Jain Architecture and Iconography

Bahubali Statue at Karkala

It is with good reasons that we should consider Tulunadu the citadel of Jainism at present in Southern India. It is a distinct living religion in absolute harmony with Hinduism. So much so that there is no sense of separateness at all either amongst the Jainas or amongst the Hindus. As already explained, the Jaina monuments are spread all over the region and they seem to bear some special features of their own. Moreover, the Jaina sculptures are found in large numbers and they have concentrated in the various basadis. Especially, the bronzes in the basadis deserve our specialized study. The purpose of this article is to highlight the main features of Jaina architecture and iconographic peculiarities.

The Jaina architecture may be studied under four heads, namely, basadis, manastambhas, sculptures (stone and broze) and tombs.

Jaina basadis:

Jaina basadis are of three kinds:

  1. Basadis with square garbha-griha with sukhanasi, navaranga and one or more than one mantapa. This type of basadis has a circumambulatory passage leading from the navaranga. Some of the basadis may not have the sukhanasi. The mantapas have pillars of large size, mostly of the Vijayanagara style. The structures are built of hard granite, huge slabs being used for walls, ceilings and roofs. Basadis that still retain their early features are suggestive of their similarities with the Hindu temples i.e. construction out of mud walls and thatched roofs. But the basadis that were built owing to royal patronage are monuments of considerable grandeur and magnificence. Another important feature of the basadis is the presence of columns of huge pillars all round the structure. These pillars support the slanting roofs constructed out of heavy slabs of stones. The Thribhuvana-tilaka-chudamani, Mudabidure, the Neminatha-basti, Varanga, the Guru-basti, Mudabidure, the Neminatha-basti, Hiriyangadi etc. are a few select examples of the grandeur of pillars.

The Thribhuvana- tilaka-chudamani, popularly known as the thousand pillared-basti (Hosa-basti) is amongst the major monuments of Karnataka and its grandeur is bewitching. Wealth of varied designs and reliefs displayed on these pillars is another striking characteristic. The Mudabidure type of pillars is thick set and solid in production, normally 12 feet high with the lower third consisting of a square prison, while the remainder of the shaft is circular in section and profusely molded. The capital is a combination of brackets and pendent lotus buds around a square abacus. The whole has the most ornate conception.  In design, these pillars have close resemblance with the Chalukyan order perhaps produced by the lathe-turned technical process. Percy Brown says, “The pillars in the Bhairadevi mantapa of the Chandranatha temple are exceptionally elaborate, the shafts being moulded and chiseled into all kinds of fine patterns.     Certain parts of these are undercut into detached lotus-petals and miniature balustrades all executed with incredible precision, patience and skill”. Ferguson writes, “Nothing can exceed the richness or the variety with which the pillars are carved. No two pillars seem alike and they are ornamented to an extent that they seem almost fantastic”.

The construction of Tribhuvana-tilaka-Chudamni was undertaken in three stages. It presents three distinct sections oblong all joined, together. The first part of basadi, wherein is installed the image of Chandranathasvami was built in the year A.D.1429 as a result of the initiation taken by the Chautas of Salike-nadu and six ballalas under the orders of Abhinava Charukirti-Panditadeva. The second part of the basti which is the mukhamantapa was erected in A.D.1451 being the result of the co-operation and contribution of a number of distinguished Jainas of various professions and occupations whose names were inscribed on the wall of the mantapa.     The third part of the construction witnesses the installation of the freestanding pillar, called manastambha in front of the mantapa by Nagaladevi, the queen of Bhairavendra of Gerusoppe.     This basadi is of three storeys with the roofs rising one over the other in a curious fashion, the uppermost covered with copper-sheets, laid like slates. The gabled roof is conspicuously seen.     “On the outer pediment of the mantapa there is a long procession of various animals, living and mythical among which are the centaur, the mermaid and an excellent representation of giraffe and a Chinese dragon.

