Buddhism in coastal Karnataka was widespread in ancient times. Buddhist statues are found in various places like Kadri in Mangalore, Haigunda, Babruwada and Mulur-Udupi. Kadri also had a Vajrayana Buddhist vihara.
Three most exquisite and rare Vajrayana Buddhist idols made of Panchaloha (5 metal alloy) are found in the Manjunatha Temple in Kadri, Mangalore in Coastal Karnataka. These statues from the 10th Century CE are of Bodhisattva Manjusri, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and the Buddha. This was the site of a Mahayana / Vajrayana Buddhist vihara named ‘Kadarika Vihara’, as evident from the inscription found at the base of the Manjusri idol. According to the inscription the idol was commissioned by Alupa King Kundavarman in Kadarika Vihara (dated 968 CE).
One of these statues, 5ft in height with six hands and three faces was identified by historians to be an Avalokitesvara statue. The reason for the identification was that the inscription on the pedestal on which the statue is placed states that it is a statue of Lokesvara. However, we can see that there is an image of Buddha Akshobhya on his crown, with earth touching mudra. From this it can be inferred that this is the statue of Manjusri and not Avalokitesvara. Buddha Akshobhya is also visible on the prabhavali behind the statue. It is possible that the pedestal of this statue originally belonged to the other statue which is of Avalokitesvara. Manjunatha (འཇམ་མགོན།) is another name for Manjusri, and that is the name with which the temple is renowned now. Presently, this is a Siva temple and the central sanctum has a Linga. (So, currently locals take Manjunatha as a name of Siva. From Kadri, the name has also propagated to another Siva temple at Dharmasthala) Manjusri statue’s six hands show six different mudras. Presently, a book published by the temple (Kadri Sri Manjunatha Devasthana – Kshethra Mahathmya Matthu Ithihasa by the historian Dr. Gururaja Bhat) considers this statue to be of Trilokeshvara.
The Avalokitesvara (Lokesvara) statue is of 4ft height, and has one head and four hands. Buddha Amitabha with dhyana mudra is visible on his crown. Presently, a book published from the temple considers this both as Manjusri and Vishnu. The third is a Buddha statue of 3ft height. This is currently considered to be the statue of Vyasamuni by the temple authorities. A small Buddha carving is also visible on a temple pillar in front of the sanctum sanctorum (garbha griha). From this, it may be inferred that this temple was originally Kadarika Bauddha Vihara (Monastery) mentioned in the inscription.
The temple also hosts statues of Mahasiddhas such as Mathsyendranath, Gorakhnath and Chowranginath. Another statue of Mathsendranath obtained from the same temple is also kept in the Mangalore Archeological Museum. These three Mahasiddhas are part of the 84 Mahasiddhas of Buddhism, and also are the founders of Nath tradition. This temple is a clear case of how Buddhist teachings flowed into the Nath tradition and established secretly within the Saivite system at a time when the survival of Buddhism became difficult in many parts of India. For many centuries, Buddhist lineages survived secretly in India within the Nath tradition. There is currently a Nath Sampradaya Matha and some laterite caves in the hillock behind the Temple.
Other Buddhist Statues from Coastal Karnataka
We will be adding the rest of the places soon.
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