Worship of Lord Brahma, Part 85

BY: SUN STAFF - 10.5 2018

Brahma Manjunath at Kadri Temple

A serial exploration of places of Lord Brahma's worship.


Lord Brahma in Buddhism

Our last stop in Karnataka is in Mangalore, which is home to the Manjunath Temple at Kadri, famous for the beautiful Brahma deity residing there. When we first came across a picture of Sri Lokeswar, a Brahmadeva deity dating back to 968 A.D., we did not realize that some consider it to be a Buddhist form of Brahma. In fact, Sri Brahma Lokeswar is believed by the Buddhists to be Avalokitesvara, a former Bodhisattva, embodiment of compassion, and an incarnation of the Buddha during the 10th century A.D.

Knowing that South India is famous for its beautiful Vaisnava bronzes (and the Lokeswar deity is thought to be one of the finest bronze sculptures in all of India), we never expected this South India temple exploration to open up yet another avenue of study regarding Lord Brahma – his presence in the Buddhist religion. But more than that, we found Sri Lokeswar to represent an amazing convergence of different philosophies, religions and cultures, which we will explain in some detail below.

Manjunath Temple at Kadri

The Kadri Manjunath Temple

The Kadri Manjunath Temple is situated 4 kms. from the center of Mangalore city. It is one of the oldest temples in Mangalore. The earliest reference to this place is an epigraph dated 968 A.D., engraved on the pedestal of the Lokeshwara deity itself. The inscription states that King Kundavarma of the Alupa Dynasty installed the idol in Kadarika Vihara. Per this record, Kadarika is the earliest known name for this place. In local dialect, the name "kadri" means "plantain", and the site of Kadri was known to have been overgrown with plantain trees. In Buddhist culture, "kadarika" refers to hillside pasture land. Vihara was the name of a 'Buddhlet', or Buddhist settlement which flourished here during the 10th century A.D.

The Manjunatha temple at Kadri was constructed by Machendranatha, in the Vijayanagara style of temple architecture. From its present form, it is assumed that the structure was renovated during the 12th or 13th century A.D.

During the 10th century, Kadri was an important centre of Buddhism. The Buddhist influence in the area began to wane with the appearance of the Natha Pantha, a cult that began in Kadri as a modified religious practice derived from the Vajrayana sect of Mahayana Buddhism. In due course the Natha Pantha's merged their practice with Shiva beliefs. Since that time, they have been known as the Jogis of Kadri, and their monastery is called Jogimutt.

The Mahayana influence undoubtedly came from the Buddhist monks who came to the area from northern India, making Kadri their home settlement of Vihara. The epigraph of 968 A.D. mentioned above refers to Mangalore as "Mangalapura". Another stone epigraph in Kannada and Malayalam script belonging to the 12-13th century A.D., located in temple's kitchen, states that the King, along with local landlords and other important people of the area, contributed land for construction of the temple. Since portions of the epigraph are damaged, the name of the King is unknown. Other evidence confirms that the Alupa Queen Balli Mahadevi (1277-1288) called herself a devotee of Lord Manjunatha.

In all, we have three important date markers for the temple: An original construction in the 10th century, per the 968 A.D. inscription on the Lokeswar deity; an architectural structure in Vijayanagara style estimated at 12th-13th century which follows the Hindu Agama Sastra, and later renovations in the 14th or 15th century, when the temple was reconstructed with granite.

Sri Lokeshwara, Sri Manjunathaswamy

As seen by the temple history described above, the Kadri temple represents a convergence of Hinduism in the style of architecture (the Agama Sastra has Shaiva, Shakta and Vaisnava divisions), Buddhism in the deity form, and the later addition of Shaivism in the practices of worship.

These influences are also evident in the diverse names given to the presiding deity here. In Vaisnava style, he is known as Lord Manjunathaswamy; in Saivite style, he is called Sri Lokeshwara or Trilokeshwar; and in Buddhist style he is called Avalokitesvara. By virtue of the physical form, however, the Buddhist influence clearly predominates. The deity is three-faced, with six arms, and holds Buddhist paraphernalia. An intricately carved mukuta depicts Dhyani Buddha. The deity is backed by an ornately carved prabhavali, and two consorts or attendants stand nearby, sculpted in a distinctly Vaisnava style. The deity is panchaloha, meaning constructed of five elements, seated in padmasanastha style, and has enameled eyes. Overall, the sculptural style of the piece is typical of South India's finest Vaisnava bronzes.

Among the numerous subsidiary deities and murtis found elsewhere in the temple complex is a form of Lord Shiva called Udbhava linga, which is a natural stone slab found parallel to the level of the floor of the garbha griha. Some Saivite devotees consider this to be the presiding deity of the entire temple, although we find no evidence to indicate that is actually the case. It is said that any amount of water poured on the lingam disappears immediately.

Subsidiary Deity, Manjunath Temple


The Temple Complex

Manjunath Temple is square, and is situated on a hill with nine tanks surrounded by a garden. On top of the hill, King Kundavarma Bhupendra built a mutt, now known as the Jogimutt.

