The massive statue of Bahubali, looking out over the town of Shravanabelagola, is often seen in brochures of the Hassan-Belur-Halebidu circuit. It is certainly intriguing enough to merit a detour. 438 feet above looks easy on paper, but as one climbs up the steep and jagged stone steps carved out in the Vindhyagiri hill, you slowly become more and more aware of each gasp of air (and how unfit you are!). As you stop for a minute, letting the eager devotees pass you by, you turn back to find some solace in how many steps you have traversed already. The gaze wanders over the hazy green landscape of Shravanabelagola; dotted with cottages on the right, a pond (called ‘Belagola’ in Kannada) right in the centre and the ancient structures atop the boulder strewn Chandragiri hill in the front (named after the great emperor, Chandragupta Maurya, who after abdicating his throne, fasted to death here).
Shravanabelagola is a Jain pilgrim destination located in the Hassan district of Karnataka. I was on my way to have a dekko of the Gomateshwara (Bahubali), statue, one of the largest monolithic statues in the world. A while back, I had been introduced to the story of how a powerful king, Bahubali, renounced his kingdom and became a Jain monk. During his penace, creepers grew all over his body and the statue reflects this period of his meditation.
The 57-feet-tall statue dates back to 983 AD, and towers over the surrounding stone walled periphery wall, the exterior painted in alternating shades of red and white. Around the statue, on three sides of the sanctum are the intricately chiselled stone idols of various Jain Tirthankaras. Outside the sanctum, one finds more hall shaped structures, the canopy supported by thick stone columns. As one walks to the edge of the boundary facing the valley below, the distant world seems an illusionary oasis of calm and peace.
How to get there: Take Tumkur Road in Bangalore, and then get onto NH48. Drive straight down the highway for about 100 odd kilometres, and then take a left to get onto SH47 for Shravanabelagola.
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