  1. Basadis rectangular in shape without any circumambulatory passage and mantapa. These are generally, known as Tirthankara-bastis. In some sense, these may be treated as the subsidiary shrines. These four Tirthankaras are installed in a row and normally on either side facing each other are Padmavati and Sarada. The Setra and Guru-bastis have these Tirthankara-bastis wherein are installed exceedingly beautiful Hoysala sculptures.
  2. Kere-basti and Chaturmukha-basti: Square shrines are erected in the middle of lakes, known as Kere-bastis. Invariably they have four faced. i.e. they have access from the four directions to the garbha-griha which enshrines images of Tirthankaras on all the four sides. The Kere-basti from Varanga and the Chaturmukha-basti from Anekere, Karkala and the Chaturmukha-basti from Gerusoppe are the delightful examples of bastis of this order. But the Chaturmukha-basti need not necessarily be a lake temple. For example, the Bettada Chaturmukha-basti from Karkala is not situated in the middle of the lake. This was erected in A.D.1586 by Bhairavendra II of the dynasty of the Bhairarasa-Odeyas. This is referred to in records as Tribhuvana-jina-Chaityala. We cannot do better than to quote Walhouse who seems to give his observations in a realistic and unbiased manner about this monument.

“On a broad rocky platform below the hill on the side next to the town, stands a remarkable Jaina-temple much differing from the ordinary Hindu style, square with a projecting columned portico, facing each of the four quarters. The columns quadrangular for a their do their height, pass into rounded sections separated by cable bands and have the sides and sections richly decorated deities and most graceful intricate arabesque designs rosettes and stars, leaf and scroll work in endless combination, all made out of the carver’s brain, brought almost so finely as the Chinese ivory work. The friezes and pediments round the porticos and temples are ornamented in like manner and frequently a stone in the wall displays a quaint, wonderfully well-cut device, a hundred-petalled flower disc, two serpents inextricately intertwined with a grotesque head surrounded with fruitage. The temple is roofed with immense overlapping flagstones and bore some sort of cupola, now ruined in the center. On the massive folding doors of one of the four portals being rolled back, a strange sight is disclosed. In a large dark square recess, immediately facing the entrance, stand three life size images of furnished copper, the counter-parts of the great statue on the hill above each resembling each and looking weird and unearthly in the gloom of the adytom, as the light through the opening door fall upon them. A like triad stands within each of the other entrances. The three images are of Ara, Malli and Suvrita Tirthankaras”. Walhouse also seems to take the ancient Babylonian influence in the construction of this monument. But it is very difficult to say how far we can trace the influence of the Babylonian architecture on this Jaina structure of the 16th C.A.D.

Tribhuvana-Jina-Chaityalaya, as this basti is called in inscriptions, was caused to be constructed by the Bhairarasa king, Bhairavendra II in A.D.1586 and this is considered as one of the outstanding Jaina basadis in southern India. Its style is almost the copy of two other monuments of the same taluk of Karkala, namely, one at Anekere in Karkala town itself and the other at Varanga. Perhaps, this basti is named so in imitation of the Hosa-basti, Mudabidure which according to inscriptions of that temple, Tribhuvana-tilaka-Chudamani Chaityalaya, and was built in Saka 1351 is known as i.e. 157 years prior to the construction of this basti. This basti is built on the Chikka-betta (a hillock) in the vicinity of the blessed Gomatesvara at Pandyanagari, the celebrated name for Karkala.

Each of the Jaina bastis has to be examined separately and closely examined.


Jaina sculptures may be grouped in to three classes, namely

  1. Bahubali or Gummata figures
  2. Tirthankara images and images of lesser divinities (yaksha, yakshinis, kshetrapala, naga and brahma)

Huge monolithic figures carved out of stones in honour of Bahubali, son of Vrishabha Tirthankara, are known as Gomatesvara (Gummata) figures. In the Tulu country, there are three such figures, one at Karkala, Venuru and Dharmasthala. These are all of all India Importance. The monolithic statue installed at Dharmasthala is 38 feet in height and is cared by Sri Renjala Gopalakrishna Shenoi under the instructions of Sri. D.Veerendra Heggade of Dharmasthala.

