HIDDEN 100 Ratnika Sharma dusts off layers of history to discover the secular legacy of Barkur

As times change and history turns its pages, many things get lost but some remain. The small, sleepy town of Barkur, in Udupi district, once famous for the beautiful Jain places of worship called ‘Basadi’, is no more home to them. Surprisingly, not many locals even know where the temples were situated.

The only trace left of these architectural marvels are the ruins of Kathale Basadi, (known as the temple of darkness because of the black granite stones used).

There are three main structures in a big courtyard with a victory pillar at the entrance. Archaeologists say that they were built between the 8th and 12th Century A.D. Built by the Alupa rulers, the Jain Basadi, unlike most South Indian temples built in the Dravidian style, does not have a gopuram. The sanctum sanctorum is surrounded by stone walls otherwise known as Prangan, with sloping stone pillars over it. The original Mahavira idol was destroyed but has been replaced by stone tablets with animal figures that are a later addition. To the right of the entrance are ruins of a structure having 24 holes in the ground, suggesting the existence of idols of 24 tirthankaras.

Just behind the main temple is another intriguing structure which looks like a high and elaborate grave but when one walks around the other side of it, the first thing to be seen is a figure of Nandi, the bull! To find a Shiva temple in a Jain Basadi, is overwhelming. Next to the Shiva temple is another structure that has a small entrance and gives you a peek into the temple interiors. At the sides of the window are figures of the rajpals , complete with shankha, chakra and gada that indicate that it could have been a Vishnu temple.

All this is reminiscent of a past where secularism was an inherent part of the culture of Tulunadu.

The oldest Jain temple is opposite a Kali temple in Moodukere area in eastern Barkur, that is built in the gajaprashtha style or having an apsidal ground plan. Popularised by the Buddhists, this style has a rectangular basement and a semi-circular rear. It resembles the back of an elephant, hence the name.

The 50 odd Hindu temples here follow the Dravidian style of architecture with temples such as Panchalingeshwara having a small “kalasha” or gopuram over the sanctum sanctorum.

Excavations done by the archaeological department of Karnataka have not been maintained, though Barkur has the potential to be a tourist spot. As the river Seetha flows by quietly, Barkur waits for the light of recognition, to regain the respect it once commanded, to be dusted off the cobwebs of neglect and to offer its rich heritage to anybody who cares to take it.