Kalugumalai Jain Complex, Kalugumalai, Thoothukudi – Architecture
Jaina settlements came into being in the Tamil country around Madurai in the 3rd century B.C. with the arrival of monks from the north. Pandya kings and merchant guilds patronized these monks. In the 7th century A.D., with the rise of the Bhakti Movement led by Saivite saints such as Tirunavukkarasar and Tirugnanasambandar, Jainism suffered a setback in the region. It also lost royal patronage with the Pandya king Kun Pandyan and the Pallava ruler Mahendravarman embracing Saivism.
However, there was a revival of Jainism in the Tamil country after the 8th century A.D. Kazhugumalai was an active centre of Jaina learning for 300 years from the 8th century A.D. It was a place of worship, a monastery and a college. Jains from Tirucharanam and Kottaru (both in present-day Kanyakumari district in Tamilnadu) came to Kazhugumalai to teach and learn. There were women teachers also here.” The male teacher was called “kuravar” and the female teacher “kurathi”. The inscriptions here give the names of a number of kurathis. Monks were also called Bhatarar. Nuns called kurathis came to Kazhugumalai from different Jaina centres such as Thirunarungondai, Tirucharanam, Tirukottaru and Thirumalai in the Tamil country.
From a non-theistic religion, where monks lived in natural caverns, it became a theistic religion, absorbing rituals on the way. Several structural Jaina temples came up during this time. There were more than 100 Jaina sites in the Pandya country (comprising the present-day districts of Madurai, Virudhunagar, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari in southern Tamil Nadu).
The most notable among these were the sites at Madurai, Kazhugumalai, Kurandi (near Aruppukkottai) and Nagercoil (Kottaru). It is not true that Jainism was rooted out of Tamil Nadu after the 7th century A.D. A good example of the revival of Jainism in the Tamil country after the 8th century is Kazhugumalai.
Jain Complex is located in Kalugumalai, a rocky hill in Thoothukudi district in southern Tamilnadu. The sculptures and the carvings are indicative of Pandyan art during the period. The granite rock looks like a blooming lotus, with hills surrounding it on three sides. There are approximately 150 niches in the Complex that includes images of Gomateshwara, Parshvanatha and other Tirthankaras of the Jainism.
The statues were of Lord Parshwanatha flanked by two Yakshas and this itself is surrounded by statues of many Thirthankaras. There is also a temple right beside these Jain statues called Araimalai Alwar.
On the rock surface, frozen in time, was a superbly sculpted Jaina Tirthankara seated in the ardhapariyankasana pose on a lion pedestal, with a triple umbrella above his head.
The sculpted panel also had two fish-headed makaras, with a warrior coming forth from the mouth of each. Other warriors, on horseback, were there to see the great soul attain enlightenment. On top were the carvings of Surya and Chandra, and Indra on his elephant Airavatham. Every image in this sculpture is rich in details. “Every figure is richly carved while the Tirthankara himself looks so plain. This is a sculpture of unsurpassed beauty.
On top of the Kazhugumalai hills is an Ayyanar temple, which is about a hundred years old. The temple obscures some of the bas–reliefs behind it. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is inside a natural cavern. As the priest lit a lamp to show us the roof of the dark cavern, three bas-reliefs of Tirthankaras came into view near the Ayyanar image.
Two of them sat side by side and the third was a few feet away. They were seated in ardhapariyankasana, under a triple umbrella. It is difficult to say whether these Jaina carvings have been documented.
A bas-relief of remarkable beauty in Kazhugumalai depicts the legend of the yakshi Ambika. The sculpture shows a tall and elegant Ambika, with her two children and her husband, a Simha (a lion) and a “Kalpavriksha”. The husband seems to be in a state of sheer awe, for one of his hands is raised in a state of shock.
Legend has it that Ambika violated a religious canon by giving away food she had cooked for her Pitrus (ancestors) on a day of remembrance. When her relatives who had come to take part in the ceremony had gone out, a Jaina monk came to her house seeking food.
When the relatives returned home and found that she had given away the food to the monk, they were enraged with her and drove her out. She sought out the monk and asked him to help. He pleaded helplessness and suggested that she go back to her husband. Scared of her husband’s wrath, Ambika, committed suicide. She reached heaven and became an attendant, that is, a yakshi, of Tirthankara Neminatha.
But Ambika was unable to forget her past and Indra granted her a boon that she could return to earth and lives with her husband while at the same time being a yakshi. Back home, her husband demanded that she show him her “golden appearance” to prove she was a yakshi.
When Ambika revealed her true self, the husband was taken aback by the dazzling halo. That is why his hand, in the sculpture, is raised and the face, with the glare, perhaps, is not deliberately sculpted. There are sculptures of the yakshi Ambika at Sitharal (near Nagercoil), Anai Malai and Samana Malai (both near Madurai) and Thirumalai. But this one at Kazhugumalai is the masterpiece.
Another masterpiece is the sculpture of Bahubali (Gomatesvara) standing in meditation in a forest, with creepers entwining his legs, and his sisters Brahmi and Sundari telling him to shed his ego. Bahubali was one of the two sons of the first Tirthankara, Adinatha. (Bahubali himself is not a Tirtankara).
Adinatha split his kingdom between his two sons, Bahubali and Bharatha, before renouncing the world. A conflict between the two brought their armies against each other. But not wanting lives to be lost, Bahubali and Bharatha decided to settle it between themselves.
Bahubali won two of the three combats but when he was about to kill his brother in the third, he had a change of heart. He renounced everything. He went to the forest to meditate, but was not able to shed his ego. So Adinatha sent his two daughters, who told him to “get rid of the elephant in his head”.
A third carving depicts the story of the Tirthankara Parsvanatha – with snake hoods over his head, Kamdan throwing a huge piece of rock to kill him, the Yaksha Dharnendra protecting him, and finally Kamdan surrendering to him. Yakshi Padmavathi is also seen. The panel of standing Parsvanatha with the snake hoods over his head is a gem of early Pandya art.
The area is known for the Jain cave temple and architecture. There are a number of Jain images with labels in Vattezhuttu script. There are many relief sculptures dating to the 8th-9th century A.D. in the area, including the rock cut image of Bhagawan Parshwanatha flanked by two Yaksha, as well as many other rock cut images of other tirthankaras.