Splendour in stone

If there is one thing that symbolises the sunny and serene town of Karkala in Udupi district, it is the black stone. It is prevalent everywhere - in the rocky hills, in the monolithic statue of the Jain saint Bahubali, in the numerous basadis found all over the town. In fact the name of the town, ‘Karkal’ is derived from ‘kari-kallu’ meaning black stone in Kannada. The town nestles in the backdrop of the Western Ghats. The Alupas were the first to rule here. Then came the Santaras who were the feudatories of Alupas for a long time. Karkala or ancient Pandya Nagari attained political and cultural importance from the time of Kalasa-Karkala kingdom that was established by Bhairarasa Odeyas between 13th and 16th centuries. The Bhairarasas appear to be the descendants of the Santara chiefs who ruled the western ghats region around the 11th century A.D. The royal family of Karkala shot to prominence right from the time of the Hoysalas. During the Vijayanagara period this family reached new heights of glory. Their kingdom extended over a wider area comprising Sringeri, Koppa, Balehonnur and Mudigere in Chikamagalur and most of the Karkala taluk. They were rich and maintained a big and strong army. Despite engaging in wars, peace prevailed in the kingdom and this led to increased cultural activity and development. If Karkala today is a place of tourist delight, the credit should go to the successive kings who developed it. The first important king was Veera Bhairava, who constructed basadis at Karkala and endowed land and money to numerous temples and basadis. Ramanatha and Veerapandya were his two sons. Ramanatha died during his father’s time. In his memory, a scenic lake was created. This lake still survives in all its glory. King Veera Pandya, at the insistence of his Guru Lalitakeerti, the pontiff of Karkala Jaina Math, installed the most beautifully carved gigantic statue of Bahubali on the rocky hill of Karkala. The date of the installation has been ascertained as February 13, 1432. This is the icon of the town and a visit to Karkala is incomplete without a visit to this hillock. Veera Pandya also installed the Brahmadeva Pillar in front of the statue in 1436. Abinava Pandya ascended the throne next and it was he who installed the most beautifully carved manastambha in front of the Neminatha Basadi in Hiriyangadi in 1457 A.D. Hiriyangadi is a small village in Karkala taluk. This nondescript but idyllic village nestling below the Western Ghats attracts an occasional visitor with an eye for architectural grandeur. More than the basadi it is the intricately carved 54 feet pillar in front of the Basadi that speaks highly of the skill and craftsmanship of the artisans of the time. The Neminatha Basadi was renovated in 1946. An oriental school with free boarding and lodging facilities is being run here by the Bhujabali Brahmacharya Ashrama. Abhinava Pandya’s successor was Pandya VI. He built the famous Kere Basadi, in the middle of a picturesque lake called Anekere in 1545 A.D. It is in this lake that the king’s elephants used to bathe. Both the majestic Basadi and the lake still exist in all their majesty. The next important king was Immadi Bhairava (Bhairava II). He constructed the famous Chaturmukha Basadi on top of a small rocky hill in 1586 A.D. The Basadi has four identical entrances from the four quarters leading to the Garbagriha and hence is popularly known as Chaturmukha Basadi. This is the most celebrated structural temple in Karkala and is referred to in inscriptions as Tribhuvana Tilaka Jina Chaityalaya and Ratnaraya Dhama. The Chaturmukha Basadi is built in the form of a square mandapa or hall with a lofty doorway and pillared portico on each of its four sides and a pillared verandah. The roof is flat and is made of massive granite slabs. It has lifesize statues of three theerthankaras and small images of 24 theerthankaras. It took 30 years to build this temple. In all, there are 108 pillars inside and outside the temple. There are 18 basadis of antiquity including Mahaveera Basadi, Chandranathaswamy Basadi, Adinathaswamy Basadi, Ananthanatha Basadi, Guru Basadi and Padmavathi Basadi. But Karkala is not famous for Jain basadis alone. The rulers of Karkala were tolerant and patronising towards other religions. The temples of Anantashayana and Venkataramana are of considerable antiquity and testimony to the tolerance of the rulers of Karkala. There are other important temples like Mahamaya Mukhyaprana temple and Adi Shakti Veerabhadra temple. Karkala also boasts of the highly venerated St Lawrence Church built in 1845 in a village called Attur where people of all religions congregate every year in January for the feast of St Lawrence. ˙