Chitharal Jain Temple, Kanyakumari
The Chitharal Jain Monuments are one of the oldest Historical attractions for any tourist visiting Kanyakumari, as old as the Thiruvithancode Arapalli. Also known as Chitharal Malai Kovil (literally Temple on the Hill), the Temple is situated on the Thirucharannattu Malai in Chitharal village, Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu, India.
The Jain legacy in India stretches for many centuries and over vast geographical terrain, from celebrated cave shrines at Ellora and Badami to Udayagiri-Khandagiri in Odisha, exquisitely carved temples at Dilwara and Ranakpur to Gomateshwara statues at Karkala and Shravanabelagola. Jainism flourished under the royal patronage of King Shrenik of the Shishunag dynasty to Nandas, Mauryas, Guptas, Pratiharas, Pratiharas, Parmars, and Chandelas.
Being one of the world’s oldest religions, Jains consider their religion timeless, without origin or end, occasionally forgotten by humanity and revived by Tirthankaras – the revered ford-makers, who help humanity cross the ocean of life. Jainism predates Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism (the 24th and last Tirthankara, Mahavira, was Buddha’s contemporary and like Buddhism, Jainism too originated in the Indo-Gangetic plains.
Chitaraal & The Southern Corridor of the Jains
Historical stone inscriptions of Jaina are as old as 2nd Century BC. Ancient Tamil epic Silappatikaram was written by Ilango Adigal, a Jain. Even the main characters of his work, Kannagi, and Kovalan, were Jains! Though Jainism had been prevalent in South India, a tragedy in the North gave the faith a monumental push in the South.
From Kalinga, the faith found another route to South India, via Andhra and Tamil Nadu. Jainism enjoyed the patronage of the Kadambas of Banavasi, Gangas of Talakad, Chalukyas of Badami, Pallavas of Kanchi, Cheras of Mahodayapura and Ay kings of Ezhimala, later day Travancore and now Kanyakumari.
An incident cited in the Ramayana says Rama pays homage to Jain monks living in South India en route to Lanka. Just off the Trichy-Pudukkottai highway is the fascinating archaeological site of Eladipattam - A natural cavern where 17 rock beds were carved into the floor with raised headrests for stone pillows.
The stone had acquired a mirror-like polish, weathered by time and use. This was where Jain ascetics performed penance. The oldest of the Tamil and Brahmi inscriptions etched on the bed dates back to 2nd century BCE.
The Chitaraal Jain University @Kanyakumari
Hills and caves played an important role in Jainism. The lonely perches were ideal spots for meditation and contemplation. These austere cells served as ascetic retreats. Their richly-carved facades depict royal scenes and daily life; each cave named after a distinguishing feature.
Around the period of the decline of Jainism during the rule of the Cholas in the 11th Century, it is believed that Chandragupta Maurya, along with a Jain ascetic Badrabhahu, reached Sravanabelagola in 298 BC. Their disciples traveled South and settled on the hillocks.
It was, however, converted into a Hindu temple in 1250 A.D., and an image of Bhagavathy was installed and named, Thirucharanmalai, means `the hill holy to the charanas'. The rock-cut sculptures and statues of 23 Jain Thirthankaras including Mahaveer decorate the walls of this cave temple at Chitaraal and is being maintained by the ASI.
A Devi temple was later erected in the area by the then Travancore ruler, Sree Moolam Thirunal. Chitaraal was also referred to as the Chokkanthoongi Hills or simply Malaikoil by the locals.
Jain influence in present-day Kanyakumari was due to the Jain Tamil King Mahendra Verman-I (610-640). It is an astounding fact to hear that education had permeated into the South as early as the Jains set camp in Chitharal , Kanyakumari. Inscriptions clearly say that the Chitharal Jain Monuments are the ruins of a Jain training center from the 9th century CE.
The hillock cave temple has rock-cut sculptures of Thirthankaras and attendant deities carved inside and outside dating back to the 9th century. Among the rock-cut relief sculptures is a figure of the goddess Dharmadevi.
The Stone Inscriptions @Chitaraal Jain Temple (Malai Kovil)
There are 9 stone inscriptions in Tamil vattezheutthu, Sanskrit, and Malayalam dating back to 9th Century A.D. One of the stone inscriptions says that there was a Jain University at this place during 1st century BC. and Queen Kuratimarayar had donated wealth to the university. This inscription is found in Tamil Brahmi scriptures