The main sanctum of Manjunath Temple is different from most other shrines in the area. It is square and surrounded by a three foot wide inner path that circles around, with two rooms on the front side. On the north side there is a wooden deepasthamba with a bronze covering, and a murti in meditation pose, in Buddhist style. In the southern area of the temple complex is the figure of Matsyendranatha, who stands with his palms held one over the other on his folded right leg. A murti of Sringinathahas has a three-hooded naga over its beautifully carved krita, which is ornamented with three tiers behind it. On the western side of the temple is the figure of Gorakhanath, which is about 6 ft high. Other subsidiary deities include Vishnu, Manjushri, Durgaparmeshwari, Gomukha Ganpathi, Vyasa Muni, and Shastavee.

Temple Tanks

Another interesting aspect of the temple complex is the local water system. Generally, we find that ponds and tanks exist below the level of temple, but in Kadri, there are seven tanks sitting 20 feet above ground level of the temple. Above and in front of the temple, near a Ganapathi shrine, is a water source known as the Cow's Mouth cavern, from which, just below the feet of Lord Ganapathi, flows a crystal clear stream of water into the tanks below. Known as Gomukha Bhageerati Teertha (holy water), the source of this stream is unknown. Devotees consider it to be none other than a stream from the Holy Ganga, flowing down from Kashi Kshetra (Varanasi), in the north.

On the hill behind the Kadri temple are a number of caves, known as the Pandava caves, because the brothers are said to have spent a night here during their exile. Behind the temple of Manjunatha, on the west, is the temple of Goddess Durga.

Many festivals and events are held at Manjunath and the surrounding temples. During Kartikka maasa, Deepothsava is held here. There is Ganesha chathurthi, Navarathri, Rathothsava, Dhanurmaasa pooja, Shivarathri, Ugadi, etc. In 1988, a week-long Brahma Kalashothsava was held, the first in a long time. A 40 feet tall Garuda is hoisted up a 62 feet tall flagpole during the annual fair.

A Convergence of Religious Influences

In order to better understand how the Vaisnava, Shaivite and Buddhist influences converge at Khadri Manjunatha temple, we present below a selection of interesting texts. The first describes Parasurama and Manjunatha, and how Sri Manjunatha is seen as Lord Shiva. The second describes the Nepali Buddhist Natha cult influence, and how the Shiva influence came to be associated with the Buddhist Brahma-Lokeswara deity. The third briefly describes how Lord Brahma is understood and worshipped in Thailand.

Parashurama and Manjunatha

From the Manjunatha Temple website: "Kadri has its own story from Puranas regarding its sanctity and abode of Lord Manjunatha. This story is in Sanskrit and available in Bharadwaja Samhita. In ancient days Kadarika was a part of Siddhashrama were many sages, saints were often practicing meditation and penance. There was no fear of sin or wrong deed. Once a discussion regarding Lord Manjunatha's sanctity and greatness were held between two great sages viz. sage Brigu and sage Kapila. Sage Bharadwaja heard this discussion and told the same to one of his follower viz. Sumanthu. Hence this called as Bharadwaja Samhita. The story is as follows:

Lord Parashurama who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu destroyed egoistic Kshatriya kings and donated the confiscated land to sage Kashyapa. Thinking of that taking a shelter in donated land is not virtue, Parashurama made rigorous penance and meditation of Lord Shiva on Sahyadri Mountain region seeking a new land for his shelter. Lord appeared before him and told that he will incarnate as Manjunatha for a good of mankind and suggested to meditate upon him at Kadalivana (today's Kadri). Parashurama gazed at Kadalivana, which was ten-yojana distance from Sahyadri Mountain and also was occupied by ocean.

He asked Ocean King to leave that Kadalivana for him. But Ocean King did not granted his wish. Becoming angry upon this act of Ocean King, Parashurama took his axe (weapon) and roared upon Ocean King. Frightened King left behind by giving land and Parashurama got his shelter. As per the order of Lord Shiva Parashurama visited the new land and found there a Kadalivana (plantain field) and one Rasakoopa (well). In that Rasakoopa Lord Shiva appeared before Parashurama and ordered to construct a temple there with a help of Vishwakarma (a divine sculptor). Accordingly Vishwakarma constructed a temple and town. In course of time various scholars, sages, saints, philosophers came here and took shelter.

Later Goddess Parvathi, wife of Lord Shiva decided to settle here. As per the Order of Lord Shiva, Saptakoti Mantras (seven crore holy enchants) settled here as Sapta Teerthas (seven ponds).

After incarnating as Manjunatha, Lord Shiva decided to incarnate as Navanathas in order to fulfill the wishes of his devotees. He himself incarnated as first Adinath of Natha cult. From his Yogic power he obtained Matsyendranath as his first son. Lord Shiva also playfully incarnated as Kandalanath, Chowranginatha, Gorakshanatha, Ravalanatha, Ananganatha, Jalandharanatha, Bhujaganatha and Arunachalanatha. Later Lord Shiva erected new Pantha (cult) called Natha Pantha (cult)."

Nepal/Buddhist Connection

At Tulu-Research.blogspot.com we find the following description, which gives some indication of how and why the Shiva aspects may have been attributed to the Buddhist Brahmadeva.

