90-year-old Jain temple is popular with locals from all religions

The fear of government appropriation of land after the death of a woman more than nine decades ago has entwined itself in the religious traditions of a village in Dakshina Kannada.

A few kilometres off National Highway 75 near Mani, Arekallu village, still holds on to a Jain Temple, a vestige of a local feudatory.

The private place of worship, whose curiously-designed façade — with incongruous murals of British soldiers pointing at the doorway — faces the Netravati, which during this season is more rock than water.

Amarnath Arekallu, who comes from a long line of landlords, traces the history of the temple to 1918 after the death of his grandmother. “The land was put in her name by her mother, and after the death, my grandfather believed that the government will take over the property. To convince his mother-in-law into transferring the land to his name, he promised to construct a Jain temple, though they were the only family there,” said Mr. Arekallu.

His grandfather, Ammu Pandiwal, personally designed the temple, the whole structure of which still stands today. The land was previously a low hill that was levelled out, and this is visible in the commanding height over the river at which the temple stands. Twelve monolithic stone pillars are in the temple, and Mr. Arekallu says they were gotten from a village near Karkala, while the panchaloha (five metal alloy) idol of the 16th Tirthankar Shantinath was made by a relative there.

The gopura stands at over 30 feet, while the sanctum sanctorum stands at around 20 feet, and so far has only received renovations inside, and a recoating of paint.

Mr. Arekallu is also flummoxed by the appearance of two British soldiers, both on a horse with a military-standard hat and a sash, close to the gate. “I do not know for certain, but I think it’s to appease the British so that they do not destroy the monument,” he said.

Opposite the temple is a house — built at the same time as the temple though it looks centuries old — where the priest Pujya Padayendra and his wife Chakreshwari have been living for the past 18 years, while the priesthood post has been in the family for over 78 years. With the temple remaining unaffected through severe floods in 1922 and 1975, the place assumed greater religious importance for locals from other religions too, he said. Mr. Arekallu said newly-wed couples place a vow before the deity and donate saris, and those who seek repentance give a garland to the deity and perform a puja.

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