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TRIPMALABAR

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  • Writer's pictureVijay Nair

Jainism in Kerala: A Lost Legacy


Jainism, one of the ancient Indian religions, made its way to the southern state of Kerala in the 3rd century BC. The arrival of Jainism in the region can be traced back to the abdication of Chandragupta Maurya, the emperor of the Mauryan dynasty, who visited Sravanabelgola in Mysore along with the Digambara Jain saint Bhadrabahu. The two are considered to be the pioneers of Jainism in South India.


As followers of Chandragupta Maurya explored different parts of South India in search of peaceful locations for meditation, Jainism slowly gained a strong foothold in the region. One of the famous centres for Jain learning during that time was Matilakam, where the Jain prince Ilango Adikal lived and wrote the epic poem 'Silappadikaram'.


The rich Jain heritage of Kerala can still be seen in the form of ancient temples and shrines that dot the state. The Kudalmanikkam temple at Irinjalakkuda, dedicated to Bharata, was once a Jain temple, but over time, it was converted into a Hindu temple. The Kallil near Perumbavur also has a natural rock-cut Jain shrine that was later converted into a Bhagavathi temple and is worshipped by the Hindu community.


Despite the decline of Jainism in Kerala starting from the 8th century AD with the arrival of Hinduism, the legacy of Jainism can still be found in the form of Jain inscriptions in the Edakkal cave, and the ruins of an old Jain temple discovered in Kavassery in Alathur.


Today, there are a few old Jain families residing in the Wynad and Kasargod districts, keeping the Jain tradition alive.


In conclusion, Jainism played a significant role in shaping the religious landscape of Kerala and its presence can still be felt through its ancient monuments and the descendants of Jain families who continue to practice the religion

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