The Gomatasvami of Karkala

The Gomatasvami statue of Karkala was erected in the year A.D. 1432 by the king of Kalasa-Karkala kingdom, Virapandya by name. It is about 42 feet in height and is estimated to weigh about eighty tons. Besides being of a colossal, size, the statue is rendered more striking by its situation on the top of a huge granite rock, on the margin of a most picturesque lake, known as Ramasamudra. The following is a brief description of this unique figure: The rock on which Gomata-svami stands bear the appearance of a reversed basin about 300 feet in height from the sea level. At a considerable distance, the premises on the hill appear to compare with a castle. The statue of Gomatasvami which is truly mammoth in size is one of the unrivalled monolithic figures of our country judged from the nature of the detached work. The top of the hill has a crenellated quadrangular wall which encloses a stone platform of five feet high on which is erected the stupendous image of Bahubali. He is nude, cut from a single mass of granite. This vast statue stands upright in the Kayotsarga pose and his arms hang straight down the sides farther down the knees. There is an air of stiffness but simple dignity.

The features and lineaments of Gomatasvami bear a distinctiveness of their own. The hair on his head is crisp and curly, The cheeks are fleshy and hence seem a bit heavy and the face bears remarkably dignified expression, perhaps, created by the calm eyes and aquiline nose which is some what pointed at the tip. His forehead is moderately broad and the lips are thick and full. The arms touch the body at the hips and they are very well proportioned, the fingers reaching the knees (ajanubahu) the shoulders appear to be disproportionately broad and massive. It goes without saying that the feet about five feet in length are carved out from the same rock. A lotus stem springs at each foot and steadily crawls up on low relief two times round each leg and arms.

A brief inscription at the side of the hill down below informs us that the image was erected by king Virapandya in A.D. 1432 to Bahubali, son of Vrishabha, the first of the Tirthankaras. A low cloister runs round the inner side of the enclosing wall and a massive stone rail of three horizontal bars encircles the platform. It is said that the image was moved to the place where it now stands and then erected, indeed a remarkable architectural feat.

The Gomatasvami of Yenuru

From the architectural standpoint a Yenuru is noted for the presence of one of the three monolithic statues of Gomatasvami, which rises to a height of 35 feet.

This remarkable statue stands on a stone plinth of two stages, placed on a platform four or five feet in height, in comparison, this image bears certain resemblances with that of Karkala. The shoulders are broad enough and massive too and the arms are remarkably thick and long. They are well shaped and the nails of the fingers are remarkably fully developed. The waist appears to be unnaturally slender but the legs are well proportioned. The fore head is of a medium type neither high nor retreating. The lips are full, the nose slightly bend and the cheeks are broadening toward the bottom. The chin is of a moderate size. The neck is characterized by thick and sharp disposition. Like the Karkala colossus, the hair is crisp and curly and the ears are pendulous. This image of Gomatasvami faces east and commands an impressive view in the neighborhood. The lotus is represented as entwining the legs and arms. The triple headed cobra rises up under each hand and there are others lower down.

This image of Gomatasvami at Venuru was caused to be erected by the Ajila chief Vira-Timmaraja in A.D.1604 and was supposed to be an exact copy of that of Karkala but the degeneration in the sculptural art is clearly seen in the delineation of its features which are strikingly inferior to those of the stature of Gomata at Karkala.

Bahubali bronzes are found in considerable numbers in many of the Jaina bastis.  But they are medium-sized figures worshipped inside the bastis. Perhaps, the broze from Savanuru may be accepted as the earliest, hitherto known in the Tulu country. The one from the Hosa-basti is four feet in height and is an elegant sculpture.


