Friday, 13 November 2015

Udupi – What’s on the Menu? Special Surprise of Karkala

Day 1 – Second Half: Chaturmukha Basasdi and Bahubali Gommateshwara of Karkala

After some great Udupi lunch at the little restaurant where you have been feeding yourself since last night, you walk back to the bus stand to go to Karkala. Come what may, without visiting some built heritage leaves you a little empty in there; even with all that uthapam and upma. You are sure Karkala will hit that spot.

Lord Bahubali of Karkala, Udupi

It is raining as you walk to the Udupi Bus Stand; the kind of dancing and swaying rain you have been experiencing all through the Konkan and now you have started to love it. You take your seat in the bus and leave the wet umbrella in the overhead luggage rack.

The bus is making its way to Karkala about 35 kms south east of Udupi. Karkala is known for its Jain basadis and the huge statue of Lord Bahubali. The town probably gets its name from the Kannada word kari-kal which means black stone or black granite that is abundantly found here.

The Beautiful and Unique Chaturmukha Basadi at Karkala, Udupi

The plan is to visit the Chaturmukha Basadi, a Jain temple and Statue of Bahubali. You missed seeing the Shravanbelagola Gommateshwara when you were visiting Hassan district. But you do remember seeing some Jain temples like the Ganagitti Jain Temple outside Hampi built during the Vijaynagar times and a beautiful basadi complex complete with a pushkarni in Halebidu built during the Hoysalas reign.

Chaturmukha Basadi set on top of a hill is the most impressive of all Jain temples you have seen so far in Karnataka. The temple was built by a later king Immadi Bhairava in 1586 and took 30 years to complete. In the inscriptions the temple is referred as Tribhuvana Tilaka Jina Chaitalaya and Ratnaraya Dhama.

The South Doorway to the Chaturmukh Basadi

Stone steps built into the hill side lead up to the temple on the top. Rain has relented leaving the surroundings wet and dewy fresh. It seems rain has been following you during your temple excursions. You remember last year’s trips to Gyaraspur in MP and Lakkundi in Gadag as you went around the temples soaking in the atmoshere literally and figuratively. And then you waded through the waters at Virupakhsa Temple in Hampi after a particularly heavy downpour.

The decorated Southern Doorway with the caretaker

The Western Doorway with Portico and Eaves - The temple has four doorways leading into the garbhgriha on each side and therefore called Chaturmukha Temple

You can feel there is something special about this temple. There is no sign of shikhar and the roof is built of granite slabs. But this temple is definitely quite tall and wholesome compared to the Halebidu temple. In addition to its majestic setting on a hillock with woods all around, it is the four doorways on the four sides that lead into the garbhgriha which makes this temple unique. These four entrances or faces give the name of Chaturmukh to the temple. All doorways are identical and have their own pillared porticos; the only variation is the carved deities that decorate the door jambs.

There are more surprises waiting inside the hall. Stepping into the garbhgriha, you find three upright statues of Aranath (18th Tirthankar), Mallinath (19th Tirthankar), and Munisuvrath (20th Tirthankar) as the main deities. The statues in Kayotsarga or standing posture are life-size and about six feet tall. These idols are sculpted out of black stone and polished, the likes of which you probably saw inside the Hoysalas temples in Hassan. The images have almost mirror like finish.

The circumambulatory path around the garbhgriha, called Namaskara Mantapa, is wide and airy. Usually this path in Hindu temples is quite constricted and dark. As you go around you notice that each side has its own similar set of three statues! The idols on opposite sides are so placed that light can pass from one end to another. You don’t think there would be another temple with this four-time repeat of identical idols on all four cardinal points; though other temples here in Karkala have the four-face feature. On the eastern side, there are more idols on either side of the trio of statues belonging to Ananthanath, Parshwanath and Chavvisa Tirthankars. There are two niches on either side. The left niche has the stone idol of Goddess Padmavatidevi and on the right is the idol of Kshetrapala Brahma Yaksha.

The wide Jaguli running around the mantapa with the portico in front of Western doorway - watching the rain falling - at Chaturmukha Basadi in Karkala
A decorated doorway leading into the garbhgriha - there are four such identical doorways on all four sides

Carved Pillars

Wait a minute - a person climbing a rope? And an elephant and a bull in a duel?

