The relics of an ancient Jain culture at Sulthan Bathery

The relics of an ancient Jain culture at Sulthan Bathery

Set on a courtyard of granite slabs, the serene surroundings of the 13th century Mahavir Stone temple was immersed in a prayerful reverie. The ground was wet because of a light drizzle some time back. The divine smell of rain drenched mud and stone, the warm and golden tone of the evening light, the tiny droplets on blades of grass shined like diamond dust. A young jeans and kurta clad boy who was seated leaning on a stone pillar looked up from his book. I ask him if he is a guide, and he says he could be.

Nizam is a travel and tourism student and his interest in the temple and the Jain philosophy brings him here almost daily. Now he is doing a project on this Digambara Jain Temple that is also known as Kidanganad Basthi.

The relics of an ancient Jain culture at Sulthan Bathery
This is the prayer mandap. Photo: Rahul R Pattom

The temple has been constructed of granite that has been cut lengthwise. The inscriptions and drawings on the pillars and the stone walls follow the style of the Vijayanagara dynasty. The front yard has long granite slabs. Outside this there is a stone walkway and block like pillars all around the temple. Behind the temple and along the sides there are smaller verandas. The Prayer Mandap that faces the Sanctum Sanctorum on the old path that leads to the entrance has the roof missing. Could have been destroyed in a war or in some natural calamity.

The silence is broken by a loud group of college students on a study tour and their two teachers. They have dropped in for a visit en route to the Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary. The teachers throw a volley of doubts towards Nizam mistaking him for a guide. He indulges them with a smirk. After a few pictures and poses the group is out of sight in a few seconds.

The relics of an ancient Jain culture at Sulthan Bathery
The Dharnendra Bandanam - a coiled snake on one of the pillars. Photo: Rahul R Pattom

The temple is divided into 5 sections. The Sanctum Sanctorum, Antharal, Maha Mandap, Mukha Mandap, Prayer Mandap. The steps that lead to the Mukha Mandap is similar to the Sopanam seen in the Kerala Temples, complete with the Vyali Mukham. The stone pillars in the temple are replete with the Thirthankara emblems of Jainism like elephant, snake, swan, and lotus. One of the pillars depicts Dharnendra Bandanam, the form of a coiled snake. There is an ancient belief that if you are able to trace the snake from its head to the tail without overlaps or mistakes, your wishes will be granted. This has nothing to do with the Jain philosophy though.

Bathery Jain Temple
Bathery Jain Temple. Photo: Mahesh Mohan

A small, narrow door takes you inside the Maha Mandap. The low–ceilinged vault like inner room has 4 stone pillars inscribed with lotus and snakes. It is pleasantly cool inside, and the only light source is the yellow bulb overhead. On one side of the room there is a small iron door that has been locked. This is the Antharal. Near the wall, there are some figurines of Ganesha, Vishnu and others and there were dug out from the temple well in 2002 during the annual cleaning. The smaller room inside the Antharal is the Sanctum Sanctorum.

Inside the Sanctum Sanctorum, there is no idol of Mahavir, and only the pedestal for placing the idol is there. The idol is currently in the Ananthanath Temple at Kalpetta. Once a year during Mahavir Jayanthi, the idol is brought here. The temple festival falls on that day. The temple, which is currently under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India, is open to the Jains for worship during the festival.

Since the 8th century, Wayanad has been one of the most important Jain centre in Kerala. One of the oldest religions in the world, Jainism saw a decline from the 18th century onwards. The various massacres, vandalism, Tipu’s conquests, British rule, the rise of Hinduism etc are thought to be the factors responsible for this.

The relics of an ancient Jain culture at Sulthan Bathery
The pillars of the temple. Photo: Rahul R Pattom

Sulthan Bathery once known as Ganapathyvattam was a major Jain congregation in Wayanad. Hanaradubhidhi or the 12 Agraharams where Jains once lived is here. Each of these areas had 12 different temples and main one among them was the Kindanganad Basthi. The temple was built in AD 13 Century by the Hoysala Kings. The architecture style belongs to the Vijayanagara period.

The temple lost its significance during the glorious period of the Shaivite-Vaishnavite religions. Tipu Sulthan later turned it into his armoury. The British called it the ‘Sulthan’s Battery’ and that is how the name Sulthan Bathery came into existence.

After the 18th century, most of the Jain Temples were converted into Hindu Temples. After Tipu’s vandalism, the temple was deserted for about 150 years. Later the Archaeological Survey of India took over the maintenance and declared it a monument of national importance. The courtyard is well laid with lawns and ornamental plants now.