Shravanabelagola, a small historical place in Hassan district of Karnataka, is one of the most revered pilgrim centres of the Jain community. A delight for nature lovers, the picturesque town is 158 km. to the west of Bengaluru and is well connected by road and rail.
Although one can visit Shravanabelagola throughout the year, the winter months between October and February offer an enthralling view of the town particularly when it is covered in a blanket of mist. If one loves to walk and experience the whole region first hand, travelling on foot from Channarayapatna Cross is perhaps the best way of getting around the place.
The road from Channarayapatna to Shravanbelgola is a narrow pathway, spacious enough for only one bus to pass at a time. The lush greenery on either side of the road is a visual treat. The place is named after the “White Pond” situated in the middle of the town and has two hills, Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri.
The 58-foot-tall monolithic statue of Gommateshvara or Bahubali is located on Vindyagiri. Considered to be the world’s largest monolithic statue, it represents Bahubali, the younger son of Rishabha, the first of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras. Bahubali himself was not a Tirthankara — the central figure of worship in a Jain temple —but he is revered as the first Mokshagami soul of this cosmic cycle and occupies an exalted position in the Jain pantheon, inspiring deep spiritual adoration among his devotees.
Legend says that Bahubali was born several millennia ago when the cosmic cycle moved from a period of bliss to an age of turmoil. Rishabha, who ruled Ayodhya, renounced his kingdom to seek eternal quiet in the forests. Before embarking on his spiritual quest, Rishabha appointed his elder son Bharata the ruler of Ayodhya and named Bahubali the chieftain of an important principality. Soon Bharata grew extremely powerful and conquered every kingdom except the principality of Bahubali who refused to accept his brother as the unquestioned emperor.
After a great battle between the two brothers, the victorious Bahubali realised that pride and desire only brought misery. He sacrificed the material world and went to the forest in quest of spiritual happiness.
The statue of Bahubali, carved out of a monolithic rock, is the world’s biggest image of a deity. Chavundaraya, prime minister and commander-in-chief of the Ganga kings, is said to have undertaken the mammoth task of establishing the statue on top of Vindhyagiri to fulfil a promise made to his mother.
The base of the statue has an inscriptions in Kannada, which is by far the oldest evidence of written Konkani. Every twelve years, thousands of devotees congregate here to perform the Mahamastakabhisheka, a spectacular ceremony in which the statue is covered with milk, curds, ghee, saffron, and gold coins. The next Mahamastakabhisheka will be held in 2018.
Chandragiri has memorials to numerous monks and Sravakas who have meditated there since the fifth century CE, including the founder of the Mauryan dynasty Chandragupta Maurya, who worshiped at the feet of Bahubali until he too attained samadhi.
The temples of Shravanabelagola contain several manuscripts received as offerings from the devotees of Gomateshvara. Most of them, which are known as the Dhavala, the Maha Dhavala and the Jaya Dhavala, deal with the karma philosophy of the Jains and together they represent the Digambara Jain philosophy in its entirety.
There are lodges and hotels of all ranges in the town catering to the needs of people visiting the place during all seasons. The food available is predominantly south Indian. The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation runs frequent bus services to Shravanabelagola from Bengaluru for which tickets can booked online.