Picturesque & Serene – The Varanga Jain Temple in Karnataka

It was not just the Kere Basadi that exuded calm
 Even the blue-green water lake around it seemed serene.
 The twittering birds & temple bells added to the spell
 And the slow ripples by the boat oars further enhanced the charm

The combination of beauty and serenity at the Varanga Jain temple in Karnataka makes it an enchanting offbeat destination in the state. You don’t have to be a Jain to visit it. You just need to be a nature lover, a travel aficionado, a heritage buff …in short – a connoisseur of fine places to enjoy this unusual Varanga Basadi – especially the one that stands right in the middle of a lake.

We are going to see a temple that is in the middle of a lake and the only way to get there is by boat.” The last part of this statement by our travel organizer got me all excited. After all, it is not every day you get to see a temple that can only be accessed by a boat. I imagined a huge pond and multiple boats leading to it but what I saw upon my arrival at Varanga was a greenish-blue lake, partially covered with water lilies and a small temple with four entrances right in the middle of it.

Varanga Basadi - a Jain Temple in Karnataka
Varanga Basadi – a Jain Temple in Karnataka

This is Kere Basadi – just one of the many basadis – Jain temples in Varanga” informed our pundit cum guide. And thus, started our tour of the Varanga Jain temple in Karnataka. What I learned and saw is the rest of this post. This post is heavy on descriptions as photography was not permitted here. The limited permissions we got owing to our trip with Ministry of Tourism, Bengaluru helped me get these few photographs on my mobile. I am pretty sure that that this will not be a limiting factor for you to imagine how lovely and serene this place is.

History of Varanga Jain Temples in Karnataka

Varanga is a small village near Udupi in Karnataka. The place has not one but more than three Jain temples that date back to the 12th century and beyond. The biggest among them all is called the Hire Basadi (Hire means big and Basadi refers to Jain temple in Karnataka) which is dedicated to Lord Neminath – the 22nd Jain Tirthankara. It is in this temple, that one finds clues to the origin of these Jain heritage centers in Karnataka.

As per the inscriptions in this Basadi, a Jain Mutt (currently Chandranath Basadi) existed since the 8th or 9th century. Sometime in the 1400s, the script points to King Devaraya of Vijayanagar granted land to the village for building temples. Thus came into the existence the Hire Basadi and later the famous and the most beautiful of the Varanga Jain temples – the Kere Basadi or the Lake temple.

Kere Basadi – the key Varanga Basadi

The Varanga Jain Temple in Karnataka
The Varanga Jain Temple in Karnataka

The picturesque setting of this lake temple is what makes it synonymous with the term Varanga Jain Temple in Karnataka. In reality, the Kere Basadi is the youngest of the many Jain temples in this hamlet. Having said that, by the yardstick of our ages, it is still over 850 years old. 🙂

Kere Basadi is not a huge temple. In fact, it is quite small. What makes it special is the location, the manner in which you have to reach it and the unusual architecture of this particular Varanga Jain Temple.

Boating through the Varanga Lake

It was just the beginning of the summer when I landed at Varanga, enroute from Karkala to Udupi. The water lily blooms on the surface of the placid greenish-blue Varanga Lake had shrunk. Almost like a stepwell, a narrow set of steps led to the surface of the lake – where a small punt awaited for us.

Boat to Varanga Jain Temple
Boat to Varanga Jain Temple

Usually, during monsoons, the lake is filled with green growth and white water lilies. It looks really beautiful like this picture” – explained our Pundit guide while showing us the picture on his mobile. One at a time, our travel troupe of 14 made our way into the rickety boat that threatened to overturn if the person walking in lost their balance.

There was just this one boat that would go and drop the visitors to Kere Basadi and pick them up when they were done. A boat would actually be a wrong term. It was more of a punt. It was amazing to see how the boatman used his pole expertly to push the boat towards the temple. Not a wobble, nor a splash. Just small ripples where the pole dipped into the water. Within 5 minutes, we were ascending the steps of a very unusual-looking Varanga Jain Temple.

Architecture of the Chaturmukha Basadi (Kere Basadi)

Chaturmukha Basadi or the Kere Basadi with its four entrances
Chaturmukha Basadi or the Kere Basadi with its four entrances

Chaturmukha meaning with four faces. That is the other name for this Varanga Basadi” – explained our guide, pointing to the four different entrances of the Lake temple at Varanga. With the shrine in the middle, each entrance faced a different cardinal direction. Imagine a cross, where the arms are the entrances and the epicenter is the shrine.

