Shravanabelagola is one of the most important Jain pilgrimage centres in the south. From Belur, one has to take the Hassan-Bangalore highway. Channarayapattana is the point where you have to deviate for Shravanabelagola.
The great Mauryan emperor, Chandragupta Maurya (340-290BC), a devout Jain, is said to have retired to this place, to spend his last days. There are two hills here, Chandragiri and Vindyagiri, both with memorials for Jain saints. The famous statue of Sri Gomateshwara Bahubali is on Vindyagiri. It was erected by Chavundaraya, a general under King Gangaraya, of the Gangas of Talakad, in 982CE. The base of the statue has inscriptions in Kannada, Tamil, and in Marathi perhaps the oldest evidence of written Marathi, dating back to the Tenth century. In fact, more than 800 inscriptions, raging from 600 to 1830 CE, can be found in the region as a whole. Shravanabelagola is the seat of the Bhattaraka Mutt, of the Digambara Jain persuasion. The town comes alive every twelve years, when the spectacular Mahamastakabhishekam, the ritual anointing of Sri Bahubali's idol, is undertaken. The next one is due in 2018.
There are 700 odd steps, to reach the top, which is at an altitude of 1425 metres (470 feet). There is no canopy overhead and one cannot wear footwear. There are wayside Mandapams, though. And then there is a steep portion nearing the top. Handrails are provided on both sides in this section. One has to carry drinking water, as there are no taps along the way.
Sri Bahubali is a magnificent creation, 18 metres (58.8feet) high, and considered to be the world's tallest monolithic stone image. Sri Gomateswara stands like a colossus, naked, symbolic of his renunciation of all wordly posssessions. He is ramrod straight, said to refelect the firm determination and self-control of a true Jina.
Sri Bahubali is entwined by creepers, while in the background lie anthills with snakes. The hair is in a curl, the eyes half closed in contemplation, the lips well-shaped, the chin firm, the ears pierced and dangling, the shoulders broad, while the arms lie equidistant from the torso. At Bahubali's feet lies a tiny golden replica. The two dwarapalakas, n either side a 12th century Hoysala addition are dwarfed by the colossus.
A mandaapam with corridors, encloses the statue on three sides. Built in the 12th century by gangaraja, a general of Hoysala emperor, Vishnuvardhana, these enclosures house images of Jain Thirthankaras (saints). At the lintel level are niches in which are displayed gods in the Hindu pantheon (undoubtedly, a Hoysala addition). There are several shrines on the hill, notably that of Sri Kushmandini Devi. From the hill you can have a bird's eye-view of the large tank, from which the town gets part of its name (belagola, in Kannada, is white tank).
How to get there
Channarayapattana (12km) is on the Bangalore - Hassan Highway. From Belur (84km), change buses en route. Hassan, the nearest railway station, is 52km, Mysore (the nearest airport) 83km, and Bangalore is 146km. Accommodation: Plenty of guest houses, right next to the bus stand.
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