Visiting Lord Bahubali in Shravanabelagola

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The 57-foot statue of Bahubali is carved from a single stone in Shravanabelagola, India. Photos by Suruchi Dumpawar
The 57-foot statue of Bahubali is carved from a single stone. Photos by Suruchi Dumpawar

By Suruchi Dumpawar

“I don’t want to spend the first day of the year at home.” Shilpa, a friend of mine, wanted to go out on the New Year and who best to tag along but a person with “itchy feet” like me.

After much brainstorming Shravanabelagola was decided as the destination, an unusual choice for the New Year’s day I must say, considering the fact that people prefer partying on the first.

So, the New Year’s Eve was spent in booking bus tickets, and for the first time in the history of my conscious existence I slept even as the clock struck twelve, only to get up early in the morning to start for Shravabelagola.

To our surprise the KSRTC (Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation) bus started before its scheduled time, and this was enough to impress me and as if to bolster my notion the bus covered the 160-kilometer stretch from Bangalore to Shravabelagola in a quick three hours.

Shravanabelagola: A sleepy town, steeped in history

Shravanabelagola, a major Jain pilgrim center, is a sleepy town settled around the two hills, Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri, with the stepped well Kalyani nestled between them.

The 57-foot tall statue of Bhagwan (Lord) Bahubali Gomateshwara, the largest monolith in the world, at the top of Vindhyagri Hill, is the city’s claim to fame.

As we started our ascent, an elderly couple from Bangalore joined us, and we were together for the whole day. To any bystander we would have appeared as a family out on a trip. Shilpa and I, being of the same stature, could be easily thought of as sisters.

This is what amazes me the most about traveling; strangers don’t remain strangers for long.

Temple musicians
Temple musicians

There was a quite crowd climbing the hill; school children, families, foreigners alike on their quest for Lord Bahubali on that particularly sunny day, but the sun couldn’t beat down their enthusiasm.

Smug Atop the Carrier

There were carriers available for the elderly, and one lady looked particularly smug sitting on one, but the gutsy ones preferred the tougher option, the steps. The climb was not very steep and was made comfortable by the gradual steps and the soothing view of the Kalyani.

The Basadis (shrines) and the well-preserved inscriptions on the Vindhyagiri date back to a period starting from 600 to 1830 CE, with the inscriptions providing insights into the life of ascetics of that era.

A priest at the foot of Lord Bahubali's statue
A priest at the foot of Lord Bahubali’s statue

The Bahubali statue itself dates back to 10th century. Whenever I visit a place seeped in history these days, I always wonder what would be the ruins of our civilization, would they all be digital?

His Majesty, Lord Bahubali

As we reached the top after climbing the 500-odd steps, we caught a glimpse of Lord Bahubali from the entrance of the enclosure where it is situated.

My first reaction was one of awe; a priest was meditating close to the feet of Bahubali and he didn’t even amount to as much as one foot of the statue.

The statue is minimalistic advocating the philosophy of Jainism. I marveled at the colossal effort that would have gone into sculpting a statue of such immense proportions. It is imposing and beautiful at the same time.

The view from Vindhyagri Hill
The view from Vindhyagri Hill

The face of Lord Bahubali with curled locks exudes nothing but tranquility; creepers entwine his whole body to depict the time he spent meditating in the erect posture before attaining bliss.

Bahubali, who renounced his kingdom rather than fight his brother, is considered to be the ideal man who conquers selfishness, jealousy, pride and anger.

People were meditating all around the statue, and we too sat down soaking in the vibrations of the place.

After spending some time on the top we started our descent, the sun was beating down on us with full force now. We headed for lunch at a Jain aahar (an eating place) where we were served some simple but delicious food.

On the way back from the Jain aahar, we stopped at a temple which had some beautiful stone carvings and an idol of Bahubali carved out of marble.

A temple with carvings of Lord Bahubali
A temple with carvings of Lord Bahubali

As is typical of pilgrim centers in India, Shravanabelagola too teems with shops selling knickknacks and mementoes, and girls that we are, we indulged in some impromptu shopping, buying bangles and stuff. Time was running out so we couldn’t explore the 2nd hill, Chandragiri and headed for the bus stop.

Mahamastakabhisheka, when all roads lead to Shravanabelagola

The town appears dull now, but during the Mahamastakabhisheka, an important Jain festival, it undergoes a complete transformation. People from all around the world flock to watch and perform the ceremony.

The Mahamasthakabhisheka is held once every twelve years; the next celebration will be in 2018.

A young visitor
A young visitor

As ceremony begins, consecrated water is sprinkled onto the participants by devotees carrying 1008 specially prepared vessels.

The statue is then bathed and anointed with libations such as milk, sugarcane juice, and saffron paste, and sprinkled with powders of sandalwood, turmeric, and vermilion. Offerings are made of petals, gold and silver coins, and precious stones.

Most recently, the ceremony’s finale has included an enormous shower of flowers from a waiting helicopter.

I remember seeing the ceremony live on television as a kid, the event is a riot of colors with Lord Bahubali being bathed with holy water, vermillion, turmeric, and sandalwood…

God willing, I will be there for it sometime in person, and capture the whole event through my camera.

The promise being made, we start back for Bangalore. Chandragiri has been left unexplored until the next time.

A new year has begun and I’ve spent the first day doing what I like doing the best, traveling, exploring, introspecting and photographing.

If the first day is any indicator, hopefully the year 2008 will also be spent in a similar fashion.

Suruchi Dumpawar
Suruchi Dumpawar
works as an Associate Consultant in a software firm in Bangalore, India. Trekking, photography and writing are few of her interests and she sates them by going on trips around Bangalore and then writing about them. Visit her blog, Sur’s Pensieve.

Offerings at the statue of Lord Bahubali
Offerings at the statue of Lord Bahubali

Tour Information

Date of trip: 1st Jan 2008
Places visited: Shravanabelagola
Duration: One day
Departure: From Bangalore, 1st Jan, 7:00 a.m.
Return: To Bangalore, 1st Jan, 7:00 p.m.
Bus Fare: INR 80.00 (one way)

Getting there:

The nearest airport is Bangalore.

From Bangalore KSRTC (Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation) buses are available to Shrvanabelagola.

KSTDC (Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation) even operates a tour covering Belur, Halebid and Shravanabelagola.

Temple sculptures from the Hoysala Empire

Ideal time:

All round the year, but preferably during the Mahamastakabhisheka.

Attractions around:

The architecture of the Hoysala Empire (1100 – 1400 CE) including the temple of Belur built by King Vishnuvardhana in commemoration of his victory over the Cholas at Talakad in 1117 CE and the temple at the twelfth-century Hoysala capital of Halebid covered with an endless variety of depictions from Hindu mythology: animals, birds and Shilabalikas or dancing figures.

Meditating at the temple