Melige’s Astounding Jain Heritage Monuments

An article by Nitin H P that walks us through the amazing Jain heritage monuments in a small village in central Karnataka.

Melige's Sri Ananthanath Swamy Temple

Melige – a small village located amidsts the lush green forests with the chirping sounds of birds in the Shimoga district of central Karnataka holds a unique place in the history of Jainism in terms of art and architecture.  The ancient Sri Ananthanatha Swamy Digambar Jain temple and the structures around have carved for Melige a very unique place in the Jain heritage pages.

Though being situated approximately midway between Hombuja (popularly called as Humcha Padmavati) and Narasimharajapura (popularly called as N.R.Pura or Jwalamalini) the two well know and popular tirths of Karnataka Melige’s Jain heritage is unexplored. We have none other than our selves to blame for this and the general tendency of people to flock to the popular places and may be even lack of publicity have contributed to this. In the ensuing lines let us try and explore the richness of this unique place.

Location – Melige is located at a distance of 7 Kms from Tirthahalli the nearest taluk centre in Shimoga district.

Distances from Different Places – Tirthalli – 7 Kms, Hombuja – 35 Kms, Narasimharajapura – 47 Kms, Shimoga – 69 Kms, Chikamagalur – 113 Kms, Bangalore – 343 Kms, Agumbe – 40 Kms.

Approach road – While driving from Hombuja to Narasimharajapura we will have to cross Tirthahalli and continue along the Tirthahalli-Koppa route. After travelling around 3 Kms there is a junction at a place called Melina Kuruvalli. We will have to take a left turn here and proceed for another 4 Kms to reach Melige. We can also find a board directing us towards left and mentioning the distance of Melige from this point. The roads are in good condition and the village is easily accessible.

Ananthanatha Swamy Digambar Jain temple –

Construction – According to an inscription found in the premises of the temple it was constructed in A.D. 1608 by a person called Bommanna Shreshti son of Vardhaman Sreshti & Nemamba. Vardhaman Sreshti was the royal sreshti i.e. the royal religious advisor, in the court of Venkatadri Mahipala/Venkatachalapati of Penugondae. Further, Bommanna Shreshti was the disciple of Vishalakeerthi. Vishalakeerthi was in turn a disciple of Devendrakeerthi Bhattarakha who headed the Balatkara-gana and was called as Raya Rajaguru.

Layout – The temple is enclosed by a brick compound and at its beginning is found the Manastambha followed by Mukhamantapa enclosing the entrance, Navaranga, Antarala, Sukanasi & Garbagriha. Surrounding the temple are found two mantapas along the rare corners on either sides and a well on its left side.           

Manastambha – The King of Manastambhas – The Manastambha at Melige is very unique of its kind in terms of its grandeur, art architecture and structure. It is about 40 feet high. Owing to its unique structure, intricate carvings and grandeur it is called as the “King of Manastambhas” by historians and archeologists. It is hard to find such a uniquely carved attractive Manastambha else where in the world.

  • Until the main structure it has 4 platforms and are artistically made with attractive carvings.
  • The main structure i.e. the stone pillar has an exclusively distinct layout which is rare to find. The entire length can be divided into five parts.
    • First Part – It is broad based with a square structure. It has carvings of a Tirthankara, a Yaksha and two Yakshi’s on the other sidse. No one side is similar to the other in terms of its carvings and each of these figures are enclosed in a mantapa kind of structure. On one of the faces is carved a Tirthankara statue flanked by two chouris, below the statue is found the attractively carved pedestal and a temple/mantapa kind of structure around it. The other three structures are of the Yaksha & Yakshis. Above the Tirthankara, Yaksha and Yakshi structures are found attractive decorative carvings on all the four sides.
    • Second Part – This is again a square structure but a bit more tapered than the base. This has carvings of Tirthankaras enclosed in an attractive carved arch-like structure.
    • Third Part – This part tapers gradually until its top. This section is octagonal and has carvings of Tirthankaras on all its sides.
    • Fourth Part – This part consists of attractive decorative carvings.
    • Fifth Part – This part is circular in shape & has attractive carvings leading to the mantapa.
  • Mantapa – The mantapa on the top is very attractive with intricate carvings and has a wide base with a chaturmukha idol inside it.

