Shravanabelagola is situated about 150 km northwest of Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka. The town has been a prominent centre for Jain art, architecture, religion and culture for over two millennia. About two thousand years ago, Bhagawan Bhadrabahu, the earliest among the great Jain Acharyas came to Shravanabelagola from Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, with his disciples. Influenced by this ascetic, Chandragupta Maurya, the great emperor who ruled a large part of India, settled in this region, handing over the reins of his kingdom to his son.
Monolith of Lord Gomateshwara
Wedged between two stark rocky hills, the monolithic statue of Lord Gomateshwara, a Jain saint and an object of worship for centuries, standing atop one of the hills (Indragiri hill), is 18 meters high and is said to be one of the tallest and most graceful monolithic statues in the world.
History behind the Monolith
Lord Gomateshwara, also known as Balubali, was the son of the first Jain Teerthankara, Lord Adinatha. Challenged by his brother Bharatha over the succession to the throne, Bahubali took on Bharatha in a duel that involved three forms – Drishtiyuddha, Mallayuddha and Jalayuddha. Though Bahubali finally emerged victorious, he was overwhelmed by both the enormity and the futility of the desirefor material wealth – a pursuit that set brother against brother. He then renounced his kingdom and all other worldly pleasures. Bahubali stood in deep meditation and radiated the glow of spiritual tranquility. Chavundaraya, prime minister and commander-in-chief of the Ganga Kingdom, consecrated the statue of Bahubali in a meditative form in 981 AD.
Just opposite is the smaller Chandragiri hill where some Jain temples and tomb of Chandragupta Mourya, famous patron of Jainism can be seen.
The Mahamastakabisheka festival, an elaborate ritual, held here once every 12 years, the last one in 2006, attracts devotees from all over the world. Priests climb up to pour hundreds of pots of tender coconut water, turmeric paste, vermilion powder, sugarcane juice, milk, rice flour, kashaya (a herbal concoction), shrigandha (sandal paste), chandana (coloured sandal paste), ashtagandha (eight varieties of sandal paste), saffron, gold and silver flowers, and precious stones over the statue’s head. A spectacular finale to this splendid ceremony is a shower of flowers from a helicopter.