Chandragiri Fort: A Landmark on the Kasaragod Coast

Fort Chandragiri, Kasaragod, Kerala

Though there are plenty of places called Chandragiri in south India including the ones in Tirupati in Andhra and Sravanabelgola in Karnataka the Chandragiri in Kasaragod is unique in its history, antiquity  and cultural and ecological geography.

River Chandragiri joins Arabian sea: A view from fort Chandragiri at 50 m. MSL, Kasaragod

Fort Chandragiri stands atop the small hillock at the southern bank of the mouth of  river Chandragiri  near Kasaragod in north Malabar.  Chandragiri river was the traditional boundary between Tulunad and Kolathunad or Malayalam speaking regions in northern Malabar.

Pregnant with pasts: Fortifications and citadels  at fort Chandragiri, Kasaragod

The laterite mount that rises up to 50m above sea level overlooks the Chandragiri or Thalangara estuary and the Arabian sea.  The northern bank of the river houses Pulikunnu and Thalangara regions that are also important in many ways.

River Chandragiri, Pulikunnu, Thalangara and Kasaragod town regions from fort Chandragiri

The river originating from Kodagu called Payaswini till it reaches the coastal planes (by flowing through Sullia in Karnataka to reach Kasaragod coast) becomes river Chandragiri as it meets the Arabian sea at Chandragiri.  It is sure that the Chandragiri region is a geo-politically and culturally important location due to its geographical and ecological distinctions.

Laterite stone architectural motifs in fort Chandragiri, Kasaragod

The very name Chandragiri connects it with the mount in Sravanabelgola that is named by the ancient Jain sages after Chandranatha Thirthankara.  Jains used to name places and hillocks after their saints and gurus.  Pallypuram and Kalanad Dharma Sastha temple are still surviving around the hillock.

Arabian sea, river mouth of Chandragiri, Thalangara estuary, Kasaragod harbor, rail bridge from fort Chandragiri

The place name Pallypuram (Pally premise or surrounding) clearly shows that there was a Pally or ancient Jain/Buddhist shrine on the hill top.  Sastha is also a Hinduized form of Jina or Buddha.  Dharma Sastha is the synonym of Buddha still in the Malayalam lexicon.

Chandragiri river mouth and rail bridge connecting Kalanad and Kasaragod

The place name Kalanad may be connected to Kalabhra dynasty that exercised remarkable influence through out south India or the ancient Tamilakam from AD third to seventh century.  The Kalabhras patronized Jainism and Buddhism and they established plenty of Sramana vestiges all around the subcontinent.

Pallypuram and Kalanad regions from atop Chandragiri fort, Kasaragod

Kalanad may also be related to the maritime history of the place as Kalam means Kappal or ship.  It is also notable that Malik Dinar landed nearby in Thalangara and established one of the ancient Islamic mosques in south India on the northern bank of river Chandragiri in early 8th century AD.

Pipal tree near Kalanad Sastha temple: From fort Chandragiri, Blue Arabian sea behind

The location, setting and architectural relics reinforce the Sramana connection of Chandragiri fort.  The very gateway and architectural patterns and motifs in huge laterite boulders closely resemble the stone structures at Sravanabelgola, Moodbidri and Karkala that are surviving examples of Jain architecture in stone just a few hundred miles away in the north east.

Kalanad Dharma Sastha temple (right) and Pipal from railway station

The meandering flight of steps and the surrounding walls and structures clearly echo the erased and modified Jain structure.  I felt like entering the Gomateswara shrines at Sravanabelgola or Karkala as I ascended the steps to enter the gateway of Chandragiri fort in January and March 2011.  It is important to observe that most of the present forts and Hindu temples are built over ancient Sramana sites of greater antiquity.

Kalanad and Pallypuram from Chandragiri fort, Kasaragod

It is also notable that Pallykara Panchayat that hosts Bekal fort is just to the south of Chandragiri and Pallypuram.  Bekal fort was also a sacred Sramana site of archeological importance.  Detailed excavations may reveal the real past of Kasaragod coast.  It is remarkable that two Jain temples are still surviving in Manjeswaram towards the north of Kasaragod.  Kodagu and Hassan districts in Karnataka  that border Kasaragod were also ruled by Jain dynasties till the 13th century.

White-bellied Sea Eagle soaring above Chandragiri, Kasaragod

Fortunately it is now with the Archeological Survey of India and it is highly desirable that they conduct further excavations and detailed studies on the pasts of these forts along the coast of Kasargod from Manjeswaram to  Kumbala, Chandragiri, Bekal and Hosdurg (Kanjangad).

Summer rainbow above fort Chandragiri
Summer rainbow above fort Chandragiri, from Chandragiri rail bridge, Kasaragod, early 2011

The Keladi Nayiks of Ikkeri who fortified these strategic locations after the fall of the Vijayanagara empire in the 16th and 17th centuries probably erased the presence of Sramana antiquity and replaced the original Pallys or Sramana shrines with some Hindu Hanuman temples.  Kumbala and Bekal forts still hold these Hanuman temples.  The reference to stone or Kal in the place name Bekal is also a Jain marker.

White-bellied Sea Eagle near its nest on the Pipal, Kalanad Sastha temple, Kasaragod

These forts and associated temples must be preserved for posterity and detailed archeological, historical and inter disciplinary cultural studies by ASI and free researchers may expose the realities of the pasts.  These important monuments must be kept intact for the sheer beauty of their locations and ancient ambiance.  Irreverence for cultural history and critical humanities that is growing among the so called techno-trained people in Kerala  could be a clear symptom of collective amnesia, political illiteracy and social ignorance.

Sunset in Arabian sea beyond the mouth of river Chandragiri, a view from the fort in mid 2010

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.