Ancient Jain Temple Complex near Tiruvannamalai


Jains have an ancient and influential history in Tamil Nadu, dating back to the Sangam era, 2,300 years ago. They have a small population, about 85,000, mainly in northeastern Tamil Nadu. Carol found out that there is an ancient Jain Temple near Tiruvannamalai, about 50 km, on the way to Vellore, and we thought we would go and see what is there.

We had visited Jain temples in our India travels, and saw several significant Jain temples in Rajasthan. We wrote about it in these posts: Rajasthan: Jain Temples in Jaisalmer Fort and Rajasthan: The Beautiful Ranakpur Jain Temple.

More about Jains and Tamil Nadu, below.

First to show a highlight of the visit:  Below is a statue in front of the Arihant Giri Digamabr Jain Temple in Thirumalai, about 50 km north of Tiruvannamalai, near Polur. There are two main Jain sects, the “Sky-clad” (Digambara) of South India, and “White-clad” (Śvētāmbara) of West India. Tamil Nadu Jains have long held the Sky-clad teachings, so the Thirumalai Digamabr temple features a big Sky-clad idol in the front. To Western eyes, the frontal male nudity of this Sky-clad holy man is a bit shocking.

Thirumalai, from Tiruvannamalai

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Here is a Google Earth view of Thirumalai. Thirumalai is an ancient hillock, featuring an 18-foot-high idol of a Jain Tīrthaṅkara, enlightened saint, Neminath, one of the last Tīrthaṅkaras, and a temple to Mahavir, the last of the 24 Jain Tīrthaṅkaras. It is not clear how old the temples are here. They must be pretty old, since the name of the place, Thirumalai means “Temple Hill.” There are some indications that the roots go back more than 2000 years.

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About the Jains

Recent research that I have done shows that Jain sects are much older than 2,600 years. There are references to Jain saints, for example, in the Vedas. This makes the Jains more than 3,500 years old. There are also some figures from Harappa that some scholars think are Jain. This would make the Jains more than 4,500 years old. Whatever are the details, it seems that the Jains are ancient, at least as old as Vedic Hinduism, and probably much older. They then represent another ancient spiritual line of teachings that has flourished in India since the Bronze Age down to modern times.

(The section that follows is taken from an earlier post about the Jains, Rajasthan: Jain Temples in Jaisalmer Fort , in which an overview of the Jains was given.  )

Jains have always supported education. They now have the highest literacy rate in India, 97.5%. Jains are also well-known as traders. I guess since agriculture was often not permissible due to their beliefs about not causing harm, then they had to trade to survive. Maybe this education as well as skills as traders is part of what made Jains of interest to various Indian rulers: Rajas and Maharajas in both South and North India.

Jain ideas have had a profound influence within India. As one example, Mahatmas Gandhi’s ideas of nonviolence came directly from the Jain principle of Ahimsa, harmlessness. The Jains also think that you can never come to a full understanding of anything from the individual point of view. The universe is always more complex and bigger than any one person can see, so to understand anything takes all the points of view.

The Jains  

Jainism is one of three major world religions that originated in India, others being Hinduism and Buddhism.

Below are representations of two of the twenty-four Jain Tirthankaras, in white marble. (More on the Tirthankaras below.)

Images of the Tirthankara are not worshiped as personal gods capable of giving blessings or interfering with human events. Rather, Jain believers pay them homage as representatives of great beings in the hope that they may be filled with a sense of renunciation and the highest virtues and thus encouraged along the path toward their final liberation.


Here is a good “standard” overview of Jainism, from :

Jainism dates to the 6th century BCE in India. The religion derives its name from the jinas (“conquerors”), a title given to twenty-four great teachers (tirthankaras or “ford-makers”), through whom their faith was revealed. Mahavira, the last of the tirthankaras, is considered the founder of Jainism.

The ultimate goal of Jainism is the liberation of the self (jiva) from rebirth, which is attained through the elimination of accumulated karma (the consequences of previous actions). This occurs through both the disciplined cultivation of knowledge and control of bodily passions. When the passions have been utterly conquered and all karma has been removed, one becomes a Jina (“conqueror”), and is no longer subject to rebirth.

Jainism conceives of a multi-layered universe containing both heavens and hells. Movement through these levels of the universe requires adherence to the Jainism doctrines emphasizing a peaceful and disciplined life. These principles include non-violence in all parts of life (verbal, physical, and mental), speaking truth, sexual monogamy, and the detachment from material things.

