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Sculpted panels, floral motifs and more

We drive on narrow village mud roads with several passersby looking puzzled as we ask them directions to the Chandraprabha Jain Temple in Vijayamangalam, 27 km away from Coimbatore. We are close to wit’s end when a youngster asks, “Rettai Gopuram (twin-towered) temple, is it? It’s the Amneshavar Temple,” he adds, pointing to a structure which is about half-a- kilometre from where we have stopped to find our way. Well, these are the names by which the locals know the shrine.

The south-facing temple with a three-tier Rajagopuram or tower and its towering flagpole, carved out of a single stone, are visible from afar. The stone temple, now an ASI-protected monument, remained in a state of neglect for several centuries, until it was opened for daily, one-time puja, a decade ago. However, the one-foot tall, main idol, that of Chandraprabha, along with four other idols were missing and still remain untraceable. A priestess performs puja and aarati to an empty pedestal that is bedecked with flowers. The walls of the sanctum reveal traces of murals of mythical creatures and some Tirthankaras.

The temple boasts of unique architecture. Its courtyard reveals two sections, one each dedicated to Adinatha, the first, and Chandraprabha, the eighth Tirthankara. It is evident that the former structure was either not completed at all, or fell into disrepair with the passage of time.

Inscription

The images of the 24 Tirthankaras are sculpted on its tower. The upper walls of the entrance hall have sculpted panels narrating the life of Adinatha, from birth to the time he attained salvation. The hall also carries an inscription that reveals that the sister of Chamundaraya, the builder of the Gomateshwara statue in Shravanabelagola, lived here and undertook fasting unto liberation.

While the ceiling of the hall is ornamented with carvings of the panchakalyanaka festivals of Lord Chandraprabha and the idols of the Tirthankaras, the walls and pillars of the hall are embellished with sculpted images portraying life, floral motifs and of dancing girls.

That life and death are cyclical and sides of a coin, is aesthetically captured in twin panels, one symbolised by a pregnant woman, and the other by a reclining woman. 

A dance hall in ruins, dating back to the 13th Century, is another highlight of the temple. The outer walls of the temple bear carvings of mythological beasts, believed to be guarding the sanctum.

A dimly-lit ante-chamber leading to the sanctum sanctorum is adorned with idols of a few Tirthankaras.

Stone inscriptions in Pali and Tamil languages dot the temple complex.

The history of Vijayamangalam dates back to the 6 century when it was the capital of Kongunadu, the seat of the Chera kings of ancient Tamilagam.

Though the origins of the temple and its date of construction are rather nebulous, it was doubtlessly dedicated to Chandraprabha, and is claimed to be one of the oldest Jain temples in the Kongu region.

The village also enjoys pride of place for being the birthplace of Bhavanadi, the Jain monk who authored Nannul, the Tamil grammar book.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 6:36:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/sculpted-panels-floral-motifs-and-more/article8285271.ece

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