Tale Of Two Bahubali Gomateshwara Statues At Karkala & Venur

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Bahubali Gomateshwara Statue, Karkala, landscape view
Bahubali Gomateshwara Statue, Karkala, landscape view

Bahulbali – the two films made the characters popular. I had just watched the films and wondered where the word Bahubali came from. I did not have to go too far. A family wedding took me to Mangalore – met the two Bahubali Gomateshwara statues at Karkala and Venur. That was a trigger to explore the history and popularity of Bahubali in South India.

Bahubali literally means the one with strong arms. Yes, that is what the WhatsApp joke saying Neil Armstrong was none other than Neelendra Bahubali refers to.

So, come with me to meet the two Bahubali’s near Mangalore.

Who is Bahubali?

Bahubali was the son of first Jain Tirthankara – Rishabhnath or Adinath. It is said that Adinath had 100 sons. But Bahubali and Bharat Chakravartin were the two main contenders to his legacy. Adinath divided his kingdom and gave the northern kingdom to Bharat who ruled from Ayodhya or Ayodhyapuri. It is also referred as Vinita in some texts. The southern kingdom was given to Bahubali.

When Bharat tried to be the Chakravartin or the king who rules all four directions, he went around the world and conquered all kingdoms. However, he still had to win his brother’s. All brothers except Bahubali conceded. Two brothers then fought in all kinds of ways and Bahubali was the winner.

However, as soon as he won he was dejected. He felt guilty for defeating his own elder brother. He went to Mount Kailash and meditated in standing position on the mountain. And he was so still that vegetation and ant hills grew around his legs and his body became part of the place he was standing on. A year later his brother Bharat came and prayed to him – at which point Bahubali was liberated of his guilt. Metaphorically, he won over his own vices and attained the ultimate knowledge. Bahubali was liberated and he became a Siddha.

Gomateshwara statue at Karkala
Gomateshwara statue at Karkala

It is his liberation that is celebrated in various tall monolithic statues dedicated to Gomateshwara Bahubali. What is interesting is that most of these statues exist in Karnataka – a state that is home to many Jain temples, Basadis, and Gomateshwara statues.

Standing posture of Bahubali is known as Kayotsarga. Jain Tirthankaras can be seen in two postures while meditating – sitting in lotus pose or Kayotsarga.

Bahubali Gomateshwara statue at Karkala

After exploring the Jain Kashi or Moodbidri we headed to Karkala. We climbed the huge rock on which the Gomateshwara statue is located. The rock has been cut to create steps for the visitors. You can also climb the rock if you want.

Carved steps on rocky hill at Karkala
Carved steps on rocky hill at Karkala

There are about 500 steps to climb – being small steps, they are not very difficult to climb. The intriguing bit is that you cannot see the statue till you have almost climbed all the steps. If the weather is good, climbing can be fun, as you see the lush green landscape around the hill. As you go up, the view changes.

The tall monolithic Gomateshwara statue stands in a walled temple complex. As you enter the temple complex, there is the platform on either side to sit and admire the statue. There is a large compound in which the statue stands.

History of Karkala Bahubali

Karkala Gomateshwara statue was built in 1432 CE by King Vir Pandya of Kalasa-Karkala dynasty. This was a period when Jainism was at its peak in South Canara region of Karnataka.

Monolithic Gomateshwara Statue at Karkala
Monolithic Gomateshwara Statue at Karkala

The monolithic Bahubali statue measures 42 feet in height, add to it the five feet of its stone platform.

Yaksha atop a pillar facing the Bahubali
Yaksha atop a pillar facing the Bahubali

Opposite the statue is a Maanstambh or a pillar with a Yaksha image sitting in a canopy on its top. The Yaksha and the Bahubali face each other.

Jain Tirthankara statue at Karkala
Jain Tirthankara statue at Karkala

Some stone images of various Jain Tirthankaras are placed behind the Karkala Bahubali.

Collage of several Jain Tirthankaras statues at Karkala
Collage of several Jain Tirthankaras statues at Karkala
Sri Raja Guru Peeta near Gomateshwara statue
Sri Raja Guru Peeta near Gomateshwara statue

Karkala Bahubali Statue

Bahubali stands erect on the Kayotsarga posture. The statue has all the features of a Mahapurusha like elongated ears, long arms, three folds on the neck & curly hair. What makes it distinct from other Mahapurush iconography is the creepers and ant hills on his legs and arms. This is a feature that belongs solely to Gomateshwara.

The grains of ash gray stone add a texture to the stone statue.

The oldest and the most famous Bahubali statue is at Shravanabelagola that was built in 981 CE.

