Chitharal Jain monumets of Kanyakumari District , TN - earliest Jaina monument in South India!!

Jaina monuments, Chitharal caves  in Kayakumari Dist,T.N. . 
 Chitharal,TN Jaina monuments -Jaina religious teachers.

Chitharral Jain monuments, Tamil Nadu

Jain temples or Tirtha  (pilgrimage sites) are known to be  present across the Indian subcontinent, many of which were built several hundred years ago.  Some  of them were teaching centers with facilities for the travelers to stay there. Apparently, some were rock-cut  caves far removed from the township.  Classified according to Jain sects,  in the sanctum of the temple are present the idols of  Tirthankaras. Many Jain temples are found in other areas of the world as well. The earliest Jaina monuments are found in the District of Kanyakumari of Tamil Nadu deep in the south.

In a quiet village called Chitharal in Kayakumari district of  Tamil Nadu  there  lie two monuments in the  rocky hill dating  back to the  first century BC  to the 6th. The hill,  in the midst of greenery, is  called Triuchcharanattu malai that has natural caverns. The rock-cut structures have  Jaina features - the earlier ones  with inscriptions and drip-ledges  are, as per records, the earliest Jaina monuments found in the southern most tip of  peninsular India, not heard of before.  It was a major discovery  suggesting the presence of Jainism in the Tamil country in the ancient and middle ages. 

This place became popular after ASI had discovered these caverns with Jaina structures,  and now the monument lovers and visitors can access these monuments in the caves  through a rock-cut  narrow  path inside the hill   made by the ASI. Both the earlier structure and the Jaina reliefs date from the first to the 6th century.   Now, it is a centrally protected monument and is being  maintained by Thrissur Circle of Archaeological Survey of India since 1964 ( vide provision of 1958). It is  one of the 3,650 ancient monuments and archaeological sites.  It is inscribed as Bhagawati temple and Jaina bas-relief. The Tiruchchanam malai, later came to known as  Chitharal,  was once a center of Jainism in this region and the natural caves were the abode of Mahavira/ Vardhaman

In the naturally-formed caves by an overhanging rock, on one side  there are  Jaina images featuring attendants - the Yakshis. The Jainas, also known as Tirthankaras, are teachers of Jainism who have attained infinite knowledge and who preach the doctrine of salvation. The monuments were the creation of  Digambara Jains in the ninth century when this region came under the King Mahendravarman I (610-640). Unlike the Hinduism in which only male members are taken in for religious training, in Jainism, there were and are  no restrictions with respect to priest wood. Apparently, the caverns here served as a training center for both genders -  priests and priestesses.  According to the Travancore Archaeological Series  on   Tiruchcharanattu malai, the name of the hills, implies  ''the hill of the Charanas - Jain ascetics  who were living on the hills''. The votive images on the rock with inscription  carry the names of an ascetic or person who  carved it.

Chitharal Jain monument, Kanyakumari dist. TN.

The bas-relief sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras  were carved in later phase. The relief of Parshwanatha and Padmavati in  standing figures  have an interesting feature.  A multi-hooded cobra forms the canopy over them  with attendant figures of Yaksha. It is said that  Yaksha and Yakshi (female)  were to look after the well beings of Thirthankars  - religious teachers . They  are depicted  in a seated posture - in  ardha-padmasana pose in each of the niches with three tiered parasol.   There are possibly  24  standing  figures of  Tirthankaras   on  the left corner.. The central niche has a figure of Mahavira with three tiered parasol, Chhatratrayi chaitya with a tree above it and attendant figures. A unique  feature is the presence of a female teacher - that of the  figure of Ambika in a niche next to it, including attendant figures of  two children and a lion mount. All major niches display  flying figures of  worshippers (Vidyadharas).  Each of these  figures  carries short  details in ''Tamil'' script  in Vatteluthu  below the figure such as  the  name of donor and place in Vatteluthu Tamil script. From the inscriptions, it is quite apparent, that this site was   under control of Jains at least till middle of the thirteenth century.  In the upper level in the cave monuments there are  rock-cut  features like  mandapa, a varandah corridor and a balipeetham with a kitchen ( in Tamil: madappalli) facing west direction. The three sanctums house Tirthankara (Mahavera?).

Jain monuments, Chitharal, TN.

Atop the hill there is   another temple-like structure (Vimana) that can be reached through the steps. With a pond near by, the cave Jaina temple is converted into a Hindu temple (dedicated to Goddess Bhagavat  Amman i) roughly in the 13th  century  as per the Tamil  inscription which is found at the entrance in the mantapa.   It is dated to 475 KE (1300 AD). This inscription states Applla Varaiyan of Rajavallapuram in the Kil Vembanadu  met the cost of construction of  the  Bhagavati temple. Therefore this temple was added during the early medieval period but the Jain monuments were kept intact

 Chitharal Jain monument, Kanyakumari dist. TN.

That there existed a friendly competition  among three regions -- Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. during  the reign of Vikramaditya Varaguna Pandya  shows the religious tolerance of the people of the past era and the secular attitude of the Pandya king who patronized all the three religions on par. This is not in  the case of past Muslim invaders from the NW region of India  who destroyed thousands of various temples, particularly Hindu temples. 

So, there were learning centers for all three religions in Kanyakumari district - Chitharal  (caverns) in Triuchcharanattu malai,  for Jainism, Thaoor in Suchindram  for Buddhism and  Parthibapuram for Hinduism.  Chitharal which was known as ''Triuchcharanattu malai,”  has beautifully executed figure in  an elegant tribanga posture in a padmasana (lotus-petaled pedestal) accompanied by attendant figures, including two children and the lion-mount.   Only in the 13th century the  Bhagavathy temple came up.  The 19th century inscription in Malayalam by Travancore king Moolam Thirunal mentions this shrine. and a natural spring atop the hill.

Chtharal Jain monement, entrance,

Chitharal, Kanyakumari dist. rock-cut

The  ancient monuments have links  myth  associated with  the Bhagavathy. Ambika, a housewife  deserted by  her husband  with her two children, used to feed the Jain monks. Over a period of time, she developed divine powers, but she committed suicide after her husband returned to her. The myth is she became a  Yakshi. After the temple construction, the snake-god  idols were placed beneath a cave  near the main Jain relief. These cave monuments  became a declared monuments  roughly six decade ago with a view to protecting them and safeguarding them for posterity and future research. Chitharal village, Kanyakumari. ''Chitharal hills'' is also locally known as Chokkanthoongi Hills.  Preponderance of People in the central and northern districts of Tamil Nadu may not be aware of the Chitharal jain monuments and this ancient heritage site needs to be popularized across India. Lots of tourists coming to Kanykumari to visit  the Vivekananda Memorial, etc.,  might visit this site as well.  Driven by overwhelming interest,  one Ms. Sreedevi Varma, produced a documentary on  ‘Chitharal’.in February 2018.