Images of the Tirthankaras are found in thousands in the Tulu country. They are carved out of black soft stone and also cast in metal. In height they vary between 12 feet and 15 cm. Stone images are mostly sthayi figures (installed on the hari-pitha) and bronzes are chara-bimbas. There are depicted in two poses, either in the kayotsarga pose or in the paryankasana pose. In the kayotsarga pose the image is shown in sama-bhanga, both the arms let down freely, sometimes touching the thighs, sometimes, depicted a little apart. All the sculptures of the Tirthankaras are nude; Head is shown as being covered by curls of hair. In a few of the images, shoulder tassel (skanda-mala) is seen. These figures may be ascribed to circa 10th, 11th and 12th C.A.D. When the sculpture is in the paryankasana pose the hands are in the dhyana form. There is no ornamentation on the body of the Tirthankara figure.

The hari-pitha may be padma-pitha, vritta-pitha or bhadra-pitha. An important feature of the Jaina sculpturing is the practice of inscribing the name of the Tirthankara and of the person who caused the image to be installed. This is very helpful for historical understanding.

Another striking characteristic is the presence of metallic, ornate and ornamental prabhavalis round the Tirthankaras. These have platter designs, serpentine toranas, simha-lalatas and foral flourishings. The prabhavalis in the Jaina basadis are remarkable specimens of art of which any nation may be proud. The brozes have invariably these prabhavalis which enhance greatly the beauty of the figures.

Stone sculptures have the prabhavalis in two forms. Relief figures have them as part of the sculpture and likewise full figures. These have ornate designs and some of them have the reliefs of Tirthankaras carved on them. Most of the sculptures have the representation of the attendants on either side of the sculpture. Sometimes, the corresponding yakshas and yakshinis are carved on the prabhavali. Almost all the good brozes of the medieval period are inscribed (A scientific study of the iconography of these Jaina broze is yet to be made)

Yaksha and Yakshinis

Amongst the divine attendants of the Tirthankaras, Brahma, Padmavati and Jvalamalini seem to seem to have received particular importance. Brahma as horse-rider with tiger as the lanchchana is a very popular deity receiving worship with great devotion. Padmavati with kukkuta-sarpa as the lanchchana is very reverentially adored both by the Jainas and the Hindus. The Ammanavara-basti, Mudabidure is named after Padmavatiamma whose image is made of stucco. It is 150 cm high and is a magnificent sculpture. All the Padmavati figures from Mudabidure are sculptural masterpieces.

Jain Tombs

Associated with the monuments, it is interesting to note that there are a number of tombs (epigraphically known as mudijas) of uncommon structure, the most characteristic of them being found in Mudabidure, Haleyangadi, (Mulki), Aladangadi, Hosangadi and Savanuru. The Mudabidure tombs are considered by the archaeologists as unique in India, for the Buddhist, Jaina and Hindu tombs rarely take this form elsewhere – a style analogous to a pagoda-like pyramid, rising up into several diminishing storeys each storey defined by a projecting cornice, the whole being crowned by a finial, artistically not worthy of much note,. The tombs of Savanuru spread over half an acre of land and are unprotected and are in a dwindling state.

The Manastambhas

The manastambhas are an important feature of Jaina architecture. These are colossal stone pillars erected in front of the basadis. They occupy the place where the dvajastambha is erected in Hindu temples.

A manastambha has three parts. First, a three tiered pedestal (Pedestal in three courses rising one upon the other diminishing in dimensions. Second, the shaft of the pillar and third the mukuta) the shaft is cut out of a single block of stone and it is square at the lower part and the rest octagonal. Invariably, the end of the shaft has a fluted circular abacus. The mukuta takes the form of a mantapa wherein is installed the image of a Tirthankara. It is Brahma in the case of a Brahmadeva-pillar.

The manastambha is a remarkable part of Jaina architecture. No other pillar is comparable in elegance, majesty and inspiration to the manastambha. Geometrical designs, relief figures and hamsas are delicately carved on the square prism of the pillar. In fact geometrical design is the special characteristic of the pillars in the mantapa during the Vijayanagara period. This may be a mark of Muslim influence on architecture.

The manastambha in front of the Neminatha-basti, Hiriyangadi, Karkala, the one in front of the Hosa-basti, Mudabidure and that of the Neminatha- basti, Mulki are freaks of architectural skill and taste.

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