temple architecture, murals and iconography.

Murals: Horse and Elephant, Jain Mudras

The striking northward facing Gomateswara or Bahubali in his gray-granite nudity atop the Vindhya Giri hillock  is visible from miles afar as we approach and leave Sravanabelgola from Bangalore or Mangalore.  It is 150 km west of Bangalore on NH 48.  Other Jain centers like Karkala and Venur are also nearby.

Music in Stone: Woman playing Vina