As part of the disciplined and non-violent lifestyle, Jains typically are strict vegetarians and often adhere to a quite arduous practice of non-violence, which restricts the sorts of occupations the may follow (no farming, for instance, since insects are inadvertently harmed in plowing). Jainism’s ethical system is based on the idea that right faith, knowledge, and conduct must be cultivated simultaneously.

The Shramana Tradition

Though generally Jainism is thought to be about 2,600 years old, about the same age as Buddhism, powerful evidence says that its roots are pre-Vedic, perhaps as old as 7,000 BCE (the Vedic period started about 3,500 BCE), at the beginning of the agricultural era in India, 1,000 years after the glaciers of the last ice age receded from India. There is a close connection of Jainism and the Shramana tradition. Shramana was an ancient Indian religious movement parallel to, but separate from, the historical Vedic religion (now called Hinduism). Shramana refers to traditions of renunciate asceticism. These traditions were individual, experiential and free-form, and independent of society. Shramana was in religious competition with Brahmin priests, who, as opposed to Shramanas, stressed mastery of texts and performing rituals. It was the orthodox Hindus against the heterodox Shramanas.

If the roots of this tradition do indeed date back to the beginnings of agriculture (and village life, as opposed to the wandering life of a hunter-gatherer), I wonder if maybe this Shramana tradition represents in some way the desire to return to an earlier time, an earlier type and rhythm of life, where we were more free of the schedules and obligations of life as a farmer (and a villager)? The gatherer only harvests. The farmer must plant (and tend) before he harvests.

The Shramana tradition gave rise to direct personal practices as exemplified by Yoga, Jainism, Buddhism as well as the Hindu sannyasin tradition. Key concepts, common to all Indic religions came from Shramana. These include saṃsāra (the cycle of birth and death) and moksha (liberation from that cycle). Key practices, like meditation, also seem to start with these Shramana traditions. They practiced Ahimsa (cause no injury, do no harm) and rigorous ascetism.

It can be argued that a merger between Vedic traditions and Shramana ideas brought about modern Hinduism. Shramanic ideas started to be expressed in the Upanishads, which are commonly dated from about the same period in which Jainism and Hinduism developed, about 600 BCE. From within India, people started to look past the older ritualistic Hindu traditions for a practice more direct and personal. Modern Hinduism combines both the Vedic traditions and those from the Upanishads.

Shramana and Jainism

The Shramana tradition of the Jain religion is considered the oldest of the non-Aryan cultural group, as an independent pre-Buddhist religion, and is suggested to have existed before what is sometimes called “the Brahmin cult” (Vedic Hinduism).

Some scholars say that Shramanas (practitioners) of Jain tradition were widespread in the Indus Valley, with the relics of Indus Valley civilization representing Jain culture, like nude male figures in standing meditation  (Jaina Kayotsarga), idols in Padmasana (sitting in lotus position), images with serpent-heads and the bull symbol, standard Jain motifs. Some say the Shramana cultures arose and flourished in the Gangetic areas, rather than in the Indus Valley. Perhaps pre-Jain Shramana flourished in both regions before the advent of the Vedic religion. I think the evidence is strong that Shramana was well established in the ancient Indus Valley. Maybe the growth of new ideas in the Ganges rivershed area was the movement of the Shramanic ideas west in the 1,000 years that followed the establishment of Vedic Hinduism in the Indus Valley.

The Tirthankara

In Jainism, a Tirthankara is a human being who helps others in achieving liberation and enlightenment as an arihant (one who as overcome all karmas, gross and subtle). Jainism derives its philosophy from their teachings and lives. Jains recognize twenty-four Tīrthaṅkaras. The first was Rishabha, who seems to have lived before the Vedas were set down, since he is mentioned in the oldest of them, the Rig Veda. This would put his life sometime before 1,500 BCE, probably much older, since he was already a mystical figure at that time. The 24th Thirtankara, and last of this era was Mahavir, the only one of two who are historical figures, being born in 599 BCE, and credited as the founder of Jainism. For more on Tirthankara, go to the Wikipedia page.

Jain Siddhas

In Jainism a siddha is a Tirthankara who has become fully liberated. He is no longer a teacher, since he is now formless.

From Wikipedia:

(jain) Siddhas are the liberated souls. They have completely ended the cycle of birth and death. They have reached the ultimate state of salvation. They do not have any karmas and they do not collect any new karmas. This state of true freedom is called Moksha. They are formless and have no passions and therefore are free from all temptations.

According to Jains, Siddhas have eight specific characteristics or qualities. The ancient Tamil Jain classic “Choodamani Nigandu” describes the eight characteristics in a beautiful poem, which is given below.

