– Article by Prasad Shenoy, (Translated by Anitha Pailoor), Deccan Herald
Nellikar, a small hamlet set in the serene surroundings of Western Ghats is a window to the Jain tradition that dominated considerable part of coastal region of undivided Dakshina Kannada five centuries ago. Nellikar was earlier known as ‘Amalakapura’.
Amalaka is the Sanskrit name for gooseberry, while nelli is its Kannada name. Elders say that the village is named this way because gooseberry trees once dotted its area.
Though a small village, Nellikar finds a unique place in the history, for its Jain heritage. This hamlet that flourished under the Jain rulers still retains a Jain look about it.
The village now has a population of 16,000 and 70 percent of them are Jains. Athishaya Jain Basadi is the major attraction of the village. Broad path in front of this basadi, reminds one of rajaveedi (royal street) of an ancient capital. As you walk through the road, enchanted houses of the folklores you’ve heard are sure to come to your mind, for on both sides of the path, you will find spacious and elegant homes.
Kalyanakeerthi, a Jain poet, is said to have constructed Athishaya Basadi in the fourteenth century. History has it that an idol of Brahmayaksha was found in an anthill in front of the temple. This idol was installed in the temple, along with Anantaswamy, the prime deity. The design and significance of the basadi makes it not just a holy place for Jains but also for others. It evokes a powerful nostalgic feeling for an era gone by.
A house, at the entrance of the road to Athishaya Basadi, can effortlessly attract one’s attention. This house has a history of 600 years: The family that has been residing in the house owes its heritage to the blessings of sage Kalyana Muni. The family practised ayurveda in those days and prepared medicines, using herbs, and distributed them, free-of-cost, to the needy. Thus, the house is fondly called ‘medicine pundit’s home’.
This house, which was known as much for its traditional design as its owners’ benevolent nature, was renovated in the year 2012. Three years of painstaking renovation has given it a slightly modern look, while still retaining its old charm and elegance. The house is a cocktail of architectural excellence. Though the house has been given a modern facelift, kitchen, prayer room and reading room sport traditional features. The archaic grandeur of this structure blends in, fascinatingly, with its recent contemporary styling.
An intricately designed main door is its prime attraction. Sturdy wood pillars, used in the chavadi (central hall) give a strong support to the house. Elaborately painted walls of the chavadi depict ancient culture and art of the ancient times.
Aesthetic pillars and hase (traditional wall paintings native to Malnad) paintings that adorn the wall are worth a deep understanding. Some of the hase paintings narrate mythological stories while some others describe wedding ceremonies of the time. One such design, that depicts tiger and cow drinking water from the same pond, is considered symbolic of the harmony that people enjoyed in those days. Another elaborately decorated verandah is a beautiful vestige of the Jain tradition.
Another hall, known as saral chavadi, was used by the British as a stop-gap jail before they sent culprits to a prison in Shimoga. Surely enough, this ‘hall’ resembles a jail. Another special feature of this house is its windows that once acted as ‘doors to the outside world’ for the women who remained indoors. It is said that they witnessed the festivities, during the annual fair at the basadi, through these windows.
The venerable old house is full of character, with its ancient Jain touch intact. The building that once housed 150 people, now has only four members living in it. Naveen Kumar Jain, the family head, now maintains the property and is willing to open it to the public.
There are fifteen such traditional houses, with Jain and local architectural influence, in its surroundings. They all exhibit the rich culture and heritage of the past. These houses were constructed using mud and though some of them have used cement while renovating, the houses largely retain their olden charm. Simply put, the village is now a living museum of sorts…