Moodbidri is an ancient Jain temple town located just about 35 km from the coastal city of Mangalore in Karnataka. We all know about the giant Bahubali statue at Shravanabelagola but what you may not know that Jainism is an integral part of Karnataka’s cultural and ethnic fabric. I discovered a bit of it in and around Moodbidri Jain Temple town.
Come with me for a walk around this town full of Jain temples known as Basadi. There are 18 main temples or Basadis. About 10 of them are located on the same road known as Jain Temple Road. In fact, the literature says this place has 18 temples, 18 lakes, and 18 roads interconnecting the villages. I could definitely see 18 or maybe more of them. There are quite a few big and small roads although I could not count their number. I did not see any lakes or ponds except at one temple. I assume the development of the human race in the last few hundred years would have taken a toll on the lakes.
History of Moodbidri
Moodbidri comes from two words Moodu & Bidru that respectively mean East and Bamboo. I assume bamboo was grown here. At present, you hardly see any Bamboo plantations in the area. It is full of coconut and areca nut trees. It is a quaint town on the Mangalore -Karkala Road – part of Tulu Nadu.
Moodbidri has been a center of Jainism in South India for a long time. The oldest recorded idol here belongs to Parshvanath – one of the Jain Tirthankaras. The legend goes that Jain monks while traveling through this region, saw a cow and a lion playing together. The monks took it as a sign of a virtuous place and decided to set up a temple there. As luck would have it, they found a stone idol of Parshvanath when they were clearing the ground for a temple. The story is not unusual. This story is associated with many pious places across the country.
Anyway, the first temple dedicated to Parsavnath at Moodbidri was hence set up. A copper plate from the 8th CE talks about this Jain temple. The oral traditions say that this has been a place for Jain gurus since ancient times. The temple is known as Guru Basadi and is the oldest of the temples in the town.
It is said that sometime around 1000 years ago, one of the Jain Kings gave up Jainism and started following Vaishnav Dharma. He started calling himself Vishnuvardhan. As it happened with the recent converts, the king started destroying the Jain Temples, and that led to the slight decline of Jainism in Karnataka. However, a later king Ballal Rai came back to the Jainism fold. He started by worshiping the Shravanabelagola region and re-instating the Jain Munis. These Munis then arrived in Moodbidri and set up their Maths.
On the day we visited the place, we saw rituals being performed in at least 3 temples, telling us that these are living and practicing temples. Having said that Guru Basadi and Thousand Pillar temple come under ASI and are protected monuments.
The architecture of Moodbidri Jain Temples
Temples at Moodbidri are called Basadi – a derivative of the Sanskrit word Vasati – meaning a place to stay.
All temples are built using the Beam and lintel techniques – predating any influence from central Asia. The stone used is ash gray in color. Roofs have a local architecture – slanting in red color with Mangalore tiles on them.
Apart from Thousand Pillar temples, most temples are small and house one key idol of the presiding deity. The names of the temples sometimes come from the deity and sometimes from the people who got them built. A few of the temples get their name from persons of the Shetty community.
Carvings on the stone
All the temples though have pillars worth admiring. Carvings on the stone are both secular and religious. There are ample Hindu deities carved on the temple walls of Basadis of the town. The Jain Teerthankar idols are in metal and stone – varying in height from 3ft to 9ft. Each Jain temple has a tall stone pillar in front of the temple called Manstambh.
Wood-carved panels can be seen primarily in the thousand-pillar temple, most other temples are made only of stone.
Stone inscriptions can be seen – though I could not read them. I assume they are some kind of records or documentation of the temples.
The Thousand Pillar Temple of Moodbidri
This Jain temple was the main attraction for me when I planned my trip to Moodbidri. There are a few thousand pillar temples in India, so I was keen to see this lesser-known thousand-pillar temple. Located at the end of a small lane, this is a lovely temple. You see a gopuram-like construction in white with the name of the temple written on top.