“The soul that has infinite knowledge (Ananta jnāna), infinite vision or wisdom (Ananta darshana), infinite power (Ananta labdhi), infinite bliss (Ananta sukha), without name (Akshaya sthiti), without association to any caste (Being vitāraga), infinite life span (Being arupa) and without any change (Aguruladhutaa) is God.”

Jains in Tamil Nadu

(Much of the information below comes from

Tamil Jains, called Samanars, are presently a small population in Tamil Nadu, comprising about 85,000 individuals, mostly in northern Tamil Nadu.

The history of the Jains in South India goes back 2,600 years. There are reports of Mahavir, the 24th Thirtankara, visiting Andhra Pradesh at that time. There are also reports of a Jain community in Ceylon 2,400 years ago. Further,the Ramayana – thought to be written about 2,500 years ago – mentions that Lord Rama paid homage to Jain monks living in South India on his way to Sri Lanka. There is good evidence that about 2,300 years ago a Jain leader, Bhadrabahu came south to Karnataka with many (I have seen numbers ranging from 1,200 to 12,000) Jain sages from North India, finding it hard to live during a 12-year long famine in North India, where they had lived. They were connected to Chandragupta Maurya who unified South India at that time.

Some scholars believe that the author of the oldest remaining work of literature in Tamil (3rd century BCE), Tholkappiyam, was a Jain. Silappatikaram, first epic in Tamil literature, was written by a Jain monk, Ilango Adigal. This epic is a major work in Tamil literature, describing the historical events of its time, and also of then-prevailing religions, Jainism, Buddhism and Saivism. The main characters of this work, Kannagi and Kovalan, who hold God-like status among Tamilians, were Jains. So the Sangam period in Madurai, a key period in Tamil history, had much Jain influence among the educated classes, scholars and rulers.

Throughout the history from this period to about 1,000 years ago, there were Jain influences in high places, advisors to rulers, local Rajas (kings) converting to Jainism, etc.

In the period about 800 CE to 1,000 CE there was pressure to eliminate the Jains (and Buddhists) from the Saivites. The most dramatic story from this time is the story of the Madurai Massacre.  From Wikipedia:

In the ancient Tamil-speaking region, the Jains had come to wield immense influence by the 7th century. There were around eight thousand Jains living in Madurai at the time.

The king Koon Pandian converted to Jainism. This caused immense discomfort to his queen Mangaiarkkarasi and his minister Kulachirai Nayanar, who remained staunch Saivites. The two invited the Saivite saint Sambandar to Madurai to check the growing influence of the Jains. According to the local Saivite legend, the Jains set fire to the dwelling of Sambandar. But Sambandar transferred the heat to the king who started wriggling with pain. The Jains tried to cure his condition, by chanting a mantra which only aggravated the king’s pain. Sambandar then chanted a mantra and sprinkled some sacred ash that not only freed the king from the burning sensation, but also cured his hunched back. The Jains were then pitched against another challenge: both Saivite and Jain mantras should be written on the palm leaves, which would be thrown into a fire. The sect whose leaf survives would be accepted as superior. The Saivites emerged as the winners of this challenge. In a similar water-based contest (punalvatam), the Jain manuscripts drowned in the river, while the Saivite script came back to the shore unscathed. Jains sources believe that oil was applied on the palm leaves by Saivite thus helping leaves to float in the water. With this trick, king was influenced by the Saivites.

After coming under the influence of Sambandar, the king became a Saivite, as did several of his subjects.

Sambandar championed the cause of Saivism, and sought to prove wrong the Jain doctrines. When the Jains in Samanatham refused to convert to Saivism, the king ordered their killings with the consent of Sambandar. Around 8,000 Jains were killed by being forcefully put over sharp, tall, conical structures in sitting posture.

Sambandar is associated with the final downfall of Jainism in the Pandya kingdom in the 7th century CE. Sambandar also converted a number of Buddhists in another part of the kingdom to Saivism. The torture is depicted on some carvings of the Meenakshi temple in Madurai. The massacre is celebrated and commemorated annually at the temple.

My first reading about this came from the Periya Puranam, which was the only spiritual book that was read by Sri Ramana Maharshi as a child. I was surprised that this book recounted stories of Saivite victories over Jains and Buddhists of this era. I did not expect that this book of 63 saints would be telling of their victory over the Jains and Buddhists. Victories over others did not seem very saintly to me.


Enough history. Now to the visit to Thirumalai.

After about an hour’s drive we arrived at our first destination, which was a Thirumalai Jain temple that our driver knew of and had visited before. We saw a sign for the Digamabr temple. The first thing we saw is the building pictured below. It doesn’t look that old. I wonder what it is?

