Shravanabelagola in Karnataka would truly make it to the wish list of any travel enthusiast as it offers many scintillating sights. The most extraordinary among them is the 57-foot monolithic statue of the Gommateshwara on the Vindyagiri hills. The awe-inspiring majestic statue of the Bahubali draws hundreds of tourists from around the world to Shravanbelagola, a major centre of Jainism in south Karnataka.
One reaches Shravanabelagola via Channarayapatna, where idyllic natural settings treat the travellers. The lush green fields and rows of coconut palms add a mesmerizing charm to this picturesque hamlet. The sight of the farmers tilling their lands using ploughs and oxen reminds one of a beautiful painting which depicts a tranquil village scene.
The majestic Gommateshwara statue is dedicated to Lord Bahubali, the enlightened one in the Jainism. Bahubali was the son of Aadinatha (Rishabhanatha) who is revered as the first 'Thirthankara' (saviour and teacher of the sect) in Jainism. Adinatha had another son too, named Bharatha. Once, Bahubali and Bharatha waged a war against each other to acquire the power over the dynasty. Though the former won over his brother, he was quick to entrust the kingdom over to Bharatha, and entered into the life of an ascetic. It is believed that Bahubali acquired enlightenment after observing strict mediation. The monolithic statue at Sharavanabelagola is derived from the imagination of a nude Bahubali, on the pinnacle of eternal joy and enlightenment.
The name Sharavanabelagola derives from the term 'Belagola' which means 'white pond.' The term is generally used to denote the vast Kayani pond, situated between the Vindyagiri and Chandragiri hills.
The religious order of Jainism has significantly influenced the cuisine and food habits of the area. Visitors can try out some of the delicious local vegetarian dishes here.
It is at the summit of the Vindyagiri or Indragiri hill that the magnificent monolithic statue of Bahubali stands, overlooking Shravanabelagola. One has to reach the holy spot by climbing more than 600 rock steps. Doli (palanquin) services are available to carry those who cannot climb the steps. Most of the devotees who throng the place are Jain believers from states like Maharashtra and Gujarat. On the way to the top of the hill, one can enjoy the beauty of the traditional Jain basti (shrine) and many historically significant buildings. Prominent among them is the Odegal Basti, the biggest and one of the most important shrines. The boundary wall of the 'basti' is supported by pillars. 'Odegal' means to support.
On the Siddhargundu rock, small figurines of Jain sages and their sayings are engraved. The Brahmadeva pillar is adorned with exquisite stone carvings. On both sides of the Akhanda Bagilu, the beautiful entrance to the court of the majestic statue, the statues of Bahubali and Bharatha are engraved. The head of the Gommateshwara statue is clearly visible from the Gulkji mandap which has plenty of pillars with amazing engravings and rock statues.
Line of statues
The 57-foot-high monolith statue truly evokes wonder and reverence at the same time. The statue depicts a nude Bahubali, engulfed in meditation and divine wisdom, with creepers climbed over his body. The extremely peaceful expression on the face is one of the most significant features of the huge stone statue. A small figurine of the same statue is placed at the feet of the monolithic one. Small statues of 30 'Thirtankars' are carved on the court that surrounds the Gommateshwara statue.
It is believed that the statue, built around 981 AD, was commissioned by Chavundaraya, the minister of King Raja Malla of the Ganga dynasty. The Mahamasthakabhisheka ceremony held once in 12 years is the biggest festival conducted here. During the ceremony, the statue would be anointed with milk, kumkum (saffron), ghee and other articles. The Mahamasthakabisheka last took place in February 2018 and would next be conducted in 2030. Jain followers from all over the world throng Shravanbelagola during the festival to seek blessings from Bahubali.
On top of Chandragiri
The sun set can be viewed in all its scintillating beauty from the top of the Chandragiri hill. There are many Jain bastis in Chandragiri as well. At the landing of the stone steps above is a huge stone pillar called the Brahmadeva pillar. Parshanatha basti, Chandragupta basti, Chamundaraya basti, Mahanavami mandap, Bhadrabahu cave and the rock inscription of Shankuntala Devi, the Hoisala queen, are some of the significant sights here.
The Parshanatha basti is dedicated to Parshanatha, who was the 23rd Thirthankara of the Jain order. A statue of Parshanatha can be seen at the shrine here. The Chamundaya basti is unique in its construction and size. A statue of Bharatha too can be seen at Chandragiri. There are many ancient rock inscriptions, which are protected by the Archeological Survey of India, in the Mahanavami pavilion.
The Bhandrabahu cave attracts hundreds of visitors to Chandragiri every year. The legend says that Bhadrabahu, a Jain saint, had led Emperor Chandragupta Maurya and a group of followers to Shravanabelagola; and the saint had meditated inside this cave. His foot prints are carved on stone inside the cave.
How to reach
The Karnataka Road Transport Corporation runs regular bus services to Shravanabelagola from all the major cities in Karnataka. One can hire a taxi or auto rickshaw to take a ride around the Shravanabelagola town. The nearest railway station is at Hassan, which is 52 km away.