A lovely wooden gate with finely carved panels welcomes you before you enter the gate. The doorjamb is in carved ash-gray stone. Then a tall shining Maanstambh or the flagstaff in metal welcomes you, giving you a partial view of the big temple. It is like a teaser that arouses your curiosity as the temple is right in front of you but still not fully visible. The thousand pillar temple is officially called Tribhuvan Tilak Chudamani Basadi.
We skirted around the pillar to stand in front of the temple. It is a pagoda-style temple with slanted roofs held together with colorful and carved wooden panels. We climbed the steps with two elephants standing on both sides, leading to the temple. We found ourselves in the middle of a Mandapa full of carved pillars. Each pillar was carved differently, yet together they provide a very symmetric visual overall.
Sculptures on Pillars
The temple guard walked up to us and told us about the nuances of some of the sculptures on the pillars like – A corner carved with two merging horses, which could look like an elephant face from another angle. A panel had Ganesha carved and another had Ram Lakshman with their army of monkeys. The front-most stone of the Mandapa was plain but had a panel of Gaja Lakshmi carved on it – this is what the main idol of the temple would see. There are pillars carved on the pillars that we would later learn add to the 1000 count of this thousand-pillar temple.
Read More – 1000 Pillar Temple at Warangal
Video – Glimpse of 1000 Pillar Temple
Watch the video in HD mode and get an idea of the 1000 Pillar Temple.
The most intriguing pillar of this temple was a hanging pillar. We only hear of a hanging pillar at Lepakshi temple in Andhra Pradesh, but this hanging pillar is as amazing as that. You stand there and wonder at the perfect union of engineering and aesthetics.
Another interesting set of carvings was the geometric patterns at the base of these pillars. The square base on its four faces had these patterns that looked like depicting infinite loops. I can not be sure but all these patterns seem like they could begin from any place and then come back to the same place without lifting the hand. Are these some mathematical equations carved or some code?
We stepped down the mandapa on the other side and entered the main temple. Two Dwarpalas or guardians are painted on either side of the main gate. This is unusual – the whole temple is profusely carved but the Dwarpalas are painted. Another wooden door with lotuses carved on it welcomed us inside the main temple.
The tall idol of Chandraprabhu in black stone was a few doors away. Visitors are allowed to see it only through the framed doors. Few oil lamps are placed around the idol to light it up – else it would merge with the darkness of the sanctum. The room we stood in had few pillars and all of them were uniquely carved. We said our prayers and stepped out for the circumambulation.
Around the Temple
We walked along the narrow path around the temple that was decimated by doors and steps leading to these doors on all four sides. Barring the main door, all other doors were closed. However, the steps leading to the doors were beautifully carved with a hint of Chalukyan architecture. A carved gargoyle led the Abhishek water out of the temple. The whole temple is surrounded by a series of double pillars.
We went around the temple and came back to the pillared Mandapa. We were not convinced that there are 1000 pillars in the temple, even if you count the carved series of pillars on a few pillars. This is when the temple guard told us that there are two more stories of the temple and they too have many pillars. Unfortunately, the upper levels of the temple are not open to visitors.
We admired the temples surrounded by a tall fort-like wall and stepped out with a sense of wonder. There were many more temples to be explored.
Guru Basadi or Siddhant Temple – Moodbidri
This is the oldest temple in the town. This was originally called the Parshvanath Basadi after the presiding deity of the temple. It is believed that the tall idol in black stone here is thousands of years old. As I mentioned in the history earlier, it was found by the Jain monks while clearing the Forest in 8th CE, when it was installed as part of this temple. Since the idol was found and installed by a Guru – the place came to be known as Guru Basadi.
There is another reason for this temple to be called Guru Basadi – this is where the Mathadipathi or the head of the Jain Math is appointed. Coronations of the Jain Bhattarakas still take place at Guru Basadi.
Home of Ancient Dhawala Jain Scriptures
Guru Basadi is also called Siddhant Temple as it houses the 3 precious Siddhanta texts of the Jains. These texts are called Dhawala, Jai Dhawala, and Maha Dhawala. Together they are called Jain Dhavala, texts. These texts came here from the Dharwad district in Karnataka.
