Shravanabelagola temple is a holy place for the Jains and is world renowned for the presence of Lord Gomatheeswara towering over everything around. It also has a giant stone figure, believed to be 1,000 years old, of Bahubali (Gommateshvara), the Jain saint.It is nestled by the two hills named Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri.
The site includes Jain shrines and temples from the 1st millennium CE. The town has other Jain monuments, as well as Hindu temples with Dravidian gopuram architecture that co-exist with the Jain temples.
The word Shravanabelagola literally means ‘the white pond of Sravana’ as ‘bel’ means white and ‘kola’ means pond in Kannada. There is a beautiful pond in the town, true to its name.
Gomateshwara was a Jain prince, Bahubali who had to fight a fiery battle with his brother to defend his kingdom. But he was dejected and upset at the tremendous loss due to war, gave up his kingdom and retired to meditate in peace and attained nirvana.
The giant statue of Gomateshwara was erected in 983 AD by Chamundaraya, a general and minister of the Ganga King, Rachamatta, by the sculptor Arstameni. The spectacular ceremonial worship of the Lord takes place once every 12 years which is called Mahamastabhishekam and the statue is bathed with pots of milk honey, curd, rice, coconut milk, ghee, sugar, almonds, saffron, coins, turmeric powder, vermillon, dates, bananas, by priests who climb a special structure raised for this purpose near the statue.
More than 800 inscriptions have been found at Shravanabelagola, dating to various times from 600 AD to 1830 AD. A large number of these are found in the Chandragiri and the rest can be seen in the Vindhyagiri Hill and the town. Most of the inscriptions at the Chandragiri date back before the 10th century. These inscriptions include texts in the Kannada.
In Chandragiri, there are 14 basadis inside the big compound. There are also free standing pillars, memento pillars and numerous inscriptions protected by thick glasses. As one enters the courtyard, at the entrance one can find the Kuge Brahmadeva Pillar,a 30 feet high decorative pillar with the image of Brahmadeva in the sitting posture. The pillar is also called as Marasimha’s Manastambha as it was constructed in honour of the Ganga King, Marasimha, who died in 974 AD. The inscriptions at the base of the pillar detail the life and events of the king.
The Mauryan Connection
The Mauryan Emperor Chandragupta Maurya retired to Shravanabelagola along with Bhadrabahu, a disciple of Lord Mahavira around 300 B.C to become a Jain ascetic, after handing over his kingdom to his son Bindusara. Thus, Jainism became popular in Karnataka during that period. There are some 500 inscriptions in Shravanbelagola recording the slow death by starving of the Jain ascetics.
Chandragupta was influenced to accept Jainism by the sage Bhadrabahu I, who predicted the onset of a 12-year famine. When the famine came, Chandragupta made efforts to counter it, but, dejected by the tragic conditions prevailing, he left to spend his last days in the service of Bhadrabahu at Shravanabelagola, where Chandragupta fasted to death.
There are some Jain temples (Bastis) and Jain mutts in the smaller Chandragiri hill. The most important among them is the Chandragupta Basti built by Emperor Ashoka who is the grandson of Chandragupta.