"In Nepal, Macchendra Nath is being worshipped as an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, a form of Buddha modeled after Shiva. It appears that Alupe King Kundavarma installed the bronze idol during ca.968-1068 CE posthumously in honour of Macchendra Nath, whose cult was absorbed into Vajrayana Buddhism and was worshipped as Avalokitesvara in Nepal and other areas. The date of installation of the idol written in the inscription at the bottom of the idol has been interpreted as 968 CE by Dr. Gururaja Bhat, whereas Manjeswara Govinda Pai reinterpreted the date as 1068 CE.

The idol reflects the art of bronze casting that was perfected in Tamilnadu during the Chola period of ca.850-1150 CE. The bronze might have been cast in situ at Kadire or brought from the Chola kingdom.

Macchendra Natha

A chronological recapitulation: Macchendra Natha, a disciple of Adinatha, who founded the Shaiva Natha cult, a school of Hatha Yoga, came from Chandragiri in Bengal to Kadire by walk around the early tenth century CE, with his disciple Gorakh Natha and settled near the Buddhist monastery known as Kadarika Vihar, near Kadire, in Mangalapura. Natha historians claim that Macchendra and Gorakh along with some of their contemporaries discovered the Kundalini system of Yoga which was advancement over the older Patanjali Yoga. The Jogis of Natha cult are known for traveling widely all over the country. Natha cult was practiced by 'split-ear mendicants' who wore large circular rings in their ears.(Victor M Fic, 2003) Macchendra also founded the Kaula cult at Triambakeswar, in present Maharastra. During the Tenth century Karnataka, according to Kavi-raja-marga, is said to have spread from River Kavery to River Godavary, encompassing the present Maharastra.

After his death, the Natha cult of Macchendra was absorbed into Vajrayana Buddhism, which was also known for experiments in Tantra. The Natha cult also influenced the Baula cult (Sufism). Jnaneswar or Jnanadeva (b.1275 – d.1296 CE) was a disciple of Natha cult, but later his disciples founded the Warakari cult

Manju Natha

Macchendra while at Kadire installed a memorial stone in memory of his departed son Manju Natha in the tradition of spirit worship that was vogue in the region. The selection of the name 'Manju' shows combined influence of native Tulu word 'manji' (=dew, snow, fog) and Buddhist Pali word 'manju'(=beautiful, charming). Following Macchendra's incarnation as Avalokitesvara, the Manju Natha was regarded as an incarnation of Manjusri, the Buddha of Wisdom, or Buddhist equivalent of Lord Brahma of Hindu pantheon. A bronze idol of Manjusri was installed. The township around the temple was designated Manjarur. The name Manjarur has been recorded by Arabian travelers like Ibn Battuta during 1342 CE.


Thus Kadire Manjunatha temple is a window to the theological heritage of Mangalore, a convergence of cascading transitions of overlapping religious cults of Buddhist, Natha, Spirit and Shaiva traditions."

With passage of time the native spirit worship was absorbed into the mainstream Hinduism and Manjunatha was regarded as a form of Lord Shiva. The Manjunatha temple is estimated to have been built around 14th century CE by Dr. Gururaja Bhat.

Brahma in Thailand

At ThaiWorldView.com we find the follow brief description of Lord Brahma's influence and worship in Thailand, which is primarily a Buddhist country.

"Brahmanism has been present in Thailand since the influence of the Khmer people starting in the 10th century. In Thailand, many Brahminic statues can be seen in old Khmer temples. Thai people seized Angkor, in Cambodia, in 1431, and there are many images of Lord Brahma found there.

In Thailand, the Lord Brahma representation graces the lintels of Buddhist temples as a supporter and defender of Dharma, or, in mural painting, joining other deities in respectful adoration of the Buddha.

Brahmanism was the religion reserved for high rank people. Still nowadays there are some Brahminic priests taking part in royal ceremonies such as the Royal Ploughing, royal events (marriage, birth, coronation, death, birthday), the cut of the topknot. The child's head is shaved except for a topknot. This topknot is supposed to keep the child's soul inside the corpse. It cannot flee. When the child is old enough, the topknot is cut by Brahmins.

Brahmans are always dressed with white clothes and have knot hair. The Brahmans are using a conch-shell during their ceremonies in order to call the gods. Many Brahma shrines can be found in Bangkok in front of major buildings or on skyscrapers' roof.

In Thailand, the Lord Brahma images are represented in many places and are highly venerated by Buddhists. Brahma is known for his great boon-giving power.

The Suphanahongse Royal Barge has a huge swan carved into its bow. The swan is the mount of Brahma. The royal barge enforced the image of the king as the equivalent of the trinity of gods known as Trimurti, a symbol that would ensure victory in times of war. Trimurti is the trinity of three gods - Vishnu the Protector, Shiva the Destroyer and Brahma the Creator.

The Lord Brahma, the creator, is almost always represented with four arms in Thailand. The four-headed Brahma represents the four Brahma Viharas of Buddhism -- the four divine emotions to strive for and develop."

Lord Brahma on Hamsa, Thailand