One of the doors of Varanga Jain Temple in Karnataka
One of the doors of Varanga Jain Temple in Karnataka

From far, the temple looks like a regular home with sloping roofs. It is only when you come closer, you will realize that the temple walls are made of marble. There are no intricate carvings to boast of and the temple courtyard is plain granite. However, the doors of the temple are something else. They are actually typical of Jain temples – with gold or silver embossed work. What made them special in Varanga Basadi was the view of the lake that it opened up to.

The idols within the shrine at Varanga Jain Temple

It is not just the four doors that give the name Chaturmukha to this Varanga Jain Temple. In fact, it is the shrine which is more of a column with four different deities facing each entrance. Four faces of four idols and hence the name.

The main idol or Mulnayak as he is called is Lord Parshvanath – the 23rd Tirthankara with the hooded cobra over him. The other three deities around the column include Lord Neminath, Lord Shantinath and Lord Ananthanath.

One of the idols - Ananthanath at the Kere Basadi in Varanga
One of the idols – Ananthanath at the Kere Basadi in Varanga

See that light between the limbs of the Lord” – pointed our guide. “That is the magic of this shrine. All the idols are perfectly aligned to allow the light from the opposite side to pass between the gaps.” I stood there in the small shrine marveling the fascinating workmanship of yesteryears.

One can move from one shrine to the other through a narrow gap. I would not call it a passage at literally only one step takes you to the next shrine. The shrines are quite small – only 5 – 6 people can fit into it and that too, with some of us standing at the door.

Beliefs and rituals connected to Varanga Basadi

There is a belief that things will go really well if you visit the Varanga Jain Temple in Karnataka before starting anything new. It is pretty common for young couples to visit the Kere Basadi before they get married.

Another interesting belief is that when Lord Parshvanath is offered flowers and if they fall to the right, the Lord has showered his blessings. It is also, considered to be good omen to feed the fish around the temple. The temple pundit usually gives you a handful of puff rice to throw into the water from the temple courtyard.

Chandranath Jain Temple in Karnataka (Matada Basadi)

Chandranath Jain temple, also called as Matada Basadi is attached to the Jain Mutt on the bank of Varanga Lake. It was in fact, the first of the Varanga temple that I happened to see, though only from the outside. They say that this Jain Mutt was in existence before all the temples were built. The Chandranath temple is older than the Kere Basadi but younger than the Neminath temple and the Jain Mutt. The estimated age of the same is over 1000 years.

Inside the Jain Mutt of Varanga
Inside the Jain Mutt of Varanga

The main deity here is that of Chandranath – who was the 8th Jain Tirthankara. The idol is made of moonstone, otherwise called Chandrashila and this is the main attraction of this particular Varanga Jain temple of Karnataka

Neminath Basadi (Hire Basadi)

Time ran out as usual and we had to skip visiting the oldest Varanga Jain temple. The Neminath temple is located across a paddy field (which was then dry) and is considered as the Gramdevaru or the Village deity temple of Varanga. The temple is 70 x 70 feet big and has a 5-feet tall granite statue of Lord Neminath. He is seated on a lotus. The size of the temple is what gives it the name Hire Basadi where Hire means big.

Besides this main statue, there are smaller bronze statues of all the 24 Jain Tirthankaras in the temple. The entrance of the temple is said to have two huge elephants.

I wish I could have seen the last temple in person but well, maybe leaving it incomplete is a sign that I need to return again. Maybe in monsoons or just after, when the Varanga Lake is in full bloom. Just for that I will be pinning this to my board. I hope you do too.

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How to get to Varanga Jain temple in Karnataka?

Varanga is a small village in Karnataka. The closest airport to it would be in Mangalore (73 km). From Mangalore, it is best to hire a private taxi to get to Varanga.

If you are traveling by train, then the nearest railway station would be Udupi at 38 km. There are regular buses to Karkala with stops at Varanga or better still, just get a private taxi to Varanga from Udupi.

It is best to combine this visit to Varanga with a trip to Karkala town to see the Gometeshwara statue and the St Lawrence Basilica in Attur. All these can be done as a day trip from either Mangalore or Udupi.

Where to stay in Varanga?

It is best to stay in Udupi if you are visiting Varanga. Being a small village, there are no major hotels or lodges here.

What is the best time to visit the Varanga Basadi?

