He was second of the 98 sons to Rishabha, traditional founder of Jainism. A man of great pride and ego, Bahubali gave up his empire exasperated after series of fights with his elder brother Bharata and intended to lead an ascetic life. To do so, he had to take vows and bow down before all others who had renounced their normal lives regardless of their age. But Bahubali was adamant not to bow down to anyone and began meditating himself. His pride and ego prevented him from attaining enlightenment even after years of meditation. Remarks from his two sisters requesting him to step down from ‘The elephant’– Ego-made him realize his mistake, shed his ego and eventually attain Nirvana.
Owning to this background, Bahubali is considered as an Arihant (in Jainism) who had conquered anger, ego, greed, and selfishness. And therefore, he is much revered.
Day one: My father and I decided to visit Shravanabelagola on a sunny morning from Bangalore in the month of April. Although my father had come for a brief visit to Bangalore, using this time to see a revered religious site such as Shravanabelagola was considered a valuable thing to do. And so, we set off to see Lord Bahubali.
A statue of Lord Bahubali was built under the supervision of General Chavundaraya of the Western Ganga Dynasty, many centuries ago. This massive structure at Shravanabelagola is considered as one of the largest monolith statues in the World. Standing tall at 57 ft, the inscriptions on either side date back to 981 AD! The statue is believed to have been built somewhere between 978 and 993 AD. Statues of Lord Bahubali those are less tall than this one can be found at various sites such as Karkala, Dharmastala, Venur, Gommatagiri, and Kumbhoj, all over Karnataka.
What we did not know before reaching the site was that it required 760 steps to be climbed. My father had a bit of a knee problem that made him take frequent halts. This indeed added to the time required to reach the top, however, once we reached the views were nothing but spectacular. From there, one can even spot few other Jain temples in the vicinity located atop various hillocks.
Father of Bahubali, Rishaba is the first Tirthankara (Propagator). Jainism is said to have been propagated by 24 Tirthankaras, which is inscribed as rock carvings at the entrance of the temple. At the top of the rock are carving of Jinas (a great teacher who has attained liberation from karma). All the carvings have been made centuries earlier and stand testimony to the events and beliefs of that era.
Once in 12 years, there is a grand festival called Mahamastakabhisheka celebrated here. During which Lord Bahubali is bathed in milk, curd, ghee, saffron and gold coins. Flowers are showered from helicopters. It is an important Jain festival and a variety of offerings are made. Millions of people come to the festival to pray and to watch the grand spectacle from not just within the country but all over the world. The next one is in 2018 and I have made up my mind to be there already. If you intend to attend this grand festival, do book your stay in advance as the options around the pilgrim site are very limited.
Practical information: How to get here: From Bangalore, I took a bus that goes to Chikmagalur, got down at Channarayapatna, and then took a local bus to Shravanabelagola (fantastic scenic bus ride through villages). Climbed up the Vindayagiri hill and reached the temple. If you are not comfortable switching buses like I did, opt for the day tour ‘Shravanabelagola-Belur-Halebeedu’ organized by KSTDC.
If you are hungry after climbing up and down the 760 steps, try vegetarian meals at ‘Hotel Raghu’, a clean place with decent tasting food. Also to note: since this is a Jain pilgrim site, you will not find hotels serving non-vegetarian food.
If you intend to visit the nearby Jain sites as well, there are plenty of autos on disposal or you can simply walk up to some of the nearby hillocks which have the temples. If you wish to stay overnight, there are a couple of hotels nearby; else at the foot of Vindayagiri temple complex, you can opt for an inexpensive room offered by the temple authorities.