Shravanabelagola is a small town of 5000 residents, a seat of 2300 years of Jain heritage – a Tapobhomi (place of penance) of kings and monks. Shravanabelagola has more than 525 inscriptions from BC and beginning of AD. Emperor Vishabhadeva renounced his kingdom, his two sons fought a vicious battle for it.
Here the elder son was victorious. Realizing the pain of war & human suffering the victorious eldest son gave away his kingdom and materialistic life to his battle losing younger brother, Bharata and took an ascetic life and stood in penance to be known as Gommateshwara or Bahubali (to the Jains). He became the second Thirtankara among the 24 Thirtankaras. The last one being Mahavira. It is believed that Bahubali stood motionless with vines growing around him for a long time and stands even to this day.
Gommateshwara stands in majestic all 58 feet of it on a 650 rough cut stepped hill Doddabetta or Vindhyagiri or Indragiri. One is allowed to climb barefoot (socks allowed) And he’s been doing it with ravages of nature facing north from 978-993 AD. The stark nudity indicates absolute renunciation and the erect stance indicates firm determination and self control.
The foothills base town is Shravanabelagola belonging to another hill too, Chandragiri. Shravana means an ascetic who has renounced everything in life relating to the materialistic world – even his clothes and belgola means the white lake. The town’s lake would turn white with the milk poured on him. Hence the name – it is the ascetic/monk from white pond – Sharavanabelgola. Once in 12 years on the planetary co-inciding date ‘maha-(mastakabhisheka’ takes place where the beautiful serene sculpture is bathed in milk, ghee, curd, vermilion, saffron, flowers, sandalwood along with gold & silver coins and pots of holy water. This ends up in the town’s small pond giving it the white look. This pond was renovated by the Mysore kings -the Wodyers. The next Mahamastakabhisheka is slated in the year 2018. And this town shall see atleast 10, 00, 000 tourist pilgrims apart from the world media and photographers. It’s a sight to be involved in.
Shravanabelagola has always had the patronage of all kings right from King Ashoka in the third century BC to the recent Mysore -Wodyer kings. Apparently the Chandragupta Basadi was built by King Ashoka in honour of Chandragupta Maurya. Inscriptions dating from 6 century are found all over this place. The inscriptions are in Haleganada (old Kannada) & Purvahalaganada (ancient Kannada). The linage of Western Ganga Dynasty, the Rastrakutas, the Hoysala empire, the Vijaynagar empire and the Wodyer dynasty are mentioned in the inscriptions carved on rocks.
The inscriptions include text in Kannada, Sanskrit, Marathi, Konkani, Tamil, Marwadi and Mahajani languages. The oldest Konkani inscriptions are found here. The Bahubali Gommateshwara statute was voted by the readers of Times of India in August 2007 as the list of seven wonders of India with 49% votes going to this world’s highest monolithic statute of the world.
Only physically fit people with energy to climb both hills proceed towards here. Remember 1000 rock cut steps totally up & down. There are only 3 palaquin chairs for the old, aged and the weak. This can be booked at the temple trust offices in advance. Simple Jain food is served to all tourists. This food does not contain vegetables which grow under the ground. I enjoyed the simple vegetarian meal of pooris, gourd vegetables sabji, kadi (buttermilk curry) rice and rasam. As Jains don’t eat after sunset, the timings to avail of this temple food considered as prasad are as follows – Breakfast 8 to 9:30 am. Meals 10 am to 2:30 pm & 4:30 to 6:30 pm. Donations to temple trust are acceptable all over the place. There are no presentable hotels or restaurants to eat or stay, just manageable ones. If in need of comfort to stay and eat well please head to Hassan which is an hour’s drive at a distance of 51 kms. All roads are good and attract Toll except for a few kilometres of interstate highways.
Distances from Bangalore to Shravanabelagola (158 kms) via Nelmangala crossing Kunigal towards Mangalore – reach Hirisave and it’s just 17 kms from here. If you would like to combine a few more places of tourist destinations, you are – 78kms from Halebidu, 89 kms from Belur. Hassan is 183 kms from Bangalore and it’s a 3 hour drive.
(Please read the independent continuation part 2 of this series article next week. It speaks more on the Jainism and the other hillrock – CHANDRAGIRI at Shravanabelagola.)
– Jagdeesh Laxman Singh
aka Jugie Singh
Text & Photography