According to Jainism, a Thirthankara is a human being who achieves 'moksha'(enlightenment) through asceticism and who then becomes role model and teacher for those seeking spiritual guidance.
Suffering ravages of time, its brickworks were damaged and cracks appeared on the temple walls.However, through massive renovation which began two years ago, the structure has been restored to its past glory and is expected to be opened on an auspicious day next year, Jain community members here in Palakad said.
According to local legend, the Digambar Jain temple at Jainimedu, located about three km from Palakkad town, was built by a family of diamond merchants who came from Kanakahalli in Karnataka centuries back.
Three merchant brothers - Ejjenna Shetty, Doddu Shetty and Payappa Shetty - used to visit Kerala for trade. During one such visit, the second brother - Doddu Shetty - died of some illness.
Their brother's untimely demise saddened the two others. They visited Elacharya Muni, a Jain saint living in the area to find a way to relieve themselves of their sorrow and built the temple in memory of the deceased brother according to the sage's advice.
They later settled around the shrine with their families and in due course of time around 400 Jains came to be settled in and around the temple.
As majority of them were pearl and diamond merchants, the place later came to be known as "Manikyapattanam" (diamond town) and "Muthupattanam" (pearl town). The place also came to be known as 'Jainimedu' due to the presence of the Jain temple.
Though modern historians say that the structure could not be more than five centuries old, members of the Shetty family, who live near the temple, claim that the structure was about 2500 years old.
"As per information passed on by our ancestors, the temple was built between BC 100-500. Some people say that our ancestors had roots in Gomadhagiri in Magadha in ancient India. But some others said they had come from Karnataka," Vasantha Kumari, a successor of Shetty family, said.
"Though a large number of Jains had lived here before, they had moved to many other parts of the state, especially to places like Wayanad in north Kerala. Now, ours is the only remaining family of direct descendants of the original settlers," she said.
The shrine, built of huge granite blocks, is located in 70 cents of green-rich plot at Jainimedu. With walls devoid of glittering ornamentations and attractive decorations, the 32-feet high structure comprises four "araas" (divisions).
Though Chandraprabha Thirthankara is the principal deity of the shrine, the images of other 23 Thirthankaras and "yakshas" and "yakshinis" (demi-gods) can also be seen in different chambers. As in the Hindu shrines, the idols of serpent gods can be spotted in its premises.
According to cultural historian M G Sashibhushan, the temple is a fine example of Jain architecture in Kerala.
"It is true that Jainism had spread in South India during the Before Christ (BC) period. But the Jainimedu temple could have been built after 15th century as is evident from its architectural peculiarities. The basic structural differences between Hindu and Jain shrines are evident in this structure," Sashibhushan, an authority on Kerala temple culture, said.
While Hindu shrines generally have a "garbhagriha", the sanctum sanctorum where the idol of the principal deity is installed, the Jainimedu temple has three sanctums around the garbhagriha.
The outer sanctum has ‘yakshas’ and ‘yakshinis’ and second sanctum has the representations of 23 Thirthankaras while the main sanctum sanctorum has the idol of Chandraprabha Thirthankara. The remaining ‘ara’, without any idols’, is used as a prayer room.
Local lore has it that the temple had immense treasures including a golden chariot in its glorious days. Its glory began to fade with the expedition of Tippu, the Sultan of Mysore, to Kerala in the 19th century.
"It is said that the affluent Jains, who lived around the temple, had dumped all their wealth in 24 wells around the temple premises and fled to places like Wayanad fearing Tippu’s attack. We could see the remnants of such two wells even today here", Vasantha Kumari said.
She said Tippu, however, did not attack the shrine but destroyed the huge temple walls. He was believed to have built the Palakkad Fort with the granite blocks taken away from the demolished temple, she said.
The Jains here expect that the renovated temple, managed by Manikka Pattanam Sree Chandraprabha Digambara Basti Trust, would become one of the prominent Jain pilgrim centres in South India after its reopening.