Hold on to your hats, folks! We’re about to take a trip to Shravanbelagol, a town with a history so long that even the dinosaurs had a stopover here. This tiny town in Southern India may be small, but it’s home to the tallest monolith statue in the world. That’s right, we’re talking about a statue so tall that even King Kong would have to take a step back in awe. And if that’s not enough to make you pack your bags and head out the door, Shravanbelagol also boasts a history that’s older than your grandma’s grandma’s grandma. So get ready to step back in time, and marvel at the wonders of this magnificent town.
Most of us have seen the Bahubali movie. Both Parts. We all were impressed by his strength and action sequences in the movies. But do you know, there is one real-life Bahubali exists, and he is standing tall, for the last one thousand years, in a small town in Karnataka. And perhaps, the real Bahubali is much more powerful than the reel one.
Mangalore is one of the favorite weekend gateways for Bangalore techies. As Friday evening approaches, they start making plans to spend some “Quality Time” on the Panamur or Ullal beach. Saturday morning, they start early, rushing in their TUVs and SUVs on smooth NH75 highways towards the western coastline. As they get closer to Chennarayapattana, after village Hirisave, the national highway unrolls towards the west, and one small road goes towards the south.
Here, we have to exchange our farewells to our techie friends as we have to take a road less traveled, zigzagging through small villages, surrounded by the sea of coconut plantations. After driving for about 20 km, we reach the historic town of Shravanbelagola, having a history of not less than 2300 years.
Spread in between two hillocks of Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri, Shravan Belagola is famous for its 58 feet monolithic Gomateshwara or Bahubali statue. Exactly in between two hillocks, there lies a well constructed ancient pond, colored with white paint. Belagola means white pond.
The article will be incomplete without mentioning the person responsible for this giant miracle. Chavundaraya or Chamundaraya was a military commander serving in the western Ganga dynasty in Karnataka. Apart from his courageous military command, he was also known for his architecture and literary skills.
In 982, he was the one who commissioned the construction of the Giant Bahubali here. He has several other temples in his name, but the most noteworthy among them is this one.
Story of Bahubali and Bharata
As per Jain Agamas, King Rishabhnatha was the first Tirthankara of Jainism. He had a hundred sons, Bharata and Bahubali were noteworthy among them. Before renouncing everything, he distributed his vast kingdom among all of his sons. Bharata received the Kingdom of Ayodhya and Bahubali got Ashmak (South Indian) kingdom. Bharata wanted everything. He went to war against his brothers.
98 sons surrender their kingdoms to Bharata, became monks, and accepted him as their Chakravarti, or the King of the Kinds, but Bahubali. It was a time for war. Ministers on both sides decided to avoid war and asked two brothers to sort the things among themselves, with three competitions.
Staring contest, water fight, and wrestling. Bahubali defeated his older brother Bharata in all three types. Disappointed Bharata ordered his magic disc, a superweapon to attack the champion Bahubali. Disc went towards Bahubali in lightening speed, circled him, and stood still in one place, without harming Bahubali. He was the undefeated champion of the Kingdom and a worthy King. This was the turning point for Bahubali.
But after the fight, Bahubali realized with disgust after seeing what greed, anger, and lust can bring out within brothers. At that moment, he decided to leave everything behind and acquired Sanyasa. He gave everything back to Bharata.
For an entire year, he stood in one place, without food, water, and clothing. Anthills grew by his side. Vines crept on his legs, reaching to his shoulders. Finally, he attained Keval Dnyan. Absolute knowledge of the universe. Eventually, his elder brother Bharata surrendered to him and started worshiping him.
This 58 feet Bahubali tests your stamina as you have to climb some 650 plus steps carved in giant boulders to meet him. On bare feet. Try it. It’s super fun, especially if you are under a scorching sun, then each step you take is like a frying pan to step on to. Then it does not allow you to even take a rest. Been there, done that. Next time, wear thick socks or buy them from one of the vendors. It’s the most valuable piece of cloth you will ever need.
For old-timers, there, are palanquins available for rent. Four people will carry you to the top of the hill and bring you back without shaking food in your stomach.
There are two arches with Goddess with two elephants on each side. She is called Gajalaxmi.
After this tiresome climbing, you will reach a canopy where you will take a breather. In front of you, you will see an ancient temple, called Odegal Basti. It’s an old shrine built in the 14th century Hoysala period. After climbing that old shrine, all of a sudden, you will feel darkened as your eyes will take a few seconds to readjust to the darkness. Now, you will be standing in front of three sanctum sanatoriums of Jain Tirthankars. Beautifully carved.
There are many inscriptions in Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada languages dating back to 950 AD surrounding Odegal. ASI has done a good job of preserving these old inscriptions.
Even after climbing these many steps. you won’t be able to see the tallest monolith statue in the world, as it is surrounded by few more temples and a thick wall, constructed during the Vijaynagara period.
After visiting the Odegal Basti, there are few more steps to complete, until you reach the temple entrance. There is a heavily ornate pillar on the way that one should not miss.
These lone standing pillars are distinct characteristics of Ganga dynasty architecture.
Ganga dynasty military general Chavundaraya erected this pillar in 982, where he used to give donations. Within a few years, he renounced everything he had, and became a monk, right beneath the same platform where he uses to donate gold. The pillar is considered the epitome of craftsmanship. Its held aloof by elephants and tigers, representing strength and valor. Bell-shaped flowers adorn the creepers encircling the pillar.
