Karnataka · Travel

Mammoth and monumental: Gommateshvara (Bahubali) at Shravanabelagola

Shravanabelagola town and Jainism

Nestled between the Indragiri and Chandragiri hills, Shravanabelagola in Karnataka is one of the oldest and most significant Jain pilgrimage centers in India. Dating all the way to 297 BC, this town is associated with the great ruler Chandragupta Maurya who lived here after he became a Jain ascetic. Jainism flourished thereafter in this part of the state from the 4th to 10th century under the Kadamba, Ganga and Rashtrakuta dynasties.

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Lord Gommateshvara or Bahubali

One of the most revered saints of the Jains, Bahubali was the son of the first Jain Thirthankara VrishabaDeva. It is believed that Bahubali stood still and meditated for one year in a standing posture (kayotsarga) before He attained salvation.  The stunning monolithic statue of the Lord  stands tall atop the Indragiri hill that is 470 feet high and is accessible by a flight of 650 steps.

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View from atop while climbing up
View from atop while climbing up

The splendidly carved structure is the creation of master sculptor Aristenemi in 981 AD and was installed in 983 AD by Chamundaraya, a minister under the Ganga king Rajamalla IV. Visible from a distance of 30 km, the status itself is 58 feet tall and is one of the largest free-standing statues in the world. Made entirely of uniformly fine grained grey granite, the monument is representative of the artistic excellence of the Ganga sculptors.

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The half closed contemplative eyes capture the sublime expression of the face that can be viewed from any angle. The nudity and erect stance of the statue are symbols of total renunciation, discipline and self control that are characteristic of Jain Thirthankaras.

It is believed that during His penance, climbers grew around His legs and this has been depicted by the intricately carved creepers that coil around the legs and arms of the statue and culminate as a bunch of flowers and berries in the upper portion of the arms.

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Mahamastakabhisheka

The Mahamastakabhisheka is by far the most important event of the town and refers to the sacred head anointment of Lord Bahubali.  Witnessed by millions of devotees this ceremony takes place once in 12 years and the last anointing took place in 2006.  Massive scaffolding is erected around the huge statue which is bathed and anointed with various offerings.  These include 1008 ‘kalashas‘ or pots of water, milk, coconut water, clarified butter (ghee), sandal paste, sugar, honey, turmeric and saffron.  The colorful spectacle is truly a sight of a lifetime.

During other times, the main worship and offering is done to a smaller idol placed at the feet of the main statue.

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Other shrines and Gullekayi Ajji Mantapa

On the way up, there are multiple Jain temples or Bastis dedicated to the other Jain Thirthankaras.  You can witness several small pavilions and sculptured pillars during your ascent.

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There is also a figure of an old woman named Gullekayi.  According to legend, when  Chamundaraya started to anoint the statue, his generous offerings failed to cover the entire figure.  Then Gullekayi gave him a humble pot of ghee which covered the whole statue.  It was then that he realized that the lady was actually Goddess Parvati.

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Gullekayi Aji Mantapa

The courtyard that houses the monolith is surrounded by statues of the 24 Thirthankaras and also ornate carvings.

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Shravanabelagola is about 150 km from Bangalore and 80 km from Mysore and is easily accessible by road.  Hassan is the nearest railway station.

This post was made possible by Karnataka tourism and was part of the Golden Chariot itinerary.

32 thoughts on “Mammoth and monumental: Gommateshvara (Bahubali) at Shravanabelagola

  1. C.R. Patna, Sharavanabelagola, Hassan…all the three had been fond memories for me..During my stay in B.G. Nagara (Bellur Cross), I used to frequently visit these three places..Your writeup had refreshed those fond memories… : )

  2. The details of the status are quite noteworthy…I couldn’t believe it is the tallest one in the world!

    India has so much history to it and much of it is still present…enough to cover in a lifetime.

    I love your site for the uniqueness it provides to connect with our earlier generations, especially from centuries back!

  3. Wow! Stunning captures, Rashmi. Took me back to 2002 during my trip around Karnataka. 🙂 The steps never ended and the height is so scary. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. I am not sure whether it is tallest !! But the information and pictures are saying lot of words about this place and its beauty ..

  5. Beautiful captures and what a Gigantic statue. I didn’t even know about it. Thanks for sharing and best wishes with the Golden chariot journey.

  6. I had heard it among the tall ones but didn’t know it is the tallest one in the world. I liked the details in this post and those steps…. it gave me the illusion of railway tracks. 🙂

    Ah! There are so many places to see in this world!

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