Baahubali! I am sure Indian movie aficionados might have heard of this name! While the movie was definitely fantastic, I am talking about the other Baahubali here! This Baahubali was also the one with strong arms and he also packs a solid story, but instead of a movie character, he was a Jain deity who is celebrated at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. And this is his story that I discovered on a visit to this Jain pilgrimage destination as part of my Golden Chariot train journey.
The celebration at Sharavanabelagola is special as it is not often that you come across the world’s largest monolithic statue. Son of the first tirthankara of Jainism, Bahubali was born as a prince in the Ikshvaku dynasty in Ayodhya and who later set on a path of renunciation after a battle with his brother.
It is believed that he meditated motionless for one year in a standing posture and such was the intensity of his meditation that he did not know that seasons changed and vines had started growing up his legs. At the end of a year, Bahubali attained Kevala Jnana or omniscience. And it was to celebrate this learning that the monolith statue of Gomateshwara or Bahubali was sculpted under the patronage of the Western Ganga dynasty of Talakadu.
For some weird reason, I had never seen this massive monolith up close even though I have explored every single bit around it. I had read about its records and knew its importance in Jainism religion, but apart from that, I did not know what to expect. So, when I first arrived at Shravanabelagola on a bright sunny morning I was all excited as this was a brand new place for me in a state that I have called home for the last two decades.
Located about 160 kms from Bangalore and just a short drive from Channarayapatna and Hassan, Shravanabelagola is a quiet and super clean town that is surrounded by rocky outcrops, lush green agricultural tracts and many tank bunds. Two hills, Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri make up the Shravanabelagola landscape. The Bahubali temple is located on top of Vindhyagiri while the opposite Chandragiri is also home to temples, memorials and a stunning view of Bahubali.
Be prepared to climb a steep trail of stone steps to see the mighty Bahubali up close. The climb is steep, but should not take you more than 20 minutes and the end result and view is totally worth the effort. For those who are physically challenged, the temple committee offers palanquin (palki) services, an ancient mode of transport to make the climb.
As you climb these steps, you will stop a couple of times to catch your breath. When you do that, do turn back and check out the view of the entire Shravanbelagola town, the temple pond, the opposite Chandragiri and the surrounding green landscape. This view keeps getting better as you climb higher and so do the temples with its carvings, statues and inscriptions.
Once you reach the main temple complex, you have to circumnavigate in a clockwise direction to appear at the foot of the 57 foot tall Lord Bahubali who has been carved out of a single block of granite or should I say a granite hill. The epic proportions of this monolith is bound to take your breath away. If you have availed the services of a tour guide, do keep an ear out for the interesting measurements of different parts of Baahubali’s anatomy, like the size of his legs, his arms, his head, his fingers and even his penis. Your guide might also tell you to identify one attribute in the statue that seems out of place.
The climb and the awe of standing in front of the world’s largest monolith has quite an impact on your heart and hence it takes a while to settle. Once it settles down, you will be able to notice the Devanagari inscriptions near Baahubali’s feet, the vines slowly making their way up his leg and arms and the overall sanctity and aura of this place.
This 10th century marvel has seen the rise and fall of the Western Ganga dynasty, the Rashtrakutas, the Hoysala empire, the Viajayagara empire, the Wodeyar dynasty and other kingdoms from Karnataka’s rich past. And when you stand at his mighty feet, you can feel his power too. If you get lucky, you might also get the opportunity to see the Jain priests offer their daily prayers and anoint the devotees with the water from Bahubali’s feet.
Once you take the lord’s blessings and as you go around the statue, you will notice statues of all the 24 Jain tirthankaras surrounding the main statue and the newer yellow stone temple super structure that came much later than the monolithic statue as additions during the rule of different kings.
Whether you are a Jain, a religious person or simply a traveler, Shravanabelagola’s Bahubali deserves to be seen at least once. And while you are in town, do remember to catch a view of this stunning work from the opposite Chandragiri hill and get to know the beautiful principles of Jainism.