December 28, 2016

Shravanabelagola- 652 Steps to the Colossal Gomateshwara


Covered in a haze of mist, Channarayapatna was just waking up as I breezed past the town and the tree laden road percolating with sunlight to Shravanabelagola, one of the prominent pilgrim centres for Jains. It was a cold ride all the way and the closer I got to Shravanabelagola, I was on the look out for the statue of Gomateshwara. As I squinted, the upper part of the imposing statue atop the hill was visible just before the small town. 

Can you spot the statue?
Shravanabelagola is a typical temple town lined with shops selling a plethora of items, hustling pilgrims and visitors. A cup of coffee later, I stood in front of the first of the 652 steps that lead up on the Vindhyagiri hill (also referred to as Indragiri hill) to the imposing Gomateshwara statue. While I trotted slowly, school children came in hordes and giggled their way up the hill as the teachers tried matching up. Vistas of the town, the kalyani (temple pond) and Chandragiri hill with Jain basadis on the opposite side opened up as the steps led higher. Higher you go, better are the views. Definitely a beautiful sight.The hand rails all through is definitely helpful for the elderly. The sun was yet to go full throttle and that helped the climb without much exhaustion.

Tall climb

View of Chandragiri hill, kalyani and Shravanabelagola town
Vadegal Basadi is the first shrine you encounter after a climb of more than 500 steps. Set on a raised platform, the basadi is supported by numerous stone planks to help it from falling apart. Also referred to as Trikuta Basadi, there are three shrines here, the major one is of Adinatha thirthankara, father of Gomateshwara. The other shrines are of Neminatha and Shanthinatha thirthankaras. Made of black stone, the shrines sit on a platform and has godly sculptures behind them. The inner sanctum also has nice carvings on its ceiling which the priest pointed out to me. Don't be surprised if you find Jain sages sauntering around bare naked here, as it is a part of their unique lifestyle. 

Vadegal basadi

Adinatha thirthankara
There are numerous writings and inscriptions in various Indian languages on the rocks. Went past more small shrines and carvings on rocks as I walked up to Gomateshwara. The outer courtyard has a couple of inscriptions on stone plates, Siddhara Basadi dedicated to Sidda Bhagawan thirthankara and a small mantapa with pillars and sculpture of an old lady with a Yaksha image on top. This mantapa is referred to as Gullekayi Ajji mantapa. I had the first close glimpse of Gomateshwara from the outer courtyard as his head towers above everything else. The entrance foyer has beautiful sculptures of figurines on either side of the door.

Inscriptions

Carvings
Inscriptions on stone

Entrance foyer
At more than 58 feet, Gomateshwara also referred to as Bahubali stands tall and intimidating, but with a pleasing facial expression. Built during the Ganga dynasty by Chavundaraya in the late 10th century, this colossal sculpture is all about magnificence and architectural excellence of the sculptors. Gomateshwara stands naked in deep meditation and has detailing such as ant hills near his legs and the creepers around the body. Carved out of grey granite, this is the tallest monolithic statue in India. There are inscriptions in Kannada, Tamil and Marathi at its base. I gazed at this masterpiece for long until the devotional songs broke the silence that prevailed.

Gomateshwara
I was in at the right time as the daily offerings and prayers were performed by the priests shortly. A few jains joined and they chanted along as the ritual continued for a while. Mahamastakabhisheka is the grand ceremony that takes place here once in 12 years when the statue is anointed with holy water, milk, honey, curd, coconut water, ghee, vermilion, turmeric, sandalwood and much more. This spectacular ceremony is undoubtedly an enthralling experience. The next one is scheduled for 2018. Presently only the feet are washed everyday with holy water, milk and vermilion.

Offerings and prayers
There are more sculptures in the surroundings, two on either side of Gomateshwara and many thirthankara images in the enclosures on three sides. These were erected during the rule of Hoysalas and is of great importance to Jainism. The prayers were done, the selfie clicking children had left and silence again prevailed as I walked out. The views from the outer courtyard of the unending horizon, the blue sky, the meandering road and the tiny town are absolutely captivating.

Sculptures of thirthankaras



Panoramic view from the outer courtyard
The walk down was much faster and after a quick breakfast, I headed to Chandragiri hill for another climb with more school students. Apparently a smaller one with lesser number of steps, the hill is known for its numerous jain basadis dedicated to fifteen thirthankaras. There are more inscriptions on the rocks en-route the basadis. It is believed that Chandragupta Maurya of the erstwhile Mauryan empire lived on this hill during his last few days and there is also a basadi dedicated to him, built by emperor Ashoka. Apart from the basadis, there are two manasthambhas which are tall pillars with carvings on it. 

Up the Chandragiri hill
Chavundaraya basadi, Kattale basadi and Parshwanatha basadi are the major and elaborate ones with carved pillars. Chavundaraya basadi has an upper floor which can be accessed through a precarious climb. Parshwanatha basadi houses a tall statue of fourteen and a half feet high Parshwanatha. Many basadis have Adinatha as the deity and most of them have sculptures of Yaksha and Yakshi Kushmandini Devi beside the door to inner sanctum. 

Chavundaraya basadi

Chavundaraya basadi

Chavundaraya basadi
Kattle basadi

Parshwanatha basadi

Parshwanatha basadi
The other basadis are Shanthinatha basadi, Sidhantha basadi, Bhandara basadi, Suparshwanatha basadi, Chandranatha basadi, Savatigandhavarana basadi, Sasana basadi etc. The hill also has inscriptions on stone plates and also a unique mutilated statue of Bharata.

Savatigandhavarana basadi

Sasana basadi

Chandragupta basadi

Bharata statue

Inscriptions of Shanthaladevi 

Though Shravanabelagola is more known for the imposing Gomateshwara statue, the numerous other basadis on both the hills too are a delight to explore in this temple town. 

View from Chandragiri hill
Shravanabelagola can be made as a one day trip from Bangalore. One can also club it along with Belur and Halebidu making Hassan as the base. 


Location:

54 Kms from Hassan (Hassan- Channarayapatna- Sharavanabelagola)
155 Kms from Bangalore (Bangalore- Kunigal- Channarayapatna- Shravanabelagola)

Closest rail head- Hassan
Closest airport- Bangalore

Food and Accommodation:

There are numerous small eateries at the base of the hill, most are vegetarian. Stay options are limited and it is recommended to make Hassan or Channarayapatna the base as both have mid range and budget hotels.

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