The legend of Shravanabelagola
By Maxwell Pereira
father’s interest in coffee growing took us to Sakleshpur,
which became our second home after Mangalore. Affording us, an
opportunity to explore the rich history and heritage around Karnataka’s
malnad – male-nadu, as in local Kannada.
Sakleshpur to its west was Tippu’s Manjarabad Fort perched
on a peak overlooking the winding paths meandering up the Western
Ghats from coastal Mangalore. Next door to our north, the famous
temples of Belur and Halebid. And to the east on the other side
of district headquarters Hassan, just 13kms from the Bangalore-Mangalore
Highway off Channarayapatna, the world’s tallest standing
monolithic digambar statue of the Jain icon Bahubali at Shravanabelagola.
read in early school the legend of Bharata and Bahubali, and earlier
seen the 43 feet high Gomateshwara in black granite at Karkala
in Mangalore’s suburbs, the 58 feet high Gomateshwara in
white stone at Shravanabelagola had assumed special significance
for our young romantic minds. And as the years rolled on and the
mahamastakabhishekas (grand ceremony for anointing the head and
bathing of the statue with milk, coconut water, and sandalwood
& turmeric paste) returned with each 12-year cycle, that significance
has never waned.
- one of the ancient religions of India, dates back to the 3rd
century BC, Jaina originates from the Sanskrit word 'jina' meaning
conqueror, denoting here the one who has freed himself from the
bondage of Karma. One learns Jainism is also attributed to the
'Tirthankaras' the teachers of this religion, believed to be 24
in number - the first being Vrishabhanatha or Adinatha, and the
last – Mahavira, who lived nearly 2500 years ago. Historically
the existence of only Mahavira is traceable.
has it how Vrishabanatha renounces the world on seeing the sudden
death of celestial Nilanjana while dancing in his court, and takes
sanyas giving his kingdom to his sons Bharata and Bahubali, dividing
it between them. Bharata soon sets out to conquer the world, guided
by 'chakra-ratna' the divine wheel. From one kingdom to another,
all kings accept Bharata’s suzerainty. But realizing that
Bahubali has not been conquered, and yet not wanting to fight
his own brother, he asks Bahubali to surrender. On his refusal,
they decide on a unique battle – to engage each other in
drishti-yuddha (to stare each other down), jala-yuddha (a battle
in water) and malla-yuddha (wrestling). Bahubali wins all three
and ashamed, Bharata orders the divine wheel to destroy his brother,
but the wheel instead salutes Bahubali respectfully. But his brother’s
moves Bahubali greed and attitude, decides to renounce the world,
and stands still in meditation. Years roll by, anthills and creepers
grow at his feet, and his surroundings become inaccessible. Lord
Adhishwara tells Bharata that even though Bahubali is within reach
of enlightenment, is troubled by the fact that he stands on his
brother's land. Bharata then worships his brother and releases
him from the thought. Enlightenment soon dawns, and Bahubali,
attains the awaited moksha.
there are many who believe that Bharat-varsh the Indian sub-continent
got named after King Bharata, about the enlightened Bahubali there
are some who believe he was a Tirthankara while others do not.
In all Jain temples, the central figure of worship is always a
many perhaps know that Shravanabelagola is the final resting place
of one of India’s most famous rulers of ancient times –
emperor Chandragupta Maurya. Jain traditions link this Mauryan
Emperor and his teacher, the Jaina saint Bhadrabahu, with the
place - more aptly, with Chandragiri (small hill) in Shravanabelagola.
Chandragupta is influenced by Bhadrabahu's teachings when he was
in Ujjain, especially regarding his prediction of an impending
12-yr famine. He becomes Bhadrabahu’s disciple, and follows
him to south India – to Shravanabelagola and remains there
at Chandragiri till his own end.
literature puts Chandragiri as a favourite haunt of saints and
sages who came there to liberate their souls. The place then was
unfriendly and highly inaccessible, infested by wild animals and
birds…. and seekers of spiritual death called it Tirthagiri.
Bhadrabahu laid the foundation for Shravanabelagola, converting
the arid jungle into a more hospitable zone.
later, during the reign of the Ganga king Racamallah Satyavalkya,
his minister Chavundaraya is fascinated with the tale of Adinatha
and his two sons, Bharata and Bahubali. That night, his mother
Kalaladevi sees a colossus erected by Bharata in Paudanapura,
which leads Chavundaraya to study the history of the Tirthankaras
and he sets his goal on Paudanapura. During his search he reaches
the valley of Shravanabelagola between a small hill and large
hill. Spell bound by its stunning beauty, he camps there. Towards
fulfilling his dream, a celestial nymph, Padmavati, tells him
to shoot an arrow at the boulder crowning the large hill.
daybreak next day he shoots an arrow at the target. Amidst thunder
and lightening, the face of Bahubali takes shape. Chavundaraya
then gets the rest of the boulder carved by skilled craftsmen.
Since then the Gomateshwara has stood tall in Shravanabelagola,
which flourished as the seat of Jain culture and faith. Since
it took 12 long years to complete the statue, the ritual of anointing
– Mahamastakabhisheka is held without fail once in every
12 years. February 2006 being the date this year, even as I am
penning these lines.
the place is one of the foremost of Jain pilgrimage centres. Of
historical significance, Shravanabelagola also abounds in inscriptions
denoting the reign over the place of the Ganga, Rashtrakuta, Hoysala,
Vijayanagara and the Mysore Wodeyars. Among the numerous inscriptions
is also one near the statue’s feet in a version of the Devanagari,
suspected to be in Konkani language and its defunct script. This
contention of scholars though, is disputed by the Marathi lobby.
13, 2006: 950 words: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23,
Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http://
www.maxwellperira.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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