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.

Dharmadam: A Place of Dharma or Ethics

Dharmadam: An anchored island in the sea of cultural history

Dharmadam is a tiny island off the coast of Malabr near Thalassery.  It floats poignantly like a green offshoot or an anchored ship a few hundred meters away from the mainland.   It is situated just south of Muzhupilangad beach, the only drive in beach in Kerala.  The beach sand is darker and binding with scattered laterite formations.  People walk to the island during low tide.  It is part of a laterite projection into the Arabian sea between the two arms of the river Anjarakandy.  The northern arm of the river is also called Dharmadam river by the local population.

Geologically special: Unique laterite formations and dark and rigid beach sand

I visited this historic and enigmatic islet on Sunday, 13 Feb. 2011 with Jaime Chithra at noon.  The laterite rock formations carved out by the waves over thousands of years appear like relics of an ancient civilization.  This reminiscence of natural history points towards the greater legacies of cultural history associated with this unique and strategic geo-political location and geographic formation .

The river mouth of Anjarakandi puzha/Dharmadam puzha

The very name says it all.  Dharmadam means the place of Dharma or ethics in the Buddhist sense.  It was the space and abode of the ethical philosophy and praxis of Buddhism or the extremely pacified religion of Jainism during the Sramana cultural phase of Kerala from BC fourth century to the eighth or tenth century AD when these ethical cultures were devastated by invading Brahmanism that converted dynasties to Hinduism and created its notorious sexual colonies among Sudras that ensured their lasting slavery.  Historians have identified it as Srimoola Vaasam the southern seat of the Buddha in  Indian peninsula.  But places like Thrikkunnapuzha, Thottappally and Thirumullavaram in the south coast are also tentative locations.

Laterite relics resonant with history

Fortunately the linguistic evidences are still surviving in and around Dharmadam and Malabar which abound in place names connected to ‘Pally’ or non Hindu worshiping places.  The Brahmanic Hindu conquest and its hegemonic erasures could not obliterate the linguistic markers and a few place names related to Pali language, the language used by Buddhist missionaries in the south.  It is also important to remember that places like Dharmasthala are still existing a few hundred miles north east in the ancient Tulunadu along with other Jain reminiscences in Moodbidre, Karkala and Sravanabelgola.  The Pali and Prakrit linguistic traces are still surviving in Tulunadu and Kolathunadu as they are in the southern regions of present Kerala.

According to Dr Santhosh Manichery, a researcher and teacher from Govt. Brennen College, Thalassery Dharmadam had been a place of immense importance in relation to the Buddhist past of Malabar.  The place names of Pallykkunnu, Kattampally, Kunjipally, Mullappally etc. in and around Kannur also substantiate this argument with other evidences drawn from linguistic archaeology and local oral narratives of the subaltern. According to M P Kumaran a local historian the place name Dharmadam is a shortened form of Dharma Pathanam a synonym for pepper in Amarakosa as the place was the center of pepper trade from the Sangham ages onwards.  Kumaran master also locates Dharmadam as the eroded port of Tyndis or Tundis as recorded in Roman and western writings on Malabar (Kumaran 1998: 24).

It is also notable that the place was so special for Kolathiris or Nannans of Ezhimala whose original ancestry was Buddhist and non Brahmanic/Hindu as clearly established by Mooshika Vamsa of Athulan written in the 11th century.  It is important to mark here that Sramana traditions sustained well into the 12th century as this vital text proves.  At the wake of the 17th century The Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the English competed to gain control over this strategic point on the Malabar coast.  It was also with Arakal Beevi of Kannur (the only Muslim dynasty of Kerala) and Mysore for a short span in the 18th century.  Soon after the Srirangapatanam treaty of 1792 it again fell into the hands of the British.

Whatever be its colonial legacies it is one of the last surviving sacred spaces historically linked to Buddhism/Jainism in Malabar.  With the increasing Sanskritization and Hinduization of local shrines and Bahujan temples the invaluable traditions and traces of Sramana culture are getting obliterated everyday.  Even the chants of Theyyams have become Sanskritic, Hindu hegemonic and elitist today.  Neo Brahmanism and Savarna elite cultural hegemony colonize the minds through every discourse and mass media in society.

History repeats itself: Saffron flag coming up at Dharmadam

Amidst all these erasures and silences and evasions in our cultural history Dharmadam adorns a significant  and self articulating space and voice that point towards the ethical and egalitarian past of Kerala and the shared historical legacies of South India.  It must be protected for posterity as an invaluable heritage site of immense significances in relation to natural and cultural history by the cultural wings and environmental departments of the Government and international bodies like the UNESCO as it is done in the Cochin-Muziris heritage project.  It was Sahodaran Ayyappan the seminal voice of Kerala renaissance who reminded all Keralites almost a century ago by radically rereading his own teacher in the following re-articulation:

No caste, no religion, no god

But Dharma, Dharma and Dharma …

Yes, Dharmadam is there to welcome the ethically inclined in the past, present and future.


For further Reading:

Kumaran, M P.  Kolathupazhama.  Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Akademi, 1998.