A sculpture from the Chandraprabha basadi at Jainamedu in Palakkad district. The sculpture depicted on the pillar represents a male and a female figure riding on a horse (Courtesy: Rajesh Karthy)

Manikyapattanam Sree Chandhraprabha Digambara Basadi: A conversation on myth and memory

in Interview
Published on: 14 September 2019

Jaseera CM

Jaseera CM is a research scholar at the Department of Epigraphy and Archaeology, Tamil University, Thanjavur. Her academic training is in Archaeology, with a Master’s Degree in Archaeology from the University of Kerala. She has published research papers in several journals, including 'Man and Environment', 'Puratattva' and 'Heritage'. Her research interests include ceramic studies, Kerala archaeology, Indian Ocean cultural interactions and maritime history.

Jaseera C.M. interviews Sunil Kumar C.L. who is the caretaker of the Jainamedu Jain temple, Palakkad

Jaseera C.M. interviews Sunil Kumar C.L.

Sunil Kumar C.L. is the caretaker of the Jainamedu Jain temple. He is a Jain from Wayanad district of Kerala, and his mother tongue is  Kannada. He moved to Palakkad 15 years ago to work in the newspaper Mathrubhumi.  At that time, he was associated with the temple at Jainamedu as a devotee but he took charge of temple affairs when he realised there was no one from the native Jain community of Jainamedu to take care of it. Now, he resides within the temple premises with his family. As a caretaker of the temple, he guides visitors and manages temple affairs.

Manikyapattanam Sree Chandhraprabha Digamabara basadi is located around three kilometres from Palakkad. The temple is popularly known as the Jainamedu Jain temple and was built in the fifteenth century. This conversation opens up a new discussion about the spread and development of Jainism in Kerala. The story goes that Palakkad was a trading centre in the fifteenth century and this temple may have been built with the patronage of traders. This interview enables us to re-imagine how ideology travels along with the movement of people, which ultimately paves the way for the development of a new religion in any region.

Jaseera C.M. (JCM): Could you explain the circumstances in which you began to be associated with the Jain temple at Jainamedu?

Sunil Kumar C.L. (SK): I moved to the Palakkad bureau of Mathrubhumi and learnt about the existence of a Jain temple here. Then I decided to live there with my family.

JCM: Did you stay here in order to look after temple matters?

SK: Yes. M.J. Vijayapathman, who is one of the directors of Mathrubhumi, is the President of this [Jainabasadi]. Shantha Varma Jain used to run a hostel here for children from Wayanad from all religions. He even used to take care of the finances for their studies and infrastructure. After those kids left, only his daughter remained here. Later, she also left. Then, an old woman (Nagaratnam) was the only person here to take care of the temple. Her husband’s niece’s family was the only Jain family left in this place. The niece died two years ago and her children live in Chennai.

JCM: How old is this temple?

SK: It is said to be 2000 years old.

JCM: Could you explain the legend associated with this temple?

SK: There is a village called Kanakagiri in Chamarajanagar taluk in Mysore district of Karnataka. There is a muni  there now, Bhuvana Thirtha Bhattaraka Swamiji. Jain temples in Kerala are under his leadership. Three Jain brothers came to Jainamedu from Kanakagiri to trade in pearls and rubies, via Coimbatore–Sathyamangalam. These three brothers were called Ujjaina Shetty, Payappa Shetty and Chikkapayappa Shetty. Chikka means small in Kannada and Shetty means great. They frequently came here for business. There was an Elachari Jaina muni here in Jainamedu. There is an idol in the memory of the muni. The brothers used to visit the saint. When Chikkapayappa Shetty passed away, the brothers decided to leave the place and the business. Then the saint asked the elder brothers to build a temple in memory of the younger brother and they followed the order. The temple was of Chandraprabha Tirthankara, who is the main deity there. They brought a Jain family from Kanakagiri here and over time the number of Jain families grew to around 400 families. As the brothers were in the pearl [muthu] and ruby [manikyam] trade, the adjacent towns were named Manikyapattanam, where the temple is situated, and Muthupattanam, on the opposite side of the road. Muthupattanam no longer exists. These Jain families brought goldsmiths [thattan] from Karnataka to make jewellery. There is a nearby place called Thattathara (abode of goldsmiths). They were also given a deity—the Mariamman temple is for them. The sticks for the puja in that temple are brought from here. Elephants come here and start their procession from here. It is said that during Tipu Sultan’s attack [in the eighteenth century], most Jain families left for Wayanad or Kanakagiri.

JCM: The Jains in Wayanad now, are they the descendents of those who fled during Tipu’s attack?

SK: They are also there. Also, people who came from Karnataka.

JCM: Did people leave for Kanakagiri and Wayanad around the same time?

SK: No, not all people left then. Some families stayed back. This was one such family (Nagaratnam’s family) that stayed back. It is said that the Jains discarded all their wealth in the wells around here before leaving. In Mundoor-Velikkad, there are remnants of an old Jain temple with two Tirthankara idols. That is now taken care of by Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). The Jain family left that place after the land reforms by E.M.S. [Namboodiripad]. They had given a lot of land on lease and they were to lose it to their tenants. So, they left.

JCM: Since there are no Jain believers in the area, where do the devotees come from?

SK: Hindus from nearby areas come. Jains from Wayanad come. And now tourists also visit.

JCM: Do the Jains from Tamil Nadu visit here?

SK: Our priest is from Tamil Nadu, as we have no Jains here. Priests are appointed through the Trust.

JCM: Could you explain the rituals, means of worship of this temple?

SK: The major idol is of the twelth Tirthankara called Chandraprabha Tirthankara. The other deities are the Yakshi-Yakshas called Jwalamalini, Padmavathi and Vijaya Brahmadevam. The main worship rituals are jalabhishekam (water-ablution of the idol), palabhishekam (milk-ablution) and gandhabhishekam (sandal-ablution). Jwalamalini and Padmavathi have kumkumarchana (sprinkling the idols with kumkum) as well. The Kshetrapalan (temple guard) and the snake gods also have palabhishekam. Devotees can offer sarees to Jwalamalini and Padmavathi at any time. As per the request of devotees we also carry out panchamrutha abhishekam (ablution with five substances such as cow milk, curd, honey, liquid jaggery and ghee). Then there is a special offering called navakalasa abhishekam, which is carried out only on particular occasions.  

JCM: Could you explain the architectural specificities of the temple?

SK: During the March equinox, the rays of the sun fall directly on the idol, in the morning at around 6:30–7:00 am. The construction of the facade of the temple is like that—if not blocked by trees, the light falls squarely on the idol. The speciality of the temple is the diamond-like pattern that illuminates the idol when lit by the rays of sun.

JCM: How many times has the temple been renovated? Can you recollect?

SK: In my knowledge, it was renovated once in 1962. The roof used to be covered with terracotta tiles and in the renovation it was concreted. In 2009, granite was laid on the floor. The kalasamandapam, an open hall for conducting rituals like navakalasam, was also reconstructed.