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Karkala is a peaceful silent town and headquarters of Karkala Taluk in Udupi district of Karnataka, located about 300 km from Bangalore. The first name of this town was Pandya Nagari during the Jain regime but afterwards it was changed to Karikallu because of black stones. Slowly as the time passed by it was called Karkal and then to Karkala.

Karkala with its numerous sights never fails to fascinate people. Its magnificent Ramasamudra Lake flouting its Nelumbiums, black granite outcrops standing tall and dark, the serene smile of Bahubali, Jain basadis galore, blue hillocks on the east all make Karkala a man's concept of paradise.

Karkala has its history from the earliest 10th century; the time ancient Kings ruled over here and then came the Jains who ruled there for about 300 years, due to this reason this place is also known as Jain Thirtha. The landscape is surrounded by thick green forests, black rocks, roofed houses with wells, and lots more.

If there is one thing that symbolises the sunny and serene town of Karkala in Udupi district, it is the black stone. It is prevalent everywhere - in the rocky hills, in the monolithic statue of the Jain saint Bahubali, in the numerous basadis and temples found all over the town. In fact the name of the town, 'Karkal' is derived from 'kari-kallu' meaning black stone in Kannada. The town nestles in the backdrop of the Western Ghats. There are different names by which this place has been called. Tulus, Jains and Kannadigas call this place as KARLA. Muslims and Konkanis call it KARKALA. Christians call it KARKOL.

The Alupas were the first to rule here. Then came the Santaras who were the feudatories of Alupas for a long time. Karkala or ancient Pandya Nagari attained political and cultural importance from the time of Kalasa-Karkala kingdom that was established by Bhairarasa Odeyas between 13th and 16th centuries. The Bhairarasas appear to be the descendants of the Santara chiefs who ruled the western ghats region around the 11th century A.D.

The royal family of Karkala shot to prominence right from the time of the Hoysalas. During the Vijayanagara period this family reached new heights of glory. Their kingdom extended over a wider area comprising Sringeri, Koppa, Balehonnur and Mudigere in Chikamagalur and most of the Karkala taluk. They were rich and maintained a big and strong army. Despite engaging in wars, peace prevailed in the kingdom and this led to increased cultural activity and development.

If Karkala today is a place of tourist delight, the credit should go to the successive kings who developed it. The first important king was Veera Bhairava, who constructed basadis at Karkala and endowed land and money to numerous temples and basadis. Ramanatha and Veerapandya were his two sons. Ramanatha died during his father's time. In his memory, a scenic lake called Ramasamudra was created. This lake still survives in all its glory.

King Veera Pandya, at the insistence of his Guru Lalitakeerti, the pontiff of Karkala Jaina Math, installed the most beautifully carved gigantic statue of Bahubali on the rocky hill of Karkala. The date of the installation has been ascertained as February 13, 1432. This is the icon of the town and a visit to Karkala is incomplete without a visit to this hillock. Veera Pandya also installed the Brahmadeva Pillar in front of the statue in 1436.

Abinava Pandya ascended the throne next and it was he who installed the most beautifully carved manastambha in front of the Neminatha Basadi in Hiriyangadi in 1457 A.D. Hiriyangadi is a small village in Karkala taluk. This nondescript but idyllic village nestling below the Western Ghats attracts an occasional visitor with an eye for architectural grandeur. More than the basadi it is the intricately carved 54 feet pillar in front of the Basadi that speaks highly of the skill and craftsmanship of the artisans of the time. The Neminatha Basadi was renovated in 1946. An oriental school with free boarding and lodging facilities is being run here by the Bhujabali Brahmacharya Ashrama.

Abhinava Pandya's successor was Pandya VI. He built the famous Kere Basadi, in the middle of a picturesque lake called Anekere in 1545 A.D. It is in this lake that the king's elephants used to bathe. Both the majestic Basadi and the lake still exist in all their majesty.

