Shravanbelagola, located 51 km south-east of Hassan in Karnataka is one of the most important Jain pilgrim centres of India. In Kannada language, "Bel" means white and "kola", the pond, an allusion to the beautiful pond in the middle of the town. It reached a high point in architectural and sculptural activity under the patronage of Gangas of Talakad. The Statue of the Jain saint Gommateshwara (AD 981)carved out of a mountain, said to be one of the tallest and most graceful statues in the world, is situated in this small town atop the Indragiri hills. The colossal monolithic statue is 58 ft high, naked, with 26 ft wide shoulders, 10-ft of its feet. Starkingly simple, the beautifully chiseled features of this statue embody serenity. Nearly 1,800 years old, the statue which is reached by climbing 700 steps carved in the steep granite slope, is symbolic of the renunciation of worldly possessions. It was sculpted by Aristanemi in 981 AD and Chamundaraya, a general and minister of the Ganga King Rachamatta installed it in 983 AD.
Lord Gomatesheshwara was the Jain prince Bahubali. During a war with his greedy elder brother, Bharata who sought to usurp his kingdom, Bahubali accepted defeat at the moment of his victory when he realized the futility of it all. He renounced the world and his rights to his own kingdom, much to the severe repentance of Bharata and left to lead a life of penance and meditation, attaining Nirvana.
There are two hills Chandragiri (Chikkabetta) and Vindyagiri. The last shruta-kevali, Bhadrabah, and his pupil, Chandragupta (formerly the Maurya king), meditated there. Chandragupta Basadi, which was dedicated to Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, was originally built here by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. Chandragiri also has memorials to numerous monks and shravakas, who have meditated there since the 5th century CE, including the last king of the Rashtrakuta dynasty of Manyakheta. Chandragiri also has a famous temple built by Chamundaraya, who was a disciple of Acharya Nemichandra Siddhanta-chakravarti.
The Vindhyagiri hill is home to a thousand-year-old gigantic 17.38 meter high monolithic stone statue of the Bhagavan Gomateshwara Bahubali, considered to be the world's largest, built by Chamundaraya, a general of King Gangaraya. The base of the statue has inscriptions in Kannada and Tamil, as well as the oldest evidence of written Marathi from 981 AD. The Marathi inscription on the base of this thousand-year old statue is a tribute to King Gangaraya from his general, Chamundaraya, who had funded the construction of the statue. The inscription concerns the king Gangaraya who funded the effort, and his general Chamundaraya, who erected the statue for the king.
Thousands of devotees congregate here to perform the 'Mahamastakabhisheka' (sacred anointment), a spectacular ceremony which is the focus for Jain pilgrims across India, held once in 12 years. Hundreds of pots containing curds, milk, honey, vermilion, coconut water, turmeric paste and even gold and precious jewels are poured over the statue's head by priests. Last Mahamastakabhisheka was held in 2006 AD. The next Mahamastakabhisheka will be held in 2018 A.D.
Shravanabelagola attained historical importance when Chandragupta Maurya, the greatest King of Mauryan Empire, settled on this hill in 3rd century BC, along with his Guru Bhagwan Bhadra Bahu Swami, after renouncing his kingdom. Bhadra Bahu was the greatest propagator of Jain faith in the South.
Inscriptions and Architecture
In addition to the statue, there are several Jain bastis (temples) and monasteries in Shravanabelagola. There are 14 shrines on Chandragiri hill and Chandragupta Maurya the Great Emperor is buried here. Of the temples the Chamundaraya basti, build in 982 is the most remarkable. There is a spacious sanctuary in Bhandari Basti about 200 meters to the left from the path leading to the Gommateshvara Statue containing the 24 images of Tirthankaras.
More than 800 inscriptions are found at Shravanabelagola dating from various points during the period from 600 to 1830 CE. A large number of these are found in the Chandragiri, and the rest can be seen in the Indragiri and the town. Most of the inscriptions at the Chandragiri date back to before the 10th century. The inscriptions include text in the Kannada, Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi, Marwari and Mahajani languages. Shravanabelagola abounds in inscriptions that are scattered around the area and are in various Halagannada (Old Kannada) and Purvahalagannada (Pre-Old Kannada) styles. Some of these inscriptions mention the rise and growth in power of Gangas, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas, Vijayanagar empire and Mysore Wodeyars. These inscriptions have immensely helped modern scholars in properly understanding the nature, growth and development of the Kannada language and its literature.
Shravanabelagola is the seat of the ancient Bhattaraka Math, belonging to the Desiya Gana lineage of Mula Sangh, from the Digambar monstic tradition. The Bhattarakas are all named Charukirti.
Location and Transport
Shravanabelagola is 157 km away from Bangalore and 52 km from Hassan town. For a Tour to Shravanabelagola, the best time to visit is between the months of October and March.
Air : Nearest airport is Bangalore (157kms) and Mangalore.
Rail : Shravanabelagola is well connected by rail to Bangalore, Mysore and Hassan.. Nearest rail head is Hassan 185kms from Bangalore.
Road : Regular buses by State transport is available from Hassan, Mysore (84kms), Bangalore and other major towns.