Arihant Giri Digamabr Jain Temple

We next see this building with the white statue above its entrance. This must be the Digamabr temple; the statue looks like it is “sky-clad.”


Here it is again. Yes it surely is Digamabr.

There is a sign. It is for the Jain priests’ school, not the temple.


We walk up a flight of stairs behind the white statue. Looking out. He had a nice butt. We entered a room behind him.


The man who is showing us around offered a flame to the altar. This seems very Hindu.


As we look at the idols of the altar, it sure is Jain, typical statues of Jain Thirtankara.


In front of the golden Thirtankara was this array of flowers laid out in a grid of 48 squares. These are for, I am sure, the 24 Thirtankaras of the past and the 24 future Thirtankaras that are also defined by the Jains.


The main altar.


A side altar. The rectangular bronze shows the 24 Thirtankara.


After visiting the temple out guide sat us down for chai, and asked us if we would be eating with them later today. They did a great job being host to us as visitors of the temple.

Richard has chai.


Signs are painted on the walls noting donations for various temple projects.


Panchakua Devatha Temple

We next went into the newer temple. I don’t know anything about it other than its name: The Five Goddesses Temple. With what we had seen of other Jain temples we saw nothing that was devoted to goddesses, only places that worshiped the Thirtankara, which per the Sky-clad teachings must always be male.


The temple is circular with a round central altar area.


The interior ceilings are painted, with carvings projecting out from the surface.


One area has this array of snakes, cobras, emerging from the ceiling.


Paintings on the ceiling clearly identify this as a Sky-clad temple.


Varahi Amman

Our guide takes us to the first of the goddesses. This is Varahi Amman.


Google shows Varahi as a Hindu and Buddhist goddess.

With the head of a sow, the Hindus see Varahi as the shakti (feminine energy, or consort) of Varaha, the boar Avatar of the god Vishnu.


She is said to be a fierce warrior. Given the peaceful nature of the Jains, they must have entirely different stories about her. Can anyone tell us what they are?

The Hindus also see her as the bestower of Kaivalya, the final form of mukti (salvation). This seems much more Jain-like.

Here is her head.


Next to her is a figure who sure looks like Sarasvati, with her musical instrument.


A camphor flame is offered to Varahi. Again, this seems like what we have seen hundreds of times in Hindu temples. The poojari even wears the orange robes of a Hindu sadhu. I think he probably is from the nearby Jain Priest school.


Kushmandini Amman

The next goddess, dressed in green, is Kushmandini Amman.

She is also known as Ambikā Devī and is the Yakṣhini, "dedicated attendant deity" or Śāsana Devī, "protector goddess" of the 22nd Tirthankara, Neminath. The largest statue in South India of Neminath is nearby on the holy hillock, Arihanthagiri (also known as Thirumalai). 


Another ceiling painting with Jain symbolism: two figures riding on swans that look to be showering flowers on a Jain saint.


Jolamalini Amman

Next is Jolamalini Amman. She is the Yakshini of the Eighth Tirthankara, Shri Bhagwan Chandraprabhu. She was one of the most widely invoked Yakshinis during the early medieval period.

She is associated with fire, thus the flames on the sculpture around her head. Jain literature also recognizes her as Vahni Devī, or the Fire Goddess.


More Jain images on the ceiling.



Chakreshwari Amman

We come Chakreshwari Amman next. She was the Yakshini of the First Tirthankara, Lord Adinath, also known as Rishabha. The age of Rishabha is unknown, and probably ancient. There is mention of Him in ancient Hindu writings, like the Bhagavata Purana and Skanda Purana. He is said to be the founder of the Jains.



Padmavathi Amman

The final Goddess is Padmavathi Amman.

Padmavathī is the Yakshini of Pārśva (Parshvanatha), twenty-third Tirthankara. She is very popular amongst Jains, according to the Digambara tradition, Padmavathī and her husband Dharanendra protected Pārśva when he was harassed by Meghalin.


After offering the flame to the Goddesses, the priest offers it to Carol, and then to me.


I really wonder about this temple, focused on Jain goddesses. I had heard and read so little about these. And especially since the Sky-clad Jains say that women cannot get moksha, I think this Goddess temple is very interesting. Worship of the “Holy Mother” is a big thing all around the world, so not a surprise to find it among the Jains.

The Holy Mountain Arihanthagiri (Thirumalai)

Arihant means "destroyer of inner enemies," so Arihanthagiri means something like “the mountain that destroys your inner enemies.” This sounds like a great space to do spiritual practice!