Though the Mantapa is square, the Adisthana or the foundation is star shaped like most of the Hoysalas temples. Star shaped foundation and star shaped granite roof with these tall 18 feet pillars all around make this temple truly beautiful and unique. Outside the mandap walls, the Jaguli runs around supported with beautifully carved pillars. The granite pillars are huge and embellished with carvings. In all there are 108 pillars in the temple – 48 inside the garbhgriha and 60 outside. There are more reliefs of Jain and Hindu deities on the walls. Each doorway has a portico or extended plinth with its own eaves and supported with more pillars. This feature replicates the star shaped foundation. Doorways have reliefs on the door jambs. Eaves (slanting roof panels) or chajjas extend from the roof of the mantapa to beyond the jaguli to provide shelter to the devotees. Today you watch rain drops falling dreamily just beyond.

Ceiling Carvings over the doorways

Relief Carvings on Walls

There are elephants, monkeys, sheep, kirtimukha, deities and much more happening on the walls of the mantapa
The old caretaker who is partially blind provides a running commentary of the history of the temple and the idols in a surprisingly strong voice that rings across the hall. You are not sure how this frail old man can look after this temple with these gorgeous images. It is about five in the evening and the man has to close the temple.

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View from South West - Chaturmukha Basadi - almost looks like a pagoda

Karkala forms the part of Tulu country. Tulu country or Tulu Nadu is a Tulu speaking region spread over Udupi and Dakshina Kannada of Karnataka and Kasaragod taluk of Kerala. Karkala’s history is reported with the rule of Alupas who were feudatories of Kadambas in 6th century. They were in turn followed by their feudatories Santaras. Karkala or ancient Pandya Nagari became politically and culturally important from the time of Kalasa – Karkala kingdom that was established by Bhairarasa Odeyas between the 13th to 16th centuries. This era coincided with Hoysalas first and then later with the mighty Vijaynagar Empire, probably ruling as feudatories. It is believed the Bhairarasa Odeyas were descendants of Santaras. The kingdom was ruled initially from the Ghats but later the capital shifted to the coastal area in Karkala. During these 300 years of Jain rule a large number of basadis were constructed.

Looking East from the doorway portico

See the hill in the distance? That is where you are headed to the Bahubali statue

On the top of the hill, it is tranquil and heavenly. The wet grass in the compound, the greenery of tress all around, mist rising in the distance; all this combines to give a special vibe to the temple. There is another hill in the South where you can discern a statue rising above the walls. Outside the rain falls gently. The sky has turned dark. There will be another bout of heavy rain. You can predict the nature of Konkan rains now. You are looking for your umbrella. There is no umbrella. And then it dawns – you forgot to pick your umbrella from the overhead luggage rack in the bus! This is Code Red situation. You don’t like getting wet in the rain. You need to find yourself another umbrella. You scamper down the hill and then under the shelter of trees towards the second hillock hoping to find a shop that sells umbrellas. This is your lucky day. The tailor shop guy keeps a bagful of umbrellas. You are back in business!

Stairway to Heaven

Rock cut steps

What a View - the first sight of Lord Bahubali - Karkala

Fortified with the umbrella in your hands you are ready to take on the rains of the Konkan world again. Two hundred rock cut steps brings you to the top of the second hill. You feel the divine and serene gaze of Lord Bahubali directed towards you from just beyond the wall of the complex. Bahubali was the son of first Tirthankar Rishab and is a revered figure among Jains. Bahubali abandoned his kingdom to become a monk. He is also called Gommateshwara because of a statue dedicated to him in Shravanabelagola.

The Majestic and Divine Lord Bahubali Gommateshwara in Karkala Udupi

There are two mantapas in the complex - one behind the statue that houses small statues of Tirthankars and this mantapa on the left

The compound is enclosed with high walls as you step inside the courtyard. On both sides of the northern entrance extends a pillared porch where devotees can rest. Under the sky that is a mix of blue, grey and dark, the 42 foot Bahubali gazes divinely over the town. The statue carved out of a single piece of granite was installed by King Veera Pandya on February 13, 1432. This statue is second only to the massive 57 feet monolith at Shravanabelagola. The statue standing in the kayotsarga posture bears all Mahapurush Lakshans like elongated ears, palms stretching upto knees, curly hair, anthills formed on feet, serpents hissing and creepers climbing up the legs and intertwining both hands.