The next important king was Immadi Bhairava (Bhairava II). He constructed the famous Chaturmukha Basadi on top of a small rocky hill in 1586 A.D. The Basadi has four identical entrances from the four quarters leading to the Garbagriha and hence is popularly known as Chaturmukha Basadi. This is the most celebrated structural temple in Karkala and is referred to in inscriptions as Tribhuvana Tilaka Jina Chaityalaya and Ratnaraya Dhama. The Chaturmukha Basadi is built in the form of a square mandapa or hall with a lofty doorway and pillared portico on each of its four sides and a pillared verandah. The roof is flat and is made of massive granite slabs. It has lifesize statues of three theerthankaras and small images of 24 theerthankaras. It took 30 years to build this temple. In all, there are 108 pillars inside and outside the temple.

There are 18 basadis of antiquity including Mahaveera Basadi, Chandranathaswamy Basadi, Adinathaswamy Basadi, Ananthanatha Basadi, Guru Basadi and Padmavathi Basadi. But Karkala is not famous for Jain basadis alone. The rulers of Karkala were tolerant and patronising towards other religions. The temples of Anantashayana and Venkataramana are of considerable antiquity and testimony to the tolerance of the rulers of Karkala. There are other important temples like Mahamaya Mukhyaprana temple and Adi Shakti Veerabhadra temple.

St. Lawrence Church At Attur
Karkala also boasts of the highly venerated St Lawrence Church built in 1845 in a village called Attur where people of all religions congregate every year in January for the feast of St Lawrence. An interesting story is told about the starting of the present church and the Shrine of St. Lawrence at Attur. The church at Nakre was too old for use. So the parishioners, with their Goan Parish priest went out to find a proper place for a new church. They carried with them a statue of St. Lawrence, one foot in height. On the way they went on praying to St. Lawrence to help them to select a suitable place to put up the church in his honour. They crossed the Ramasamudra lake of Karkala, went up the Parpale Hill and came down on the western side. They found a spring flowing at the foot of the hill. As they were thirsty and tired, they kept down the statue and quenched their thirst with the pure spring water and rested.

After sometime, they started to continue their search. But when they tried to lift the statue, it could not be lifted. It was as if rooted in the ground. On seeing this, the priest exclaimed. ' O St. Lawrence, if you have selected this place, we will build the church in this same place'. After this promise, it is said that he could lift the statue without any difficulty. So, on the same spot the present church was built in the year 1839 A.D. Within a short time this church turned out to be a pilgrimage center. Pilgrims began to come from surrounding places. Many favours were received by them through the intercession of the Saint. The miraculous statue of St. Lawrence became a statue of devotion.

The whole year round the pilgrims come to visit the Shrine. People believe that St. Lawrence is indeed a powerful intercessor. Not only the people of Attur and the pilgrims that visit the Shrine, even those who without visiting the Shrine have prayed for the help from the Saint, have felt the helping hand of St. Lawrence. The great number of pilgrims that visit the Shrine during the Annual Feast and throughout the year is a testimony that the Saint does not refuse those who approach him with trust and devotion.

The church is particularly famous for its annual festival, which is held in the last week of January-on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, every year. The special feature of the festival is the popular belief in lighting candles on the above mentioned days. It is believed that if a person visits the church during the annual festival and lights a candle making a wish, the wish comes true. People from all walks of life and all religions flock to the church during the annual festival. Even on other days devotees light candles praying for the fulfillment of their wishes. Candles ranging from 1 foot-7 feet are available for lighting. There is a pond on the premises of the church by the name 'Pushkarini'. It is said that the pond is always full of water. The water is believed to have tremendous healing effect and is said to have produced many miraculous healings

A cross can be found on top of the Parpale Hill near St Lawrence Church. At a lower level of this Hill, there are two caves of Tippu's time; one of these is quite big. It is said that one of these caves has a tunnel leading to Kanthavara temple.

St. Lawrence church is spread on acres of land and surrounded by the beauty of nature on all sides. Peace, tranquility and serenity lend a hue of charm to this place. In the present world where disappointments, worries and frustrations are frequent, St. Lawrence church is a silver line of hope and courage.