Total number of Tirthankar idols on the Manastambha – If we sum up the total number of Tirthankara carved on this manastambha it adds upto 14 including the chaturmukha idol. Lord Ananthanath the main deity of the temple happens to be the 14th Tirthankara. It looks like the sculptor has calculated this and has ensured that that the total number of idols on the manastambha coincides with this.

Mukha Mantapa & Entrance – This forms the entrance to the temple. It is arched with the carvings of a Tirthanakara in centre flanked by chowri bearers, dwarapalakas, Brahma Yaksha & Yakshi structures & other attractive carvings.

Main TempleThe main temple consists of a wide hall called as navaranga, its central portion called as Antarala, followed by Sukanasi & Garbagriha.

The navaranga has a circular stage in the centre with attractively carved pillars. They are around 12 in number with unique carvings. We can find carvings of Sarvahna Yaksha, Yakshi’s and other structures on them. The Navaranga leads to antarala with a doorway. The door leading to antarala is flanked by two huge life size chouri bearers, to its right is found an inscription that tells about the construction of this temple and other details discussed earlier in the article. The antarala is a small space without any remarkable architectural structures. The antarala further leads to the sukanasi. This has two small pedestals with a marble Tirthankara idol and an ancient 2 feet high idol of Lord Parshwanath. The main deity of the temple is not found in the garbagriha/sanctum sanctorum. There isn’t any information about the missing idol, it might have been stolen some time back!

Pinnacle/Gopura – Above the garba griha can be found a traditionally made pinnacle.

Mantapas – On the rear side of the temple are found two small mantapas on both sides.

Kshetrapala Mantapa – The mantapa on the right side of the temple houses the life size idol of Kshetrapala installed on a pedastal and is around 4 feet high. This idol is worshiped with high reverence by the villagers.

Sarvahna Yaksha Mantapa – The mantapa on the left side of the temple houses the idol of Sarvahna Yaksha (the Yaksha of Lord Neminath the main deity of the temple) installed on a pedastal. The idol is made out of sand stone and is one of the very unique idols in the world. This idol has been carved as laid out in the Jain shastras. The idol (around 3 feet high) is installed on a pedestal and is standing on an attractively carved elephant (around 18 inches high). The idol has 4 hands with 2 hands folded in the front and the other two hands holding dharmachakra  above the head. The idol is surrounded by an attractively carved arch on its back.  Unique Idol in the World – The architectural style, intricate fine proportionate carvings have made this very unique. It is hard to find any such idol of Sarvahna Yaksha and is one of the best depictions of a Sarvahna yaksha in the world.

Well – On moving further ahead of the Sarvahna Yaksha mantapa we can find a well on the temple’s left side. The attractively made platform of the well is again appreciable.

No Worship – Since the main deity of the temple is missing there isn’t any pooja or worship happening at this temple.

Managed by ASI – The only satisfactory thing about the current state of this temple is that it has been managed by archeological survey of India (ASI) and a monument attendant has been deputed permanently to look after it.

Cleaning, Repair and Renovation of the temple – Having located in Shimoga district and very close to Agumbe, the highest rainfall region of Karnataka the manastambha has deposits of algae that have turned black. Further there are many spots within the temple where we can see constant leakage of water. Owing to incessant rainfall and leakage inside the temple there are lots of deposits of algae and floor turns slippery during the rainy season. A person is sure to fall and end up injuring himself if he isn’t careful while moving around. There is an urgent need of chemical treatment to the manastambha and the temple needs to be repaired at the earliest in order to restore it back to its glory. We will have to pressurise the concerned authorities to take required action for its renovation.

It is very sad to note that such a unique Jain heritage centre with a well built architecturally rich structures has been disregarded by the masses.

Post Author: Nitin H P