Chaturmukha Basadi

Landscape view of Chaturmukha Basadi from the Gomateshwara Hill at Karkala
Landscape view of Chaturmukha Basadi from the Gomateshwara Hill at Karkala

As we started walking back from Karkala hill, we saw a lovely temple bang opposite it – just a small distance away. Surrounded by green trees on all sides, this absolutely symmetric structure with a small boundary wall going all around it – looked beautiful.

We gathered that this is Chaturmukha Basadi – called so because of the four symmetrical sides.

Chaturmukha Basadi, Karkala
Chaturmukha Basadi, Karkala

After soaking in the greenery from the hill top, we decided to visit the Chaturmukha Basadi. It was afternoon and the Basadi was closed. We were told it opens for a very small time in the mornings and evenings.

Dwarpalakas at Chaturmukha Basadi
Dwarpalakas at Chaturmukha Basadi

We went around it and tried to peep in through the doors of this late 16th CE temple. The Basadi has four beautifully carved gates on all four sides. Wooden doors had elaborately carved doorjambs with Dwarapalas on either side. Steps leading to the doors have beautiful balustrades.

One of the doors of Chaturmukha Basadi
One of the doors of Chaturmukha Basadi
Pillars of Chaturmukha Basadi
Pillars of Chaturmukha Basadi

On the circumambulation path too, the walls had various figurines and ceilings had typical Jain beam and lintel roofs with geometric designs. Gargoyles were shaped like animal faces. All signs of a temple of its era.

Sculpted walls & pillars of Chaturmukha Basadi
Sculpted walls & pillars of Chaturmukha Basadi
Landscape view of Chaturmukha Basadi
Landscape view of Chaturmukha Basadi

Bust of Karkala Bahubali can be seen emerging from the hill opposite the temple.

Bust of Bahubali as seen from Chaturmukha Basadi
Bust of Bahubali as seen from Chaturmukha Basadi

Venur Gomateshwara Bahubali

Bahubali Gomateshwara statue at Venur
Bahubali Gomateshwara statue at Venur

Venoor or Venur is a small town few kilometers from Karkala on the banks of river Gurupura.

Here again, on a hill stands another Bahubali. This one is about 38 feet in height and built a few years later than the Karkala one. It is believed that the renowned sculptor Amarshilpi Jankachari has carved this statue from a single stone.

This statue stands on a double pedestal and has all the signs of a Bahubali.

Yaksha at Venur
Yaksha at Venur

The Yaksha on the Maanstambh has no canopy over him, so you can get a clearer view of him.

A Mahabhishek is performed every 12 years here and the last one was in 2012.

The good part is you need to climb just a few steps at Venur, the car goes right to till the gate of the temple. It also stands in a walled enclosure on a rocky hill.

Travel Tips for Karkala and Venur

  • To visit Karkala and Venur, you can stay at Mangalore and do them as a day trip from there.
  • It is advisable to climb the Karkala Hill early morning or evening. It can get really hot during the day.
  • Check the temple timings before you go.
  • Venur Bahubali is also closed after 4 PM, though you can still see the statue from the gate.
  • Stop by the various rivers like Phalguni and Gurupura that you cross – they have a very active bird life on their banks.
  • You get simple south Indian food in these towns.
ASI information board at Karkala
ASI information board at Karkala

Some beautiful birds can be spotted from atop the hill on the trees in the surrounding valley. Spend some time if you are interested. We managed to capture the Brown-headed Barbet and Jerdon’s Leafbird in about 15 minutes there.

Jerdon's Leafbird at Karkala
Jerdon’s Leafbird at Karkala

Recommend you read following travel blog on nearby places to visit.

  1. A rewinding trip by the backwaters in coastal Karnataka.
  2. 7 reasons to spend a holiday at Sai Vishram Beach Resort, Byndoor.
  3. Exquisitely carved ancient 1000 Pillars Temple at Moodbidri.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Anuradha, the west coast was Jain territory, and east Buddhist until the vaishnava movement heralded by Ramanujacharya came. The temples along the west coast are dedicated to the mother goddess, or to Babbabarya the ethno-folk deity who is being absorbed into the hindu pantheon as a demi-god. Any way what I wanted to share was the structure of the temples are based on Jain architecture, for me Karkala is very dear because I was born there.:)

    • Ah, I never thought of this east west divide in Buddhism and Jainism. Now that you say, it makes all sense. Can you tell me more about Babbabarya – was he by any chance related to Bhim of Mahabharata?

  2. Visit to this great place of Gomateshwara Bahubali is a pleasure. One can admire the architect and the religious fervor of the people and imagine the significance of Jainism in old south.
    As to your reply Parwati who said the temples along west coast are dedicated to the “mother goddess”, or to Babbabarya … then your asking if its related to Bhim… does not make sense.

  3. Definitely you’ve had lots of fun and brought back lots of memories, with all these fabulous pictures, it’s been a very interesting reading. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

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