Shravanabelagola is 158 kms from Bangalore located near Chennarayapatna of Hassan district in Karnataka and is one of the most important places of pilgrimage of the Jains. It derives its name from Shravana or Shramana meaning Jain ascetic and Belagola or Biliya Kola meaning white pond alluding to the pond in the middle of the town. It is wedged between two rocky hills Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri and is said to have the tallest monolithic statue of Gomateshwara or Bahubali at a height of 17 mts. Vindhyagiri is 3347 feet above sea level. A flight of 614 steps which is finely chiselled into the granite of the mountain leads to the summit where an open court and the great statue of Shri Gomateshwar stands. Chandragiri is a small hill and has memorials of various monks and ascetics who since the 3rd century BC have meditated here and in those times the hills were dense and thickly wooded. From the middle of the 10th century temples began to be constructed upon the hill and from that time it has become one of the holiest pilgrimage sites of the Jains. Many Jain temples and the tomb of Chandragupta Maurya the Emperor who was a famous patron of Jainism can be seen here.
About two thousand years ago the earliest among the Jain Acharyas Lord Bahubali the second son of Rishabhdeva the first Tirthankar came from Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh to Shravanabelagola with his disciples. It is said that there was a duel between him and the eldest son Bharata to become King and though he emerged victorious a great sense of dispassion arose in him when he realised that desire for wealth and power had set brother against brother. He then renounced the kingdom and all worldly pleasures and practiced severe austerities for many years. He stood in deep meditation in the Kayotsarga pose and radiated the glow of spiritual tranquillity. In 981 AD Chavundaraya prime minister of the Ganga kingdom consecrated the statue of Bahubali in a meditative form. The great Emperor Chandragupta Maurya later handing over reins to his son settled in this region and became a Jain monk and later died here in 298 BC.
The Statue of Lord Gomateshwar
The statue of Lord Gomateshwar is 58 feet and 8 inches and carved out of the granite bedrock of the mountain Vindhyagiri. The base of the statue has inscriptions in Kannada as well as Devnagari script dating from 981 AD. The inscription praises the King who funded the project and his minister and general Chavundaraya who erected the statue to fulfil the wish of his pious mother Kalala Devi and was built by Arishtanemi a superb artist. The image has long, large ears and curly hair in ringlets. His eyes are open with perfectly chiselled facial features, broad shoulders and arms stretched straight down. An anthill in the background signifies his incessant penance. A snake and a creeper which twine around both his legs emerge from this anthill. The entire figure stands on an open lotus signifying purity and detachment.
On either side of the statue are two tall, majestic richly ornamented and beautifully carved bearers in the service of the Lord. On the rear side of the anthill is a trough carved to collect water and other ritual ingredients used for the sacred bath of the image. An enclosure of a pillared hall around the statue with 43 images of Tirthankars in different cloisters can be found. A figure of a woman called Gullikayaji sculpted with a good built and wearing ornaments can be seen.
Legend of Gulikayaji
It is said that after the consecration ceremony of the statue, Chamundaraya performed the Panchamritha Abhishekha ceremony or bathing of the image with five liquids namely, milk, sugar, honey, butter and water with pride and arrogance at the making of such a beautiful piece of architecture. But he was stunned when he saw that the liquids when collected in hundreds of pots and poured upon the head of the image would not descend below the navel of the image. Inspite of several attempts and with no success he became frustrated. At that time a celestial nymph disguised as a poor woman named Gulikayaji came to him and holding the five liquids in a silver pot (beliya gola) declared that she would accomplish what the great minister and general was unable to do. Chamundaraya first laughed it off but later permitted her to proceed. To his astonishment the liquids from the small pot which she poured flowed down and completely bathed the image. Humbly bowing down to her with faith and devotion in his heart and eschewing arrogance he proceeded to continue the Abhisheka and to his joy the image now was fully bathed in the liquids which he poured. He then erected the image of Gulikayaji in homage to her piety and devotion.