Jain pilgrims travel to this place and Guri Basadi to see its most precious collection i.e. its miniature idols. These miniature idols of various Jain Teerthankars are in precious metals and stones like Gold, Silver, pearl, sapphire, crystal, etc. We could not see these, as the day we visited, a private ceremony was going on and we could not ask the priests to show us these miniature masterpieces. Do look out for them when you visit.
Guru Basadi does not have a mandapa, but on either side of the main gate as two platforms for people to sit. The platforms are supported by carved pillars. A small temple dedicated to Saraswati and Padmawati is within the Guru Basadi compound. This is Ammawaran Basadi.
The Parshvnath idol here is 9 ft tall and amazing to look at. Imagine this image has seen so many eras and so many people – if it could speak, how many stories it would have to tell us?
Other Jain Basadis
Mathada Basadi – Located right at the corner of the road leading to Thousand Pillar Temple – this Basadi stands out for its ancient paintings. The Jain Mandalas and Tree of Life are painted on the walls of Mathada Basadi. I even saw a Mandala in beautiful colors that were prepared for a ritual. There is a lovely image of Parshvanatha along with the image of Yakshi Kushmandini Devi. This one is a living Mutt.
At the information booth, there is a large painting of Ram Darbar.
Special Pujas are conducted on Tuesdays here.
Pathshala Basadi – Dedicated to Munisuvrita Bhagwaan – this has a lovely Kerala-style pillared courtyard. The temple is small but the woodwork is worth admiring.
Basadis on Jain Temple Road
- Vikram Setty Basadi – This Jain Basadi gets its name from the devotee who built it. It is dedicated to Adinath or Rishabhnath. I saw some Nagas or snakes carved on stone occupying one corner of the temple. A post-life ritual was being conducted for a departed soul, so we made a quiet entry and exit to the temple.
- Lepadda Basadi – Dedicates to Lord Chandranatha Swami this simple Basadi has a big ground in front of it. This one was locked when we visited, but we could see the simple small structure from its main door.
- Deramma Setty Basadi – Built by devotee Deramma Setty, this houses the idols of Aranath, Mallinath, and Muni Suvratnath. Along with this it also has idols of all the 24 Jain Teerthankars.
- Kallu Basadi – Dedicated to Lord Sheetalnath Swami, this Basadi has the Jain Mandalas painted on its walls. The paintings are recent but introduce you to the Jain cosmology.
- Badag Basadi – Dedicated to Chandranath Swami, this is an ancient Basadi located to the north of the town.
Read more – Jain Kashi’s website
- Sheetar Basadi & Betkeri Basadi – dedicated to Lord Mahaveer.
- Koti Basadi – Built by Koti Setty and dedicated to Lord Neminath.
- Chol Setty Basadi – Built by Chol Setty and dedicated to Sumatinath, Padmaprabhnath & Suparshvanath.
- Mahadev Setty Basadi – Built by Mahadev Setty and dedicated to Adinath Teerthankar.
- Vaikantikari Basadi – Dedicated to Ananthnath Swamy.
- Kere Basadi – This is the only Basadi that has a tank associated with it. It lies across the road from one end of the Jain Temple Road. There is an image dedicated to Krishna and his cows. I thought it is more of a Hindu Temple.
- Padu Basadi – This ancient Basadi is home to Smt Rama Rani Jain Research Institute.
This is an ancient temple built in a typical Kerala style with a wooden lattice going around the small stone temple. The co-existence of these temples from the same era tells us that the two religions did not have a solid wall between them but instead, they had common followers.
- Moodbidri is 35 km from Mangalore City and 30 km from the nearest airport.
- Thousand Pillar Temple has an entrance ticket of Rs 10/- per person, a camera fee of Rs 50/- and a mobile camera fee of Rs 25/-.
- All other temples have free entry. For photography check with the priest, some allow and some do not.
- There are simple restaurants like Padiwals available for food.
- You do not really need local transportation as the temples are located close to each other and you can walk around. The best time to walk is early morning when the weather is cool and all the temples are open.
- You need at least 3-4 hours to go around the town. If you are short on time, just visit the Thousand Pillar Temple and Guru Basadi.