The place is an ancient Jain site. 1,700 years ago, the Jain Shrut Kevali (one who has memorized all of the original Jain scriptures) Bhadrabahu Swami is said to have stayed here with 8,000 monks to do meditation. This was a place of Jain scholars. There are said to be more than 100 Granth (religious books written on Tadpatra (“Tree leaves”) that can still be seen here. (We didn’t see them.)

Nearby is Arihanthagiri, the main objective of this trip. Here it is, a small rocky hillock rising from the plains. It does not look like much as we approach.


Then there are stairs, I think I read of 140 of them. Stone steps, carefully done. Even a good railing. Our taxi driver made sure we had our bottles of water with us. Thank you, Venkatesh!


Looking down the hill into the surrounding area. It is a pretty rural Tamil Nadu scene.


A temple roof peeks through the rocks.


Shikhamani Nadar

We enter a courtyard with a tall gated temple to one side.


Inside Shikhamani Nadar is Neminatha, the 22nd Tirthankara standing in a pose kayotsarga (“dismissing the body”).


The last two Tirthankaras are historical figures. The first 22 are shrouded in time, before India kept a history. Jains and some Hindus consider Neminatha to be the cousin of Krishna – the son of Samudra Vijaya, brother of Krishna’s father Vasudeva. So Neminatha would have been from the time of the Mahabharata, about 3,000 years ago.

According to both religions, Krishna negotiated the marriage of Neminatha with Rajamati, the daughter of Ugrasena, but Neminatha, empathizing with the animals which were to be slaughtered for the marriage feast, left the procession suddenly and renounced the world, renouncing his kingdom to become a Shramana, a wondering ascetic.

The statue is 18 feet high, thought to date from the 12th century, and is the tallest Jain statue in Tamil Nadu.


There are more steps to the top. These are carved right into the rock.


A big round balanced rock is near the top.


At the top is a small shrine, built in the 17th century AD.


Inside it is another Jain saint, Parshvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankara, and the first historical one, from about 800 BC.

He lived as a formal prince of Varanasi, and at the age of thirty he renounced the world to become a monk. He meditated for eighty-four days before attaining Kevala Jnana.  He achieved mokṣa at the age of one hundred atop Shikharji, which is known today as "the Parasnath Hills" after him. Pārśva was called purisādāṇīya “beloved of men,” a name which shows that he must have been a genial personality. He remains beloved among Jains today.


One the top is a tree, growing from the rock.


Richard in the tree.


Below we can see the Panchakua Devatha Temple.


There are three sets of holy feet carved into the rock on top of the hillock. It is believed that they are of Shri Veshbhacharaya, Sree Samantbhadracharaya and Sree Vardutt Gandhar. These were three great teachers of Jaina.


Looking down from the hill into nearby fields.


Steps again, this time down.


It was definitely worthwhile going up this hill to see the big statue, and to get to the top of the hill and look around.

Mahavir Temple

As I researched the Mahavir temple here I found out that there was an older one and a newer one. The new one is from the 1,500s and the old one is from about 900 AC. The older one is Kunthavai Jinalaya temple, from the tenth century, is said to have been commissioned by the elder sister of Rajaraja Chola I, Queen Kundavai. It is one of two such sites commissioned by her, though the other site, Dadapuram, has not survived. In the 16th century, a second temple for Mahavir was built to the west of the Kunthavai Jinalaya. 

Mahaviar is a special figure to the Jains, from

Lord Mahavir was the twenty-fourth and the last Tirthankara of the Jain religion. According to Jain philosophy, all Tirthankaras were born as human beings but they have attained a state of perfection or enlightenment through meditation and self realization. They are the Gods of Jains. Tirthankaras are also known as Arihants or Jinas.

  • Tirthankara – One who establishes the four fold order (Monk, Nun, Layman, and Laywoman) of religion.
  • Arihant – One who destroys his inner enemies like anger, greed, passion, ego, etc.
  • Jina – One who conquers his inner enemies like anger, greed, passion, ego, etc. The followers of Jina are known as Jains.

Mahavir was born in 599 B.C. as a prince in Bihar, India. At the age of 30, he left his family and royal household, gave up his worldly possessions, including clothing, and became a monk.

He spent the next twelve years in deep silence and meditation to conquer his desires and feelings. He went without food for long periods. He carefully avoided harming or annoying other living beings including animals, birds, and plants. His ways of meditation, days of austerities, and mode of behavior furnish a beautiful example for monks and nuns in religious life. His spiritual pursuit lasted for twelve years. At the end he realized perfect perception, knowledge, power, and bliss. This realization is known as keval-jnana.