The massive door or the Akhandabagilu carved out of a single rock with an elaborately carved Gajalakshmi flanked by two elephants shows the beauty and intricacy of Jain craftsmanship. Shravanabelagola gives insights into Jain mythology through some of the finest paintings depicted on the walls of the Jain temples. They depict royal processions, monks, festivals, women in bright sarees, wild animals in forests etc which shed great light on the social, political and religious life of the people. Jain shrines or temples in South India and Maharashtra are generally referred to as Basadis. In front of the Basadi in Shravanabelagola is the free standing pillar or the Sthambha. They are elegantly carved out of granite and are classified into Brahmadeva Sthamba and Mana Sthamba.The Brahmadeva Sthamba pertains to Brahmanical Gods while the Mana Sthamba refers to Jain faith. Brahmadeva pillars are restricted to the South and they can be found in front of the Gomateshwar statue. There is another pillar where Chaundaraya has inscribed his genealogy and lifetime achievements called the Tyagada Brahmadevara Kamba in which only segments of the inscriptions are readable. The Chaundaraya Basadi is one of the largest temples in the area dedicated to Lord Neminath the 22nd Tirthankara depicted under a seven hooded canopy and flanked by male bearers. This temple is unique and evolved out of the Chalukyan styles. On the same hill a Basadi for Chandraprabh the 8thTirthankara can be seen which is one of the oldest and can be assigned to the early 9th century.
Biligola or white pond
The name of the place was derived from the white pond present in the centre of the town. Apart from the white pond or Bili Gola nestling between the two hills there are two ponds on Vindhyagiri and three on Chandragiri. There are tanks or ponds almost near every monument.
More than 800 inscriptions dating from 600 to 1830 have been found at Shravanabelagola. These inscriptions include texts in Sanskrit, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi, Konkani, Marwari and Mahajani languages. Some of them mention the rise and growth of the Western Ganga dynasty, the Hoysala Empire, the Vijaynagar Empire, the Rashtrakutas and the Wodeyar dynasty. It is said that these inscriptions have helped modern scholars to understand the development and nature of the Kannada language and its literature.
The colossal size of the image makes it impossible to perform daily Abhisheka to the image of Gomateshwara hence only Pada puja or bathing the feet is performed daily and Mastakabhisheka or head anointing ceremony is performed occasionally.
The Mahamastakabisheka festival an elaborate ritual is held here once every 12 years and it attracts devotees from all over the world. Hundreds of pots of tender coconut water, vermillion powder, turmeric paste milk, rice flour, sugarcane juice, sandal paste, kashaya(a herbal mixture), ashtagandha(eight varieties of sandal paste), saffron, silver, gold flowers and precious stones are poured by the priests over the statue’s head. A shower of flowers from a helicopter gives a spectacular finale to this splendid ceremony. Prior to the festival around the statue of Gomateshwar an enormous wooden scaffolding is built where the Jain priests stand to pour the offerings on the deity and thousands of pilgrims assemble around the slopes of the sacred hill. While pouring on to the deity these divine offerings are said to acquire a powerful spiritual energy and when collected and distributed to the pilgrims assist them in their quest for enlightenment. The last festival was held in February 2006 and the next one will be held in 2018.
How to Reach
Air – Nearest Airports are at Bangalore (157 kms) and Mangalore (230 kms). Regular flights of Jet and Indian Airways connect these cities with the rest of the country.
Rail – the nearest railhead is at Hassan (50 kms). Regular trains connect Shravanabelagola to Hassan and further to the rest of the state.
Road – Well linked roads connect Shravanabelagola to Bangalore, Mysore and Hassan. Buses from Hassan are frequent.
Good accommodation facilities are provided at Shravanabelagola by the Jain Mutt. One can reach out to the accommodation office (Vindyananda Yatrinivas) at Shravanabelagola and make accommodation bookings at the following nos.: 08176 257226 or 08176 257235.
Pilgrims can also contact-
Kshetra Committee Accomodations Office
Near Bus Station (Back in Vidyanada Dharmashala)
Shravana Belagola- 573135
Shravanabelagola was for many centuries a key centre for all the activities of Jainism. It laid a firm foothold for the spread of Jainism in South India. It flourished in the background of royal patronage and played a major role in the history of Karnataka. Bahubali’s life exemplifies the inner strength and nature of divinity. He is considered to be the ideal of a man who conquered jealousy, pride, anger and selfishness to renounce the world and attain peace and enlightenment. Pilgrims going to this holy place concentrate on the divinity and greatness of Lord Bahubali which helps them in their spiritual quest for enlightenment and bliss.