Bahubali (No, not the movie!)

Contemporary India, recently (in 2015, actually) had the pleasure of viewing a very-made-in-India 2-part movie of a very grand scale. The movie was available in Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu. But this blog post is not about the movie Bahubali, but of another Bahubali from the pages of Indian history, mainly a great man, revered by Jains.

First, a little bit of story telling. Bahubali (which translates to ‘someone with strong arms’) and his brother Bharatha were sons of King Rishabhanatha (who went on to become the first of the twenty four Jain Thirthankaras). When the king renounced his kingdom, a fight for supremacy took place between Bharatha and Bahubali. No prizes for guessing who won the wrestling match.

Our Bahubali was not your run of the mill materialistic prince. He was so disgusted by this entire episode that he gave away his part of the kingdom to his brother and went away and performed a long mean penance. While most truth seekers sit under a tree and meditate, Bahubali decided to seek enlightenment while standing. He stood so still that anthills and creepers started growing on him. It is believed that he attained moksha (salvation of the soul). He came to be revered by Jains.

When Jainism spread across India it took firm root in South India under the kings of dynasties such as Kadambas, Gangas and Rashtrakutas. The 58 feet monolithic statue of Bahubali in Shravanabelagola was commissioned by Chamundaraya, a minister of the Ganga king, Rajamalla IV. I had the pleasure of visiting this little town amidst the Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri Hills and seeing this statue. In fact, when I wrote about that monolith, I remembered this trip and here I am writing about this monolithic statue ๐Ÿ™‚

Both Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri hills have temples and structures that belong to Jainism. The statue of Bahubali on the Vindhyagiri Hill is one of Asia’s largest monolithic statue. It was carved from a single rock. With all its features looking as good as new, the vagaries of nature have not had any impact whatsoever on the statue that was installed in 983 A.D!

Visiting Bahubali (aka Gomateshwara) was part of an unplanned trip – very unusual for me, but it was exciting nevertheless. The better-half was suddenly able to take time off work, so we literally hopped into the car and plotted this trip on the road. Shravanabelagola was our first stop, we visited Melkote after that, stayed a night in Mysore, went to B. R. Hills for two nights (spotting a tusker enroute was thrilling and scary!), stayed a night in Madikeri town, visited Dubare and stopped at Namdroling Monastery and headed back home to Bangalore.

From Bangalore we took the Bangalore-Mangalore Highway. At Hirisave make a left and drive on for about 20km to reach the foot of the Vindhyagiri Hill.

The statue can be seen from far far away!

The 600-odd steps cut out on the rocky hill makes for a steep climb to the top of the hill. ‘Doli-service’ (like the Chinese sedan chair with bearers) is available for those that find it difficult to walk up. These bearers make the trip up in a slow march that takes them about 15 minutes and come down in 7 minutes flat!

Scattered on the hill are several small basadis (temples) that were built at different time periods. Inscriptions in ‘haLey-kannaDa’ can be found in several places on the hill. Odegal Basadi or Trikuta Basadi is one such temple dedicated to 3 Thirthankaras – Adinatha, Neminatha and Shanthinatha. Odegal in Kannada translates to supporting stones and the basadi derives its name from the slanting stone pillars that support the main temple structure.

Odegal Basadi or Trikuta Basadi

Tyagada Brahmadeva Pillar is credited to the Minster Chamundaraya. I am not sure it has any religious significance, but artistically an intricately carved pillar covered by a ‘mantapa’ like structure that supposedly came much after the pillar.

Tyagada Brahmadeva Pillar
View of Chandragiril hill from midway up the climb.
The main entrance to the top of the hill
The main entrance to the top of the hill as seen from the courtyard around the temple precinct.
Bahubali or Gomateshwara as seen from the courtyard

Mahamasthakabhishekha is a ceremony held once every 12 years wherein the statue is anointed with holy water, milk, sugarcane juice, sandalwood paste, saffron paste and vermillion powder. It is believed that the first known ceremony was held by Minister Chamundaraya to consecrate the statue upon its completion. On the day of the event, the liquids used for anointment that Chamundaraya poured on the head of the statue did not flow all the way to the feet and toes, while milk brought in a tiny container (assumed to be an eggplant (gullekayi), now, how it could hold milk I know not) by a pious old lady (ajji) and poured on the statue flowed all the way down. The old lady was supposedly Goddess Padmavathi in disguise who came to teach Chamundaraya a lesson about true faith and belief without pride. Lesson learnt, a statue to the old lady was installed just outside the main Gomateshwara temple and came to be known as ‘Gullekayi ajji mantapa’

Gullekayi Ajji
The Mantapa that leads to the main temple
Thrithankaras carved along one side the roof inside the temple precinct
Deities on another side of the roof
Bahubali or Gomateshwara
Inscriptions at the lower edge of the monolithic statue
An intricately carved stone water holder

There are other statues of Gomateshwara in Karnataka – in Karkala, Venur, Dharmasthala and near Mysore. However, the one in Shravanabelagola is the oldest and tallest.

At a distance of 145km from Bangalore, visiting Shravanabelagola is a perfect day trip. Another option is to base oneself in Hassan and cover Shravanabelagola along with Belur, Halebid making it a weekened getaway from Bangalore.
Visit early in the morning, it gets very hot as the day progresses.
Footwear is not allowed, wearing socks will be useful.
There is no entry fee.
Photography is allowed.

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