Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shravanabelagola, Belur and Halebidu - A pilgrimage to the past : Part I

Bhagvan Gomateshwara Statue
Visiting historic places will always help us to know more about the way our forefathers lived. To know more about the circumstances they faced, progress they made and of course the famous architectural marvels they left behind. These places always have something to offer; after all they are witnessing the progress mankind made in these long centuries. The intention for my visit to Shravanabelagola (Sacred place for Jains), Belur (Famous for Chennakeshva Temple) and Halebeedu (ancient capitals of Hoysalas) was nothing different.

In Shravanabelagola (Hassan District, Karnataka):

It was not an easy task to wake up early in the morning, after all who don’t want to sleep some time more enjoying the cold of December. But today I have to reach Shravanabelagola early in the morning. I started my journey from Electronic City to Majestic around 5.30 in the morning. As expected there was not much rush in the road, and I reached Majestic in record time (I still remember the horrible Friday evenings when I have to spend more than 2 hours to reach City Railway Station). I get down at BMTC bus stand and slowly crossed the road to KSRTC stand. (Buy some newspapers if you want to spend time in bus).

It’s not easy to get direct buses to Shravanabelagola, there may be some buses. So the next best way is take a bus to Hassan and get down at Chennarayapatna - 138 km from Bangalore; 100Rs in KSRTC - this small town is very near to Shravanabelagola and buses are always there.  Frequent bus services are there from Chennarayapatna to Shravanabelagola. I got a Mangalore bus and boarded it after making sure that it will pass through Chennarayapatna. The bus started after some time, along with that I started my long awaiting journey to Shravanabelagola. After some time we were outside the city limits of Bangalore and moving towards inner Karnataka.

It seems like the government is on road building spree, constructing flyovers, widening the roads etc are going on. Now-a-days building roads become equivalent to creating infrastructure.  In this craze governments are building up thousands of kilometers of highways. Will the creation of more highways solve India’s infrastructure problem? Not necessarily, if people are more and more interested in private transport. Acquiring more lands, crushing hills to level it, building flyovers, constructing jumpers even on small intersections, straightening the roads even if it is going to save some meters only will only fill the pocket of real estate developers and contractors. Instead of this gigantic exercise isn’t is easier to invest on mass public transportation systems like railways? A two lane railway lane will not take the space of 8 lane highway with service roads but it will do the job. We can discuss these things in some other articles.
View from Vindyagiri

After passing through many of these under construction sites I reached Chennarayapatna around 10.15 am. The bus stand is neat, in fact many of the KSRTC bus stands are in good condition. Shravanabelagola buses are parking near to the entrance of the bus stand. I bought a ticket to Shravanabelagola - 9Rs distance. Contrary to expectations both sides of roads to Shravanabelagola doesn’t bear any indication that it is heading to such a historic place. Plenty of coconut trees and small houses made of baked brick and mud tiles remembered me about Kerala. Many of these houses even rented out there walls to advertising agencies and have the ads of Airtel, Vodafone etc.

Around 10.40am I reached KSRTC bus stand in Shravanabelagola. This place is one of the most important pilgrimage centre for Jains. In Kannada Shravanabelagola means 'White pond of Shravana'. Shravanabelagola has two hills–Chandragiri (Chikkabetta) and Vindyagiri. The 57 feet monolithic statue of Bhagavan Gomatheshwara Bahubali is located in Vindyagiri. This statue - considered as one of the largest monolithic statue in the world - was erected here by a general of King Gangaraya. Base of this statue contains inscriptions in Kannada, Tamil, Marati etc. Thousands of devotees will come here in every 12 years to perform Mahamastakabhisheka (In this ceremony statue will be covered with Milk, Curd, Ghee, saffron and gold coins).

A large number of steps along with railings are carved in both the hills (Chandragiri and Vindyagiri) to make the climb easier, but you have to climb these hills without shoes or sandals. A large number of school children were there to see these historical monuments, there is no need to say that if child are there will not be any effect on the instructions like ‘Silence Please etc’. They make that atmosphere live and active with their voices, and their initial enthusiasm didn’t last long when the steps are appeared too much in number and sun in located right above the heads.

Slowly I started my climb to these hills; it may not be an easy adventure when sun is shining right above your head. But after some hundreds of steps you will rewarded with the sight of magnificent inscriptions in the rock. ASI covered many of these inscriptions with glass along with the timeline associated with it; more than 800 inscriptions are there in Shravanabelagola dating from 600 to 1830. Then there are some more steps to climb and finally you will reach right in front of the monolith statue of Bhagvan Bahubali Gamatheshwara on the top the hill. Even after standing many centuries in the rains and hot sun, its look like a just completed poem in stone.

I looked Bhagvan Gomateshwara for many minutes and then went to the sides to see the statues of other theerthankaras. Later I started my descent; you will get a magnificent view of Shravanabelagola and nearby areas during your descent from different points in the hill top. The pond in the middle of the city is really an eye catching one

After reaching base I headed to Chandragiri hills, here too you have to remove the shoes. It is believed that the last shruta-kevali, Bhadrabahu Swami, and his pupil, Chandragupta Maurya (The founder of the great Mauryan empire, grandfather of Emperor Ashoka, father of Emperor Bindusarae) have meditated here. According to the anecdotes Chandragupta met his future guru Bhadrabahu while he was an emperor. Inspired by Bhadrabahu he later converted in to Jainism and in 298BC; abducted his throne in favor of his son Bindusara and relocated to Shravanabelagola. It is also believed that Chandragupta Basadi, dedicated to Emperor Chandragupta Maurya was originally built by Emperor Ashoka in third century BCE. Chandragiri has many memorials dedicated to numerous monks and shravakas.

Here you have to spend considerable time to visit all the places, read the small but informative descriptions provided by ASI (Archeological Survey of India) and understand the beauty and importance of old architecture. It’s really an interesting experience, to see the places once visited by Guru Bhadrabahu and Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. There is Chandragupta point at the top of the hill, which contains markings of his foot. Being here in this point itself is an unforgettable experience – you are in the place which was once blessed with the presence of one of the greatest emperors in India and famous monks of Jainism.

After seeing numerous basadies I sat in front of the complex, in the shades of some trees, digesting what I experienced just now. Then I started my descent and left Shravanabelagola in another KSRTC bus around 2.40 pm and reached Chennarayapatna after some time.


Check out the photos of Shravanabelagola
For second part read Belur - Chennakesava temple
For third part read Halebidu

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