He spent the next thirty years travelling on bare feet around India preaching to the people the eternal truth he realized. He attracted people from all walks of life, rich and poor, kings and commoners, men and women, princes and priests, touchables and untouchables.

He organized his followers into a four-fold order, namely monk (Sadhu), nun (Sadhvi), layman (Shravak), and laywoman (Shravika). Later on they are known as Jains.

The ultimate objective of his teaching is how one can attain the total freedom from the cycle of birth, life, pain, misery, and death, and achieve the permanent blissful state of one’s self. This is also known as liberation, nirvana, absolute freedom, or Moksha.

He explained that from eternity, every living being (soul) is in bondage of karmic atoms, that are accumulated by its own good or bad deeds. Under the influence of karma, the soul is habituated to seek pleasures in materialistic belongings and possessions, which are the deep-rooted causes of self-centered violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and such other vices. These result in accumulating more karma.

He preached that right faith (samyak-darshana), right knowledge (samyak-jnana), and right conduct (samyak-charitra) together will help attain the liberation of one’s self.

At the heart of right conduct for Jains lie the five great vows:     

  • Nonviolence (Ahimsa) – not to cause harm to any living beings
  • Truthfulness (Satya) – to speak the harmless truth only
  • Non-stealing (Asteya) – not to take anything not properly given
  • Chastity (Brahmacharya) – not to indulge in sensual pleasure
  • Non-possession/Non-attachment (Aparigraha) – complete detachment from people, places, and material things.

We enter through a Jain gopuram into the Mahavir Temple.


The gopuram is similar to Hindu ones built in South India at this time, but has different symbolic and decorative elements.


The Mahavir Temple is ahead.


It has a pillared hall in front.


In the hall is this very old bas-relief of Mahavir.


Inside the temple is the main idol, Mahavir.


This central chamber show the effects of 500 years, with brick and stone eroded from leaking water.


Someone has offered flowers to Mahavir.


A beautiful idol, half a millennium old!


Several old inscriptions are carved into the rocks right outside the temple. They tell of Rajaraja Chola’s power and victories.


Another very old carved stone image.


Kunthavai Jinalaya Temple

Built into the cliff next to the Mahavir Temple is the Kunthavai Jinalaya temple.

The connection of this temple with Rajajraja Chola I is pretty amazing to me. Rajaraja Chola I is also known as Raja Raja the Great. He was one of India’s greatest rulers. His conquests made the Chola Empire one of the largest Indian empires ever, going north to Kalinga in Odisha, south to Sri Lanka, and east around the Indian Ocean, from Wikipedia:

The Cholas controlled the area around of Bay of Bengal and turned it to “Chola Lake.” Nagapattinam on Bay of Bengal was the main port of the Cholas and could have been the Navy headquarters. The success of Raja Raja allows his son Rajendra Chola to expand the Chola empire beyond the Bay of Bengal Sea. Rajendra Chola improved the ships of his father and was the first Indian ruler to establish the first Indian naval fleet some 1,200 years back. He had established his rule extending from India up to South East Asia with his naval fleet. Rajendra Chola annexed Java, Sumatra, Bali, parts of Malaysia, and Brunei islands, and demanded tribute from Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.

Rajajraja Chola I was also a greater builder. He built many Saivite temples in South India. Some of these still exist. Three are UNESCO World Heritage sites. We have visited them and shown them in these posts: Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur (Tanjore) and Trip from Tiruvannamalai to Rameswaram.

And he respected other religions. Beside building Saivite Temples, he built Vaisnavite ones, encouraged the construction of the Buddhist Chudamani Vihara, and even did things like help his elder sister Kundavai build this Jain temple. This was after the Tamils had spent perhaps 200 years of trying to drive Jains and Buddhists out of South India.


You climb up these narrow stairs to enter.


You enter into a chamber lined with figures carved into the rock. In the 10th century the rock was carved with fine sculptures of Ambika Yakshi, Gommateshvara, Parsvanatha and Adinatha.


Ambika Yakshi (whom we saw earlier in this post as Kushmandini) is holding a plant stalk. She is the Yakshini for the 22nd Tirthankara, Neminath. Because this figure is Ambika I think she must be holding a mango tree (which was how she was usually shown) even through it looks like sugar cane to me. She is the only one of these figures that is dressed and decorated with flowers.


A Jain figure, Parsvanatha or Adinatha, with women on both sides.


Adinamtha or Parsvanatha.