The chariot festival or Rathotsava is one of the key festivals at Varanga Jain temple of Karnataka

Varanga gets quite hot and dry during summers. It is best to visit it just after monsoons or in winter – that is between the months of August to February. The Jain temples are generally open on all days from 8:30 am to 6 pm. They have a small lunch break between 1 and 2 pm.

There are one major festival that you must take into account when deciding to visit the Varanga Jain temples. The first is the Rath utsav or the chariot festival that takes place for five days in February. During the same, there is also, a Buta Kola – worshiping of spirits that is done.

A smaller version of this takes place in Dusshera when Goddess Padmavati is taken in a chariot around the village.

How long does it take to explore Varanga?

Keep aside one to two hours to see all the Varanga Jain temples. They are within walking distance of each other.

How can one hire a boat to reach Kere Basadi in Varanga?

The boat is generally available at all times. For a mere 5 Rupees per person, you can get a ride from the bank to the temple and back. If the boatman is not around, you can contact the Jain Mutt on the banks and they will arrange for someone.

Travel Tips

  • Photography is not allowed in the temple. Despite our Government permissions, we had to leave our cameras at the Jain Mutt. Only owing to our official trip status, mobile pictures were allowed.
  • There are no major restaurants around the place. It is best to carry your own food and water.

Booking resources

  • Booking.com has several options for hotels in Udupi or Manipal through Booking.com using the given link.
  • For any local tours, transfers and stays in the Coastal Karnataka region, you can get in touch with Ms. Poonam of Dream holidays, Manipal on +91 9686574959 or Mr. Roshan Pinto of RR Travels on +91 9845331926. They are specialists in this region and can arrange for a flawless travel experience here.
  • If you use Amazon for shopping for travel or any of your home needs, do consider using this link.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.

P.S : I visited Varanga as a part of the Coastal Karnataka trip for which I was invited by Ministry of Tourism, India – Bengaluru.

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18 thoughts on “Picturesque & Serene – The Varanga Jain Temple in Karnataka”

  1. Wow, having a temple accessible only by boat is such an interesting yet unique concept! It is so beautiful, I’d love to see it with the white water lillies like you mention. Must have been a great experience!

    Reply
  2. Can you believe that I still haven’t been to Udupi? I need to plan a few days in Udupi and visit the Varanga Jain Temple as well. It is awesome that they still use only the traditional boat to take the visitors there and not moved on to the motor boats which would be harmful for the environment as well. I always get a bit sad to see the modern tiles in the old temples. Sad that they chose to renovate it like that. On the other hand, the Jain Mutt looks absolutely beautiful with its old-world charm.

    Reply
    • I guess the water around makes it practical to have those modern tiles. Either way, the whole experience is surreal. You should definitely make it back here.

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  3. I can see why a temple that can only be reached by boat might be both beautiful and serene. So wild that at 850 years old it is the youngest temple in the area. Things like that always make me realize how young North America is! How great that you can walk between the different shrines and see all sides of this spot. Too bad you were rushed and could not spend time at all the sites. But always a great reason to go back.

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    • Indeed, sometimes the heritage buildings stump me with their age. It kinda makes me proud that I belong here and have such a beautiful past.

      Reply
  4. I love seeing off the beaten track spots and this looks beautiful, too bad photography is not permitted. I would definitely plan my visit for when the water lilies are in bloom on the lake. Those embossed doors are incredible!

    Reply
  5. Looks like such a beautiful and peaceful place. I love the idea that people visit there before their wedding. This is a place I would love to visit if I was close by. How many temples total are in the area? I’m sorry to hear that they didn’t allow cameras but at least you got photos with a phone.

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  6. This the first time I heard about the place and it would be interesting to visit. Thank you for sharing its history and the beliefs and rituals connected to it. I definitely learned something new today.

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  7. To visit a temple by boat itself makes this temple even more interesting. Too bad you can’t take pictures inside, but I think it’s understandable. But what makes Jain temples special? I would like to learn about it when I get a chance to visit.

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  8. I love this idea of a boat ride to reach a shrine. And the temple is so beautiful. I have always liked Jain Temples for the serenity that they bring to the place. During younger days we used to frequent Pawapuri in Bihar as we stayed close in Gaya. Varanga temple looks very unique and would love a visit there sometime.

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  9. I love exploring places like this! It has such a rich history, and it dates back so far! In the US we hardly have anything ancient, but I love that it’s from as early as the 8th century. Such a fabulous place to visit!

    Reply

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