He inscribed about his life on the blank space at the bottom of one of the most beautiful pillars I have ever seen. You can see Chavundaraya and his Guru Nemichandra, sitting on a platform. Guru is receiving some object from his disciple, accompanied by fan bearers with the wife of Chavundaraya, Gagan, in the background.
in 1200, Heggade Kanna erased that inscription, and wrote a new version of history, installing the Yaksha idol on the top of that pillar. 500 years later, Mantapa was built around the pillar using brick and mortar.
Still, there are about 100 steps to climb. The temple entrance is constructed making the place in between boulders. After so many years, it’s very difficult to identify, whether the temple walls are supporting the boulders, or the boulders are supporting the walls.
The entrance arch has the same Gajalakshmi symbol which you must have seen on the arches your way upon. Its one of the most beautiful symbol Ganga has created. Laxmi is sitting inside a lotus, with two elephants holding Kalasha anointing her. Tree vines, coming out of the Makara statue are ending on the smaller sized Makaras on top. Apart from Makara, you can also see the Lions supporting the arch.
The boulder on the left side has Jain Tirthankaras in meditation, engraved with Bahubali standing right under them. The rest of the boulder is covered with ancient Kannada. Crossing two more doorways, you reach the main courtyard, surrounded by a typical Vijaynagara styled stone wall made up of granite slabs.
Bahubali is standing in the square-shaped courtyard, right in the middle of the temple building. The entrance of the building is held aloof with many pillars, constructed during the regimes of Ganga, Hoysala, and Vijaynagara dynasties. The building consists of the pathway for circumambulation, consisting of small-sized rooms, with statues of meditating Jain Tirthankaras.
Temple entrance is protected by the life-sized Yakshas and an old inscription stone, dating from the Hoysala period. Roof railing is decorated with statues, made with brick and mortar, during the 19th century.
Bahubali Standing tall
Enter the temple, and you will be facing Gomateshwara, the giant. He is very slim and tall, with curly hair, large ears on a round face, complementing his long nose and generous forehead. With half-closed eyes and a very very faint smile, he is watching over you. A long time ago, he has given up covering himself with layers of cloths, silently walking apart from earthly possessions. He is standing inside a lotus, for perpetuity, so still, that some creepers from the ground have climbed on his feet, reaching to his broad shoulders. He is practicing Kayostargam-type of standing meditation, a practice of self-control. Looks like he is already there, at the gates of Nirvana or Moksha.
A true incarnation of Sthitapradnya, as it is described by Lord Krishna…
प्रजहाति यदा कामान्सर्वान्पार्थ मनोगतान् | आत्मन्येवात्मना तुष्टः स्थितप्रज्ञस्तदोच्यते ||
When a man renounces completely all the desires of the mind, when he is fully satisfied with his mind fixed in Atman, O Partha, he is then declared to be a Sthitapradnya.
दुःखेष्वनुद्विग्नमनाः सुखेषु विगतस्पृहः | वीतरागभयक्रोधः स्थितधीर्मुनिरुच्यते ||
He whose mind is not troubled by sorrow, who does not go after pleasures, who is free from attachment, fear, and hatred is called a sage of steady wisdom or Sthitapradnya.
Sit there for a while, in a corner, observing THE Observer. That ancient hall surrounding Bahubali will be bursting with colors and an overwhelming accumulative fragrance of milk, butter, curd, coconut, sugarcane, banana, and flowers. An occasional tumulting noise – a fusion of children chirping, infants crying, women giggling, priests chanting mantras will be testing the patience of Bahubali. But he is, unshakable, unyielding, renounced Digambar…
Places to Stay at Shravanbelagol
🏨Hotels: There are 2-3 hotels available to stay in Shravanbelagola, where you can book in advance.
🏠Dharamshala in Shravanbelagol: Being one of the most important places of worship, are 3-4 Dharamshalas available, to cater to the Jain pilgrims, having a capacity of accomodating 3-4 thousand pilgrims at a time. These Dharmashalas are not typical ones.
One bedroom, two bedrooms, bungalow, AC, everything is available here at a really cheap price. Clean, good service, and walkable distance from Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri hills. If you are going in the offseason, we do recommend trying these instead of some Oyo hotel.
Places to eat in Shravanbelagol:
🍽️Famous for Jain pilgrims, you can find a couple of decent Jain Bhojanalayas just near the entrance of Vindhyagiri hill. A clean, home-cooked meal, free of onion and garlic tastes incredible after a hike of 700 steps.
🍴Few south Indian hotels are also available in the market, but being a small town, they close a little bit earlier than the city.
How to reach Shravanbelagol?
🚗150 km from Bangalore Shravanbelagol is well connected by roads. Drive about 120 KMs on National Highway 75 towards Mangalore, and take a left turn after Hirisave. 20 km drive through dense coconut plantation, you will reach Shravanbelagol.
🚌There are few buses, which start from KSRTC Majestic depot, reaching Shravanbelagol. However, there are plenty of buses, going every fifteen minutes towards Hassan, you can get down at Hirisave town, and get a share auto to Shravanbelagol.
🚀Shravanbelagol is about 170 KMs from Kempegowda International Airport, Bangalore.
🚂Shravanbelagol has a railway station, well connected to the main stations in India.