Shravanabelagola is a city located in the Hassan district in the Indian state of Karnataka and is 158 km from Bangalore. The statue of Gommateshvara Bahubali at Sravanabalagola is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Jainism, one that reached a peak in architectural and sculptural activity under the patronage of Western Ganga Dynasty of Talakad. Chandragupta is said to have died here in 298 BC after he became a Jain monk and assumed an ascetic life style.
This picturesque region ideally wedged in between the two scenic hills Chandrgiri and Indragiri, situated about 52km from Hassan, 84km and 86km from halebid and Belur, 115km and 155km from Mysooru and bengalooru respectively. Shravanabelgola is famed for its Jain Temple. A literal translation of ‘Shravana’ gives Jain Thirthankar or the stoic ascetic who has relinquished everything pertaining to the material world including the need to be dressed, and that of ‘Belgola’ gives a white lake.
Shravanabelagola has two hills, Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri. Acharya Bhadrabahu and his pupil Chandragupta Maurya are believed to have meditated there. Chandragupta Basadi, which was dedicated to Chandragupta Maurya, was originally built there by Ashoka in the third century BC. Chandragiri also has memorials to numerous monks and Sravakas who have meditated there since the fifth century AD, including the last king of the Rashtrakuta dynasty of Manyakheta. Chandragiri also has a famous temple built by Chavundaraya, who was a disciple of Nemichandra. Atop the hill Indragiri 3347ft high, majestically stands the mammoth unclad statue of Gomatheswara or Bahubali. This monolithic statue the tallest of its kind, measures to 57ft in height. This sacred, stately statue marks the quintessence of total renunciation. The legend has it that the king Rishaba Nath abdicated his throne in his insatiable quest for spiritual knowledge and took to doing stern penance in the uninterrupted wilderness of the forests. Consequently a stiff tussle for power ensued between his two sons, the then princes of the state, Bahubali and Bharat and though the former emerged victorious the resolved to adhere to austerity, entrusting the rule to his brother. Then Bahubali went on ‘Vanaprastha’ for 1000 years.
King Rishaba nath then became the first’Thirthankar’ of the Jains and Bahubali came to be known as ‘Gomatheswara’. This colossal statue of Gomatheswara came up in the year 983. Chamundaraya, a minister of the kings of the Ganga dynasty was instrumental in its construction. And Aristonemi, was the sculptor behind this marvellous monolith.
It was here in Shravanabelgola that the emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya is said to have spend his twilight years after embracing Jainism under the auspices of his Guru Badrabahuswami. Jainism flourished here under the patronage of the Ganga rulers between the 4th and 10th centuries.
There is a flight of uncovered steps greeted quite often by ‘Belgola’, leading to the statue. Dulis and chairs with bearers are available for the aged and disabled to get to the statue. ‘Mahamasthakabhisheka’ is a grand festival here which occurs only once in 12 long years. During this ‘Abhisheka’ or ‘Reverential Bath’ the deity is bathed in a variety of sacred stuff such s ghee, milk, curd, vermolin, honey, sandalwood paste besides 1008 pots of holy water. Money and precious stones are also showered on the statue. This festival came into practice in 1398.
During the last occasion which marked the 87th Mahamasthakabhisheka, an estimated 10 lakh devotees congregated and celebrated the festival with profound alacrity. This festival attracts a large number of devotees from far and near every time.
A five foot tall Tyagada Brahmadev Pillar can also be seen on the rock incline of the hill. Footwears have to be left at the hill foot. Other belongings can also be left at the foot of the hill before climbing the hill. No charge is levied for keeping watch over the articles.
Chandragiri which rises to about 3052 feet above sea level also had many a treasured monument. There are as many as 26 Jain Bastis and Mutts and not too far away are Kalyanipukur and other Jain shrines. There are also some important monuments such as Chandragupta Basti, Bandan and Akkana in theinterior village of Shravanabelgola.
More than 800 inscriptions have been found at Shravanabelagola, dating to various times from 600 to 1830. 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 before the 10th century. These inscriptions include texts in the Kannada, Sanskrit, Konkani, Tamil, Marwari and Mahajani languages.