Time for Some Reflection

Tirthankars at Gommateshwara, Karkala

View towards North and the town - The porch at the entrance and the glinting stambh

Behind the statue is a mantap that has idols of the 24 Jain Tirthankars. On the right there is another mantap built of the standard granite pillars. In front of the north facing statue is a tall copper Dhwajstambh that catches rays of the setting sun. The rain has left puddles on the stone floor that reflects the shadow of Bahubali.

Towering Symbol of Renunciation

Standing below the statue you feel dwarfed. It is not just the size of the statue that makes you feel small; it is the whole idea of meditating standing in the Kayotsarga posture for an year to give up physical comfort and body movement. So much so that you don’t feel any sensation as ants crawl up the legs and creepers climb up to the hands. Even then the eyes are serene and smiling. This process of meditation and renunciation is what makes this yogic posture so remarkable. A flower is blessed as it rests on the feet of the king who became omniscient and attained moksha and was finally called a Siddha.

Manastambha protecting the Temple - looking towards the entrance to the temple

Manastambh with the Stunning Brahm Yaksh at Gommeteshwara in Karkala

Outside the fort like walls there is a 25 feet tall Manastambh with beautiful and stunning Brahm Yaksh seated on top of the capital. The stambh is believed to protect the temple and the surroundings.

Pushkarni at Gommateshwara in Karkala, Udupi

From the East a group of kids emerge - they inform that they have been swimming in the pushkarni on the other side of the wall. Though the Chaturmukha Temple did not have a resident pushkarni, this Gommateshwara here has a small pushkarni but not as elaborate as the one in the Jain Temple at Halebidu. 

Chaturmukha Basadi - View from Gommateshwara in Karkala, Udupi

View of Karkala Town

Standing on the edge of the hill, the view into the distance is enchanting. To the east is the Ramasamudra Lake nestled in the Chaturmukha Hills and Kudremukh Range beyond. Coastal Karnataka in rains is beautiful. And right now you are being treated to some sublime views all around as the sun sets over the misty beautiful Udupi surprise that is Karkala. Karkala really hit the spot.

Getting There
Karkala is about 35 kms south east of Udupi district centre. Udupi is 60 kms north of Mangalore on the west coast of Karnataka. Best way to get to Udupi is by Konkan Railways either from Mangalore or Goa. Western Ghats are best enjoyed travelling from Goa to Udupi.

What else to see in and around Karkala
·        Karkala has about eighteen basadis and the Anekere Padmavathi Basadi is built in the middle of  Anekere Lake
·        Neminath Basadi at Hiriyangadi with a 60 foot Manastambha
·        Thousand Pillared Jain Temple at Moodabidri (about 18 kms from Karkala)
·        Lord Ananthashayana Temple
·        Anekere Lake and Ramasamudra Lake
·        St Lawrence Church of Attur which looks quite grand in the photos
·        Karnataka has five monolithic Jain statues – the biggest one is in Shravanbelagola, Hassan district, 275 kms east of Udupi. The other three are at Venur and Dharmasthala both close to Karkala and fifth one at Gommatagiri near Mysore.



  1. Your special surprise is no surprise for us. It’s just another excellent blog from your pen. A perfect travelogue which furnishes every piece of information a traveler should know. How to go, when to go, what to see, what to eat, history and of course– umbrella.

    I have always loved visiting Jain temples. They have a certain aura of peace and tranquility. Be it the Derasars of Gujarat and Rajasthan or the Basadis of Karnataka. While the Derasars are full of matchless chiseled beauty, the Basadis are the abodes of raw and divine beauty!

    The view of the Chaturmukha temple from Gommateshwara is just out of this world! The temple stands in all its grandness, as a testimony to the royal patronage Jainism enjoyed in the centuries gone by. The sylvan surroundings with a view of Kudremukh hills, misty air, dew drenched grass, dhoop from the incense sticks… If Nirvana is absolute bliss, this is it!

    Absolutely enjoyed reading it!

    1. Hi Anuradha,

      I was thinking of adding a para later about the specialness of Jain temples. And here you are with the perfect words! Recently, during a trip to Gujarat, I climbed to the top of Palitana’s Shatrunjay Hill to discover thousands of Jain Temples – all so beautiful and near Una discovered a 1000 year old idol in a newer temple complex. And the good thing is that construction of newer Jain Temples is still ongoing – earlier commissioned by the royals and now the Jain community. In Viratnagar, near Jaipur, I saw a Tirthankar’s statue being chiselled.

      Thanks for reading and your beautiful words, as always!