Just 145km from Bangalore is a tiny town that offers you a rejuvenating mix of architecture, history and a large dose of natural beauty.
Shravanabelagola is actually a Jain pilgrim centre that draws devotees from different places to seek the blessing of Lord Gomateshwara [another name for Bahubali] immortalised in stone. [Bahubali was the second of the one hundred sons of the first Jain Tirthankara, Lord Rishabha. Bahubali later renounced worldly pleasure for spiritual pursuits].
Nature meets heritage and history
Tucked in between two rocky hills,Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri, Shravanabelagola is a collection of heritage monuments and statues that can only be witnessed if you are prepared to trek hundreds of feet. However, once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with stone marvels and the blessings of Bahubali.
It delights a trekker’s heart to climb up the steep, stony hill to reach the temple complex. To the nature lover, with the coconut palms swaying all around, corn fields glowing in the sun and the stunning image of Bahubali peeping out of the rocky mountain, Shravanabelagola is the ideal place to head for a rejuvenating trip.
The place has a history. Bhadrabahu, a leading Jain Acharya [guru] migrated here from Ujjain along with his 12000 disciples. Chandragupta Maurya, the great emperor from the golden age of the Guptas also arrived here to be with his master, Bhadrabahu, and spent the rest of his life in surrender and penance. Across Chandragiri is the rocky cave where Bhadrabahu spent his last days in isolation. His footprints are still intact outside the cave.
Chandragiri also called ‘Chikkabetta,’ is the smaller of the two hills. An artistic entrance leads you to the foot of the steep rock-hill, which you have to climb barefoot. So climb it early in the morning or evening to avoid scorching your feet in summer.
During monsoon, the steps might get slippery, so watch your steps. However, the climb itself is exhilarating. Even though the steps are steep, you can halt to sit back on the big stones to take in the beautiful view around.
After climbing hundreds of steps and crossing a picturesque pond, the main entrance to Chandragiri Basadi [temple complex] comes into view. Enter the complex comprising sixteen monuments to view artistic structures and sculptures.
A huge pillar named Brahmadeva pillar confronts you as soon as you enter the complex. This tall pillar supported by eight elephants [now reduced to five] at the pedestal of the column, has an inscription that mentions A.D. 974 as the date of its inauguration. It has a seated figure of Lord Brahmadeva on the abacus at the top.
Other structures worth admiration in Chandragiri are the stunted image of Bharata, the brother of Bahubali, Chandragupta basadi, Chavundaraya basadi and Manasthamba. The robust, but incomplete, image of Bharata seems symbolic. While his image has human proportions, his brother, Bahubali’s image on the opposite hill has godly visage.
As per the inscriptions on the hill, Bharata, Bahubali and their brothers were given equal proportions of land to rule after their father renounced his kingdom. Bharata, being ambitious, conquered his neighbouring territories before reaching the kingdom of Bahubali and challenged his brother on the battlefield.
Bahubali, on the other hand, asked Bharata to fight duels with him both on land and on water. In no time, he vanquished Bharata and instead of punishing Bharata, he forgave him and himself took up penance. It is in this act of penance that his image has been beautifully captured in the temple complex of Vindhyagiri.
From Chandragiri one can get a beautiful view of Vindhyagiri, the lofty hill with the gigantic image of Bahubali. The whole scene from the sturdy rock hill with its sloping steps winding all the way up and the ornamented top of the temple along with the bust of Bahubali to the Kalyani tank below with its green waters makes for an enchanting view.
Vindhyagiri is steeper and has 614 steps cut into it to reach the temple complex. After every hundred steps, there is an archway, where one can halt before proceeding ahead. As you climb up, you can observe devotees— young and old, men, women and children—climbing up with fervour. The upward and downward climbs have been partitioned to ease the traffic as well as lessen the strain on the trekkers.
From each archway, one can have a breathtaking view of the village and the Chandragiri hill, especially early in the morning. With the morning sun piercing through the mist and the breeze blowing on your face, it is bound to make the early trek exhilarating and inspire one to click scenic pictures of the surroundings.
Reaching the top after a strenuous climb, you are greeted with sunshine and astounding architecture. The inscriptions on the ground of the outer hall are well-protected by glass slabs.
The Vodegal Basadi, to the left, is an impressive temple complex as is the ornamental pillar with a twined creeper on its right. From here, one has to pass into the final archway to enter the sanctum sanctorum of Bahubali.
Every tourist is amazed by the gigantic image of Lord Gomateshwara or Bahubali. After all, it is the world’s tallest single monolithic statue cut in stone, rising to a height of 17m, it can also be seen from a distance of 25km.
Installed by Chavundaraya, the minister of the Ganga King Rachamalla Sathyavakya in 988 A.D., the massive white image of Bahubali with its chiselled features and smooth finish is indeed a wondrous marvel in stone. Pose in front of the massive statue and you will be dwarfed to a shadow!
Standing on a lotus pedestal, the imposing statue of Bahubali has only the sky to cover him. Inspiring awe and reverence, the unclothed saint figure looks all too pious with his face serene and composed.
On all four sides of the image, inside a closed verandah, are the statues of the 24 tirthankaras. He is worshipped daily with aarti’s and jala abhisheka to his sacred feet every morning and evening. The lord gets invoked with reverence and pomp at a grand ceremony held every 12 years.
You can stay at the Jain guest houses in town that provide cheap but comfortable accommodation. Both Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri are at a easy walking distance from the rest houses. Pick up tender coconuts, fruits and curios from the roadside kiosks while walking towards the Jain Mutt.
After the long walk to the Mutt, visit the temples in the complex for beautiful paintings, sculptures and architecture. Finally reward yourself with a vegetarian meal at the mess, which is free of cost. It is nevertheless wholesome and tasty.
If you are planning a short holiday in scenic surroundings to recharge, rejuvenate yourself and refurbish your knowledge of history, Shravanabelagola is the place to head for. Hike the steep hills, admire our ancient heritage and heal your soul observing the serene statue of Bahubali.
- How to reach: Shravanabelagola can be reached by road and rail from Bangalore. It is 150km from Bangalore.
- Where to stay: Hotel Yatri Nivas, Main road, Shravanabelagola. S.D.J.M.I. Committee Guest House, Shravanbelagola.
- Where to eat: Jain Mutt Mess, roadside eateries and restaurants.
- What to do: Hike, admire architectural stone marvels and historical heritage.
- Best season to visit: September to November.