Article: Brahmadeva or Brahmayakṣa

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Temples and images

The Jain deity Brahmā facing the saint Bāhubali within the temple courtyard at Karkala, Karnataka. On a Brahmadeva-pillar, Brahmā is guardian of the temple. Huge figures of the Jain saint Bāhubali are also popular in southern India.

Brahmadeva and Bāhubali
Image by anoopratnaker – Anoop Rao © CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Images of Brahmadeva on his horse, or of his horse, are housed in shrines or maṇḍapas and venerated all over Karnatak (Hegewald 2011: 152).

On the other hand, pillars have often not remained standing alone in the open air. Large superstructures have increasingly been built around them. Significant examples are the:

  • complex multi-storeyed maṇḍapa at Guruvayanekere in coastal Karnatak (Hegewald 2011: 154 and plate 10)
  • Brahmadeva-stambha found at the top of Vindhya-giri at Shravana Belgola, which is enclosed in a pavilion surrounded by several concentric circles of pillars.

Brahmadeva images can also be housed in small shrines raised on small terraces. These are known as brahma-stana in coastal Karnatak.

Isolated bronze or stone images of this divinity are found in Karnatak (Settar 1971: 36). They are not earlier than the 12th to 13th centuries.

Brahmadeva is said to be the protector of the holy site of Nitani in Karnatak (Wiley 2004: 59).

Worship

Brahmadeva-stambha at Guruvayanekere, Karnatak. An image of the guardian deity Brahmadeva sits at the top. This is a good example of a Brahma-pillar that has been surrounded and roofed.

Brahma-pillar at Guruvayanekere
Image by Takeo Kimiya © Takeo Kamiya

Today, Brahmadeva on the Brahma-stambhas is worshipped as a guardian of the temple precinct. He is the focus of religious rituals in the same way as other Jain divinities.

Since Brahmadeva is believed to protect the temple where his image resides, there may also be local ceremonies honouring him at different times in various temples. In addition, some temples have addressed the practical aspects of performing worship ceremonies to a deity sitting on a tall column.

For example, at Guruvayanakere in Karnatak, there is a particular yearly ceremony at the time of the festival of Nava-rātrī, which takes place around October. ‘Only the head priest, responsible for the temple complex, is allowed to climb a temporary ladder and to venerate the sacred statue contained in the raised shrine’ (Hegewald 2011: 154).

The difficulty of accessing the Brahmadeva image at the top of high pillars makes worship a strain. This is one of the factors that have led to the erection of smaller columns so that devotees can more easily see the image at the top. One example is the statue of Brahmadeva at the Digambara Pārśvanātha temple in Hassan, Karnatak. This idol is on a pillar-like base, but is only elevated about one and a half metres above the ground (Hegewald 2011: 158).

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