I think this is Gommateshvara, also known as Bahubali. He was the second son of the first Tirthankara, Rishabha. The Digambaras say that he was the first human in this time cycle to attain liberation, so he is revered by them. There is a famous large statue to Gommateshvara that was made about the same time, one thousand years ago, a 57 feet high monolithic statue in Shravanabelagola, Karnataka.


Details of one of the smaller figures.


A man carrying a child, standing next to a woman. Does she have a baby on her back?


There are more rooms built into the walls of the cave. There are paintings in them. The paintings and sculptures are said to be from the 10th to 15th centuries.

I think this is some kind of astrological chart, with 12 houses.


Painting on the ceiling, barely intact after 500 years.


A Tirthankara on the wall, probably around him are scenes from the story of his life and enlightenment.


This is, I assume, a yakshini.


A group of monks with bowls, from the scenes around the Tirthankara.


Haunting faces gaze at us through the years, I guess more yakshinis.


This ceiling must have been restored, since to me it looks too bright to be original.


Carol in one of the cave rooms.


Ornamental painting on a wall.


The remains of a statue.


More female figures.


I am exiting the caves of Kunthavai Jinalaya Temple.


The Film

As we were ready to leave, we saw something going on up on a cave on the side of the hill.


It was a TV movie production, using the cave as a set.

Here is one of the heroes of the movie, I think.


The crew is getting ready to take a shot. Richard has walked up and is right among them. This is a privilege we take when we are shooting photos for an article, to step into the middle of the action.


The cameraman is shooting the scene.


It is an action shot of a man in long hair and beard and old style dress meditating (for the movie).


Actors in the film stop so we can take a photo. Is the red-clothed sadhu on the right looking at his cell phone? If so, he is just like some on the orange-clad ones we see around Arunachala on Pradakshina Road.


I am so glad we went here. Carol had discovered this place and had been trying to get us to see it. Finally she got me to go. Thanks, Carol!

There is much that is fascinating about the Jains. They have an intense focus on self-realization, and an austere form of life that follows from it. Their traditions are ancient and are from an alternate Indian spiritual thread than the Brahmanic Hinduism. The wandering ascetic is from this tradition, and this nonattached spiritual seeker is close, I think, to the tradition brought to us by Sri Ramana Maharshi.

Here is the website from the organization who runs the school here and is taking care of these temples:

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13 Responses to “Ancient Jain Temple Complex near Tiruvannamalai”

  1. shivayashiva Says:

    “The gopuram is similar to Hindu ones built in South India at this time, but has different symbolic and decorative elements.”

    Since Jain temples predates Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu by several 100’s of years, I guess you must say Hindu Temples are like Jain Temples. In fact many Jain Temples were converted into Hindu temples.

    I am a Shavaite Hindu and morally and ethically cannot ignore truth and history.

  2. S. Arunachalananda (@Arunachalananda) Says:

    Dear Richard,
    what I was writing was not to criticise you and I really love your blog who provides realy good informations. Maybe there is a missunderstanding in what I wrote because writing english is not my speciallity (My language is german). All that I wanted to say is that what is believed about Hinduism today, has its roots mainly in the storys that “Indeologists” with christian background like the still very famous Max Müller the invendor of “Aryan Invasion” have told. He firmly believed that the world was created 4004 Years BCE and was heavily paid by the british regime to accuse the hindu culture of being evil and primitive. Letters he wrote to his wife prove that he really planned to uproot the vedic believe to install christianity. I´ve only tried to suggest that todays knowledge about vedic culture and when events happened is based on what not trustworthy western scientist who where also christian missionarys have told and there “evidences” should be looked on with some sceptic. I know that the only important thing is to realise our true nature as told by Bhagavan Ramana, Adi Shankaracharya and others but it sometimes still makes me feel a little sad to see what damage to the Indian culture has been done and that old lies are still found in todays schoolbooks. Talking is much easier for me than writing but I hope now you understood the purpose why I was writing. Hope that we can meet one day in Tiru!
    Om Arunachaleshwaraya Namah

