Karkala: A Love Story Sculptured on Black Granite


Karkala, called Karla in Tulu, Karkal by Konkani Brahmins, Karkol by Roman Catholics and Karkala in Kannada is the land of rich history, great warriors, ancient and modern sculpture, which forms part of the Tulu speaking regions (loosely called Tulunadu or Tuluva Desha or Taulava) spread across coastal Karnataka and the rain kissed slopes of Western Ghats. Being an religious entity, it is alternatively known as ‘Jain Tirtha‘ , a name gained as a result of over three centuries of uninterrupted rule by Jain Kings, and also as ‘Padu-Tirupati‘ thanks to the presence of Sree Venkatramana temple from 15th century.

It is a small town in Udupi district and headquarters of Karkala taluk which forms connecting duct between the majestic hilly terrains of Western Ghats and the magnificent shores of coastal Karnataka. It is located about 65 km from Mangalore and 40km from Udupi at the base of Western Ghats. The town is surrounded by black rocks, with abundance of greenery, lakes and rains. Although, it gets extremely hot during summer due to the rocks reflecting all the heat towards the town it becomes truly beautiful as soon as the Monsoons arrive. It is still unconnected by Railways and airways with nearest Railway station being about 40 km away at Indrali in Udupi and the nearest Airport at Bajpe in Mangalore. Though, it is well connected by roads to Mangalore (65km via Moodabidri and 70km via Padubidri) and Udupi (40km via Manipal). A breathtakingly beautiful road cutting through protected rain forests and punctuated by thrilling hairpin bends connects it to Shimoga via Agumbe Ghats. Kuduremukh, Kalasa, Horanadu and Shringeri too are the Western Ghat towns connected to coastal Karnataka by Karkala.

Present day Karkala is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual town like most places in Udupi and Mangalore districts. Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, Urdu and Beary (pronounced Byaari) languages are spoken in the town. Though Kannada is the official language, Tulu is the native language of the land. Konkani is an imported language brought by the Saraswat Brahmins. Roman Catholics and Syrian Catholics too speak their own versions of Konkani. Urdu is spoken by Muslims and Beary language is spoken by Beary Muslims, a trading community with roots in Northern Kerala. Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jains constitute most of the population of Karkala.
The heart of town is densely populated with the trading community of Gouda Saraswat Brahmins (GSB), concentrated around the Sree Venkatramana temple. The Bunts are the major land holders followed by Billava community that forms the numerical majority. Roman Catholics and a small number of Syrian Catholics too have prospered over the years.
Tulu Madhva Brahmins, Kannada Havyaka Brahmins, live around the famous Anantha Shayana temple.

It has an abundance of natural and historical landmarks which has several picturesque lakes namely, the vast Rama Samudra Lake from 13th century, Kamala Kere (Lotus Pond), Nagar Bhavi (Snake Well), Aane Kere (Elephant Lake), Sigadi Kere (Prawns Lake), Mathadha Kere (Lake of Matha), Shivathi Kere (Shiva’s Lake) and Jogina Kere (Yogi’s Pond) are some of the famous lakes dating back to 10th century to 13th century.

Gomateshwara Statue, Chaturmukha Basadi, Purple Hills with Tippu Sultan‘s cave, Hiriyangadi Jain Basadi with Maanasthambha, Kere Basadi in the middle of Aane Kere, Rama Samudra, Sree Anantha Shayana temple, Sree Venkatramana temple and Saint Lawrence Church are some of the historically important places and tourist spots in Karkala. The annual festivals Laksha Deepotsava of Sree Venkatramana temple, Maari Amma festival of the Maari Amma temple, Saint Mary‘s festival at Attur Saint Lawrence Church and the spectacular twelve yearly Maha Mastakaabhisheka of Gomateshwara (Bahubali) are famous festivities of Karkala to name few.

Historically, it was an important Jain pilgrimage center. Perhaps, the name it gets drowned when mentioned in the same breath with the famous Jain pilgrimage centers of Karnataka like Shravanabelagola, Moodabidri and Dharmasthala. But it had an extremely important place in the history of Karnataka because of the great Jain rulers of the land and also the trail of Tippu Sultan. The place was also known as Pandya Nagari in the periods between 10th century and 16th century, especially during the Jain rule and came to be known as Karikallu (Black Rock in local language) during 17th century and became Karkal during British era. Post independence, coming under the Mysore state (and later Karnataka), the name metamorphosed into Karkala.

Some people have traced the origin of the name Karkala to “Kari Kola”, which means “Elephant Lake” in old Kannada. The center of the olden day Karkala was located around a huge lake that is called “Aane Kere” today.
That is “Elephant Lake” in modern day Kannada.

Karkala sits on top of a 300–500 feet thick black rock bed. This black granite physically and literally forms the foundation . Throughout the history, it has been used in the local architecture . The 19th century genius Renjal Janardhana Shenoy sculpted several idols and temple structures in his lifetime. Unfortunately, not much has been chronicled about him. The 39 feet tall Bahubali statue in Dharmasthala was created by his son, the legendary sculptor Renjal Gopalakrishna Shenoy. It is a monolithic magnum opus sculptured between 1973 and 1982. It was commissioned by the Dharmasthala trustee Sri Ratnavarma Heggade and was installed on the Ratnagiri hill in Dharmasthala in 1982 by his son Sri Veerendra Heggade.

Renjal Gopalakrishna Shenoy has countless statues, idols, temples and carvings to his credit. Some of his most famous creations apart from the Bahubali in Dharmasthala are listed below.

  • The Thirty-two-feet tall Bahubali at Firozabad
  • The idol of Lord Krishna in Hrishikesh
  • The Rama, Seetha, Lakshmana idols at Wadala Ram Mandir, Mumbai
  • Vrindavana and monolithic Dhwajasthambha of Gokarna Parthagali Math
  • Dhwajasthambhas of several temples including the silver covered one at Sree Venkataramana Temple, Karkala
  • Six-foot statue of Lord Veerabhadra in Akkialur
  • The idol of Ravalanatha at Ravalanatha Temple, Karkala
  • The idol of Lord Venkataramana at Siddapur Temple
  • Golden throne in Sri Venkataramana Temple, Karkala
  • Silver Dhwajasthambha, door frame and stone pillars of Sree Durga Parameshwari Temple, Kateel
  • Silver throne in Kashi Math Samsthan
  • A stone stupa and a 67 feet statue of Avalokiteshwara installed at Nara in Japan
  • Life of Buddha carved on stones in Nara, Japan.
  • 3000 identical idols of Buddha, now installed in Nara, Japan.

Renjal Gopalakrishna Shenoy’s grandson Renjal Radhamadhava Shenoy has continued his legacy. Sree Bhuvanendra Shilpa Shaala, founded by Renjal Gopalakrishna Shenoy continues to churn out artistic marvels and also trains next generation artists, painters and sculptors. Karkala‘s Love story with black granite continues.

But this love story with art on black granite did not begin in the 19th century or 20th century. The enduring love story began long ago, in the 10th century during the life and times of the Jain rulers who ruled Karkala from 10th century till the end of 16th century.

To be Continued…


  • The South Canara Gazette