Located about 60 km from Mangalore and 36 km from Udupi, Karkala is a town that is home to several spiritual monuments that span Hindu, Christian and Jain cultures that truly make it a potpourri of experiences. Karkala part of the Tulu country was under the control of Alupas, the feudatories of the Kadambas in the 6th century A.D. who later consolidated their presence and ruled Tulunad for more than 800 years.
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One of the primary attractions of the town is the gigantic statue of Bahubali or Gomateshwara which is the second-largest statue in the world (the first being at Shravanabelagola). A 25 feet tall Brahmayaksha Mahastambha or column of honour has been erected outside the temple and dates to 1436 A.D. The statue is situated on the peak of a granite hill and was erected by King Veerapandya Bhairava Raja of the Kalasa-Karkala kingdom in 1432 AD on the advice of his preceptor Lalitakirti. Prince Bahubali spent 12 years meditating while denouncing all worldly pleasures – the statue was created to commemorate this occasion.
The 42 feet high statue stands on a 5 feet high moulded platform enclosed by a massive stone railing. With elongated ears, palms stretching towards the knees, curly hair, and anthill and creepers entwining the hands, the statue has a peaceful facial expression. The Maha Masthakaabhisheka, an important event here, is held once in 12 years when the statue is bathed with saffron paste, milk, and water.
When you are in Karkala a visit to the Attur Church, a minor basilica that has a beautiful statue of St. Lawrence, is a must. Located on the outskirts of the town, this church is thronged by people of all faiths. This is said to be the third church built here as the first two were destroyed. Incidentally, when looking for a location for the new church the parishioners who carried the statue of St. Lawrence stopped at the Pushkarni Pond nearby to quench their thirst. However, they could not lift the statue when they wanted to continue on their journey and decided to build the church at the very same site. Today, this stunning edifice, nearly 200 years old, is the main attraction of the place and a religious centre for many devotees regardless of their religion. January is the perfect time to visit the church when the weather is pleasant.
Jainism is a key faith here and the Lord Ananthashayana temple, a Jain Basadi, was built by a Jain king in 1567. It is said that when Sringeri Jagadguru Sri Narasimha Bharathi Swamiji visited Karkala he agreed to stay here on the condition that the temple had a statue of Vishnu. This is when the king had a stone sculpture, depicting a sleeping Lord Vishnu carved out of a single black stone, installed here. The temple protected under the Archaeological Survey of India also houses many fine Jain sculptures.
Do visit the Anekere Lake – a large water body that was originally built as a tank in 1262 by King Pandyadeva and was the primary source of drinking water to the town for over eight centuries. Now the space covers seven acres and is a nature lover’s paradise with clear waters covered with hundreds of colourful lilies. Also, stop at the Ramasamundra Lake – a favourite with locals and tourists alike said to be built in the last quarter of the 14th century. The water of this pond, created in the memory of Ramanatha the son of King Veera Bhairava and brother of Veerapandya, is believed to have healing powers and is said to have never gone dry. The next time you are in Mangalore or Udupi, take the lesser-known trajectory towards Karkala to discover a spiritual sojourn like no other.
Reach: Karkala is located about 40 km from Mangalore which also has an airport.
Stay: There are smaller hotels in Karkala so a better option is to stay in Mangalore.
Shop: Local pickles made with berries, jackfruit products like chips and sweets, coconut oil, local papads, local sweets, and savouries.