Moodbidri – Exquisitely Carved Ancient Jain Temples Of Karnataka

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Jain Kashi - MoodbidriMoodbidri is an ancient Jain temple town located just about 35 km from the coastal town of Mangalore in Karnataka. We all know about the giant Bahubali statue at Shravabelagola 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 Moodbidri has 18 temples, 18 lakes and 18 roads interconnecting the villages. I could definitely see 18 or may be more Jain temples. 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 human race in last few hundred years would have taken a toll on the lakes.

History of Moodbidri

Thousand Pillar Temple – the most famous Jain Temple 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 plantation 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 the South India for a long time. The oldest recorded idol here belongs to Parshvanath – one of the Jain Teerthankars. 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 here. 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.

Parsavnath Temple at Moodbidri

Anyway, the first temple dedicated to Parsavnath at Moodbidri was hence set up. A copper plate from 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 Moodbidri.

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 happens 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 Jainism fold. He started by worshiping the Shravanbelagola region and re-instating the Jain Munis. These Munis then arrived in Moodbidri and set up their Maths.

On the day we visited Moodbidri, 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.

Architecture of Moodbidri Jain Temples

Mandapa of Thousand Pillar Temple – Moodbidri

Temples at Moodbidri are called Basadi – a derivative from the Sanskrit word Vasati – meaning place to stay.

All temples are built using the Beam and lintel techniques – predating them to 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 Jain temples get the name from persons of 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 Moodbidri. 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 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 – Moodbidri

Intricately carved pillars of Thousand Pillar Temple at Moodbidri - Karnataka
Intricately carved pillars of Thousand Pillar Temple at Moodbidri – Karnataka

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 finally carved panels welcomes you before you enter the gate. The doorjamb is in carved ash gray stone. Then a tall shining Maanstambh or the flag staff 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.

Carved Pillars

Details of a carved pillar at Moodbidri
Details of a carved pillar at Moodbidri

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.

Geometric patterns on Pillar bases - Moodbidri
Geometric patterns on Pillar bases – Moodbidri

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, 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 has 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 – Telangana.

Video – Glimpse of 1000 Pillar Temple

Watch the video in HD mode and get an idea of the 1000 Pillar Temple in Moodbidri.

Hanging Pillar

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 were the geometric patterns at the base of these pillars. The square base on its four faces had these patterns that looked like depicting the infinite loops. I can not be sure but all these patterns seem like they could begin from any place and then come back at the same place without lifting the hand. Are these some mathematical equations carved or some code?

Read More – Thousand Pillar Jain Temple at Ranakpur, Rajasthan.

Main Temple

Painted Dwarpalas at Thousand Pillar Temple - Moodbidri
Painted Dwarpalas at Thousand Pillar Temple – Moodbidri

We stepped down the mandapa on the other side and entered the main temple. Two Dwarpalas or the guardians are painted on the 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.

Sanctum of Thousand Pillar Temple at Moodbidri

The tall idol of Chandraprabhu in black stone was few doors away. Visitors are allowed to see it only through the framed doors. Few oil lamps are placed around the idol to lit 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

Narrow walking path around the temple - Thousand Pillar Temple - Moodbidri
Narrow walking path around the temple – Thousand Pillar Temple – Moodbidri

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 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.

Carved Elephant at the entrance of Thousand Pillar Temple - Moodbidri
Carved Elephant at the entrance of Thousand Pillar Temple – Moodbidri

We went around the temple, 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 few pillars. This is when the temple guard told us that there are two more storeys 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

Parshavnath Idol at Guru Basadi - Moodbidri
Parshavnath Idol at Guru Basadi – Moodbidri

This is the oldest temple in Moodabidari. 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 takes place at Guru Basadi.

Home of Ancient Dhawala Jain Scriptures

Carved pillars at Jain Temples of Moodbidri
Carved pillars at Jain Temples of Moodbidri

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 Dharwad district in Karnataka.

Jain pilgrims travel to Moodbidri 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.

Colorful Jain Mandala created for a ritual - Moodbidri
Colorful Jain Mandala created for a ritual – Moodbidri

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 at Moodbidri

Ancient paintings at Mathada Basadi - Moodbidri
Ancient paintings at Mathada Basadi – Moodbidri

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 is 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 styles pillared courtyard. The temple is small but the woodwork is worth admiring.

Basadis on Jain Temple Road & around at Moodbidri

Rooftops of Jain Basadis on Jain Temple Road - Moodbidri
Rooftops of Jain Basadis on Jain Temple Road – Moodbidri
  • 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.
Nagas at Vikram Shetty Basadi - Moodbidri
Nagas at Vikram Shetty Basadi – Moodbidri
  • 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. 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 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.
Exquisite idol of Mahavir Swamy
Exquisite idol of Mahavir Swamy
  • 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 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.

Gowri Temple at Moodabidari

Ancient Gowri Temple in Kerala style Architecture - Moodbidri
Ancient Gowri Temple in Kerala style Architecture – Moodbidri

This is an ancient temple built in a typical Kerala style with a wooden lattice going around the small stone temple. 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.

Travel Tips for Moodbidri

Temple street - Moodbidri
Temple Street – Moodbidri
  • Moodbidri is 35 km from Mangalore City and 30 km from Mangalore 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. Best time to walk is early morning when the weather is cool and all 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.

11 COMMENTS

  1. I am totally in love with the architecture of Jain temples. I was planning a visit to Mangalore-Udupi-Murudeshwar. I will definitely visit Moodbidri as well.

    • Neha, you must visit this Moodbidri and also Karkala and Vemur. I will write on them soon. For Moodbidri keep ample time -there are so many temples there. You can easily do a say trip from Mangalore.

  2. Good coverage. Did you meet Om Sri ji, the Bhattarakh Swami of these Basadis. Had I known that you are going there, I would have referred you to him. Basadi are known as jain temple over the entire region. I meet a person Mr Basadi in our Bangalore plant. During lunch, he told me that he is also a Jain and told about Basadis. Anyway. Om Sri ji is a very humble gentleman is spreading Jainism all over the world USA UK Canada etc etc. This place rather his math holds Ancient Jain Granths, written on leaves. He is taking help of conservators to keep them going. Had you met him, he would have shown many more things. He runs educational institutions also in Moodbidri. There are some Christian establishments are in the city. This city has relations with Queen Abbakka Chowta, who was a jain and her successors still live there. Try to visit the area again next Feb-2018, when Mahamastakabhishek of Bahubali Bhagwan is going to be held. May be for a month Start with Humcha padamavati, Karkala, Venur, moodabidri, Dharamshathala, Shravanbelgola etc.

  3. Hello Anu,
    Really nice to read about this often overlooked part of Karnataka. I hope you remember me from our communications during the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015, Shillong. I have also recently begun blogging, along with 2 other architect friends; would appreciate if you took the time out to visit & follow.
    Warm regards,
    Amrita

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