  3. S. Arunachalananda (@Arunachalananda) Says:

    Dear Richard,
    Jainism is old but devenately not older than Veda. Many dates that even Hindus believe about there coulture are simply wrong. When the Britisgh came to India they where shoked about the ancient wisdom of India that dit not fit into their thinking of beeing the dominating higher christian race. Their “Indologist” who where also christian missionarys did no good with their “scientific” explanations and writings about Hinduism because they wantet to establish christianity as the “better” religition and declared hindu history as written in Ramayan and Mahabharat as myth and of no value. Many missinterpretations where done (not only by the british) and words changed. The Arthava Veda sais that the woman has to go into the fire (Agni) when the husband dies. The exact word was not Agni! It was Agre what means going on (with live), moving forward. A big difference, isnt it? Later “Indeologists” like Max Müller with western background and not really understanding the comblexity of sanskrit did the same. Translating the words without deep understanding. One single word in sanskrit can have many meanings. For wife, woman and taughter in law there is only one word what leaves a lot of space for missinterpretations for hindu haters.
    Todays “knowledge” about hinduism and when things actualy may have happend should not be taken sirious because it has undergone many wrong interpretations by socalled cientistsv and even found its way in indian schoolbooks. Aryan invasion is one of the biggest lies, making people believe that there own religion has come from some more evolved group outside of India. The dates and times of hinduism are given by so called cientists from the west with nonhindu background are not to trust. Just my opinion! Maybe you woult like to look at this page. (I know its a bit fancy) agniveer. com to adopt a second view on hinduism.
    I will come to Titu on Nov.1 for a stay of 4 1/2 month. Maybe we meet one time.

    • S. Arunachalananda (@Arunachalananda) Says:

      Sorry, ment Tiru not Titu!

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      I did not get anything that I wrote from Max Muller. Much research has been done in the last 100 years, especially recent genetic anthropology. Clearly the Aryans came after the Indus Valley civilization, which they displaced. This civilization collapsed about 4000 years ago, and was clearly not Bramanistic or Vedic.

      I am afraid that your criticisms are outdated now. Genetic anthropology does indicate that the Aryans were of local origins, not outside conquers, like Muller thought. As to the dates of the Jains, since some of their saints are mentioned in the Vedas, it would sure seem like their dates must be at least similarly old. And the Jains were preceded by an even older tradition that clearly was not Vedic.

      Genetic testing shows that there is an Aryan group and a Dravidian group. This is the same testing that shows that the Aryans likely did NOT originate outside India. One thing that I wonder about the Aryans is that they brought with them horses and horse technology that does not seem to have a clear origin within India. The use of horses gave them a military superiority. That they horses were so important is evidenced by the great importance of the horse sacrifice. Please enlighten me on the domestication and development of horses in India. From what I have read there is little archaeological evidence for this, and horses have bones that remain and would be found by anthropologists. I am not saying that horses mean that Aryans came from outside India, but the use of the horse was a innovation for the Aryans.

      I wrote about what I have found in my own study in this post

      The final part of the series lists about 50 references for these articles. I looked for ones where there is scientific evidence, not just someone’s opinion. I am a great believer in the use of actual evidence. In all of this, I can be wrong on some of the details; this is not an area that is clearly understood. I thinkj the genetic research currently going on will shed much light on the subject.

  4. mysticresearcher Says:

    Jainism says, there is no god, but Jains worship Tirthankara who attained salvation, again there is god in human form.

    In early Vedic culture, the oldest veda, Rig Veda speaks not of Shiva or Vishnu but rather of Fire, Wind Gods. The same can be seen in Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Gods, the Inca worshippers all have in common, the Fire.

    The worship of Fire, Sun, Water and the Wind that are found in Rig Veda, and in other ancient civilizations cleary states that man worship these, before realization that a soul exist in human body and animal and human Sacrifice is sin.

    This cleary show Vedic predates Jainism.

    In later stages, the Jains incoprated Vedic gods such Lakshmi, the goddess of Wealth, Ganesh, the god who removes obstacle in path of life, in their worship.

  5. Nitin Jain Says:

    Wonderful article. Congratulation. I appreciate the writer’s interest and understandinmg of JaINISM.

  6. Srinivas Ranganath Says:

    “Inside Shikhamani Nadar is Neminatha, the 22nd Tirthankara standing in a pose kayotsarga (“dismissing the body”).”
    This picture reminds me of Buddha statue which were destroyed by Talibans in Afganistan, known more as Bamyan Buddha , carved out of mud hill, an exquisite peace destroyed for ever!
    Glad to see places through your eyes, which I have not visited.

  7. marilynsandperl Says:

    What an interesting article! So fascinating to learn all about Jainism culture and be right there in the temple complex. Thanks for such an interesting post with, as always, great pictures! So glad you went!

    • marilynsandperl Says:

      Also just wanted to add how thankful I am to still see that the complex and art has been preserved (with some natural aging) and has not been vandalized or destroyed in any way. (Not sure this would happen in the U.S.)

  8. Oriane Droz Dit Busset Says:

    so interresting to read you.

  9. cspacenz Says:

    Outstanding reporting and what an amazing place up the hill there, absolutely must be on the to-do list for the next vist to Tiru. Thanks Richard and Carol, well done.

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