Gommateshwara Statue, Karkala

Karkala is a town of historical importance and a famous pilgrim centre for Jains. The famous single stone 42-foot (13 m) statue Gommateshwara (Lord Bahubali) is located about 1 km from the center of the town and is the second tallest in Karnataka . There are about 18 Jain basadis here. The Bahubali statue is the second tallest in the State. This monolithic statue of Lord Bahubali was installed at Karkala on February 13, 1432 on the instructions of the pontiff of Karkala, Lalitakeerti. You can find several other temples, mosques and churches in and around Karkala. Several jain temples were constructed namely Chaturmukha Thirthankara Basadi, Hiriyangaddi Neminatha Basadi and Anekere Padmavathi Basadi. All of these sites mentioned are listed in Archaeological Survey of India, Government of India.

Bahubali is also called Gomateshwara because of the statue dedicated to him. "Gommateshwara" statue, built by the Ganga dynasty minister and commander Chavundaraya, is a 57-foot (17 m) monolith (statue carved from a single piece of rock) and is situated above a hill in Shravanabelagola, in the Hassan district of Karnataka. It was built in around 983 A.D. and is one of the largest free standing statues in the world. The other statues of Bahubali in the state are at Venur installed by Timmaraja, which is 35 feet (11 m) tall, and at Dharmasthala installed by D. Veerendra Heggade, which is 39 feet (12 m) tall.

5 monolithic statues of Bahubali in Karnataka

  1. 57 feet high monolith at Shravanabelagola in Hassan District built in 981 CE
  2. 42 feet high monolith at Karkala in Udupi District built in 1430 CE
  3. 39 feet high monolith at Dharmasthala in Dakshina Kannada District built in 1973 CE
  4. 35 feet high monolith at Venur in Dakshina Kannada District built in 1604 CE
  5. 20 feet high monolith at Gommatagiri in Mysore District built in 12th Century CE

There is one Gommateshwara statue in Kumbhoj in Kolhapur district, Maharashtra, which is about 28 feet in height.

Once in every 12 years, lakhs of Jain devotees congregate here to perform the Mahamastakabhisheka, a ceremony where the Gommateshwara statue is bathed and anointed with milk, water, and saffron paste and sprinkled with sandal wood powder, turmeric, and vermilion. The last Mahamastakabhisheka was held in February 2002, and the next will be in 2014 A.D. Also an annual Rathotsava is held in February month.

Other Tourist Attractions

  • Chaturmukha Basadi, the Tribhuvana Tilaka Jina Chaityalaya or Ratnatraya dhama built in 1586 CE
  • Aane Kere Basadi
  • The Ananthapadmanabha (or Anantashayana) temple, built in 1567 CE
  • St. Lawrence church, popularly known as Attur Church, established in 1759 CE
  • The Venkataramana temple, popularly known as "Padutirupathi", meaning West Tirupathi, built in 1537 CE.
  • The Veeramaruti temple, originally built in 1539 CE, featuring over 15 feet idol of Lord Hanuman.
  • Karkala Padmavati Basadi

► Hotels, Boarding, Lodging & Accomodation in Karkala

There are a good number of buses that ply to Karkala from Mangalore, Udupi etc. Hiring a cab or some 4 wheeler is a good option, as you can easily cover other nearby places of attractions worth visiting. If you are visiting Mangaluru or Udupi, then Karkala is well within a day trip. Nearby Moodabidri can also be covered. Karkala is about 17 kms from Moodabidri, 51 kms from Mangalore (Mangaluru) , 37 kms from Udupi via Moodulbelle & 40 kms from Udupi via Manipal-Hiriadka road, 58 kms from Sringeri. Also, Agumbe is approx. 49 kms, Venur around 36 kms and Barkur around 49 kms from Karkala.

There are a few decent places to have food in the town. There aren't much great hotels or lodges in Karkala. However, one can stay in Udupi or Mangaluru, and then travel to Karkala covering other significant places along.