[Continued from Part III here]

I think a little background is in order to understand what we sometimes see in front of our eyes during our travels. My humble attempt at a condensed explanation of Jainism follows:

Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world, believed to have originated from India. Followers of this religion do not believe in a god in the strictest meaning of the term, there is no single all-powerful entity that has the power to control the universe. To Jains, the universe has no starting point in time and will remain for ever- all living beings go through a continuous cycle of life and death. They will be reborn as a different living being, depending on their karmas (or actions) from their previous births.

For a person to transcend this cycle of continuous rebirths and attain moksha (i.e. freedom), he will have to remove the karmas he has been associated with. There are 8 types of karmas, broadly classified into 2 categories:

  • Aghati karmas i.e. that related to the body: Nama (body), Ayu (life span), Gotra (social standing) and Vedniya (pleasure and pain of the body)
  • Ghati karmas i.e. that related to the soul: Mohaniya (delusion), then Jnana-varaniya (knowledge), Darasna-varaniya (vision) and Antaraya (natural qualities all three together)

When a person on the path to spiritual progress destroys all his karmas, he becomes a Siddha – the highest form of life which has attained moksha, is in a perennial state of bliss (freedom from pain, pleasure, joy and sorrow) and is free from the infinite rebirth cycle. Then, he becomes a god of the Jain religion.

When a person destroys only his ghati 4 karmas – he becomes an Arihanta and after dispossession of his body after death or nirvana (which is sure to happen), will also destroy his Aghati karmas and becomes a Siddha.

There are however, two types of Arihanta – a Tirthankara and an ordinary Arihanta or Kevali.

  • A Kevali will attain bliss for the rest of his life and does not seek to establish the religious order.
  •  A Tirthankara or a special Arihanta will however revitalize the four-fold religious order consisting of male and female saints (sadhus and sadhvis), male and female householders (Sravakas and Sravakis). He will revive the Jain philosophy and religion of the time he is born in.

Jainism holds that exactly 24 Tirthankaras were born in our current time cycle and these 24 Tirthankaras (the last of whom was Mahavira) are worshipped by all followers of Jainism.

The quick but heavy lunch, the morning trip to Mullayanagiri and all the walking around at the Belur and Halebidu temples in the heat had exhausted me and not inexplicably, I managed to catch 40 winks on our way to Shravanabelagola. It must’ve been around 4.15 in the evening when we reached the famous Jain pilgrimage town, but I had already caught a glimpse of the huge monolithic statue from quite a distance – it is that huge. Not for no reason is it touted to be the largest monolithic stone statue in the world. However, that sight also made me realize, on a somewhat exhausting note, that we would have to climb up a hill to reach it.

Gommateshwara or Bahubali, the Siddha who is cast in stone at Shravanabelagola has a fascinating story. The story of Bahubali can be read here and the story behind the construction of the 1000 year old statue can be read here.

You have to leave your footwear at the base of the hill (special socks are available for purchase at 20 rupees a pair) and climb 600 odd steps to reach the top of the hill where the statue is situated. For elderly people, there are cane chairs to sit on, that are carried by 4 men to the top – for a sum less than 500 rupees if I remember correctly.

Shravanabelagola chair
For a minimal fee, these cane chairs are available to transport people who cannot ascend the 600+ steps

At 4.30 in the evening, the sun was still bearing down on us and combined with the steep ascent, it took us quite a few pit stops before we could reach the top. As you climb the steps however, an aerial view of the town itself, the adjoining hill and a majestic view of the surrounding area unfolds.

Shravanabelagola
From this point, you can see the Odegal Basadi (right of the photograph). The open structure to the left is the Tyagada Kamba which contains an ornately carved stone pillar and is supposed to be installed by Chavundaraya, the same person who commissioned the statue of Bahubali. This was shot while descending and hence, the bright sunlight is missing from the picture.
Bahubali Shravanabelagola
First glimpse of the mammoth statue and it seems like pages from a primary school history textbook have come to life – it is exactly the way I have imagined it to be
Bahubali Shravanabelagola
I can recollect the Mahamastabhishekha ceremony from a Michael Wood documentary on India where this statue is doused with milk, and a whole lot of colored liquids
Bahubali Shravanabelagola
Lots of pilgrims visit the town all throughout the year
Bahubali Shravanabelagola
Follow the roofed enclosure from the left and you can find the 24 Tirthankaras placed in individual rooms one after the other. Visiting each one of them also means you are circumambulating the statue of Bahubali.
Bahubali Shravanabelagola
I thought this one was symbolic – the dark clouds represent the karmas and the almost clear skies visible to the right represent the state of Siddha that Bahubali eventually attained
Bahubali Shravanabelagola
It will always be difficult for me to believe this statue was built over a 1000 years ago – it is that well preserved.
Shravanabelagola
Sat down to catch my breath for a moment and saw Jubin, my friend, trying to photograph the pillar and the bird.
Shravanabelagola
Odegal Basadi – where I had the conversation with the priest.

The sun had almost set in the horizon by the time I was walking towards the descent but something told me to get in to the temple where a priest was talking to a few tourists. A casual conversation ensued and the priest revealed that the hill we were on was called Vindhyagiri and the adjoining hill was called Chandragiri. The structure on Chandragiri, visible from our hill was the place where Chandragupta Maurya converted to Jainism and spent his final days as an ascetic. It also happens to be the resting place or samadhi of the great emperor.

I remember reading about the massive statue at Shravanabelagola in my history textbook and I also remember mugging up answers about Chandragupta Maurya. However, it is only when the places and the stories we’ve read about, visualize in front of our eyes that we begin to appreciate the profound richness of our history, our religions and the various civilizations that passed through the ages.

What was true about the the rise and fall of the Hoysala empire and its emphasis on Hindu mythology remains enshrined in the temples at Belur and Halebidu. In a similar vein, the small town of Shravanabelagola evokes the teachings of Jainism and that of its Tirthankaras far more effectively than a book ever can. This is one of the reasons we travel – to open our eyes, to learn more about the world we inhabit and the desire to understand why some of the stories passed down by generations are important to our understanding of the ways of the world.

I will leave you with one final photograph from this trip that truly embodies the vast expanse of knowledge and rich experiences that travel introduces in to our lives.

Shravanabelagola
You can see Jubin here, trying to capture the magnificent expanse of Shravanabelagola and the adjoining areas. That green pond is the ‘Belagola’, and the hill is Chandragiri which, as the priest pointed out to us, contains many Jain monuments as well as the samadhi of Chandragupta Maurya. The horizon’s curvature on the left is an aberration though – the result of trying to stitch one too many photographs into a panorama.

Note:

By far, one of the most eye-opening trips I’ve been on, Chimagalur and the Belur-Halebidu-Shravanabelagola belt are as enjoyable as they are important from a historical perspective. Chikmagalur especially, tends to fly below the radar when it comes to popular weekend destinations and in my experience, it turned out to be extremely underrated – the area around the Western Ghats is one of the most scenic places in Karnataka. The best time to visit these places is definitely just after the monsoons as the hills of the Western Ghats are as green as they can be and the heat of the Deccans is a relatively minor deterrent then. Our hotel manager at S. K. Regency, Chikmagalur turned out to be a very helpful, accommodating gentleman and I would definitely recommend the hotel to everyone. If ever you go to the historic temple towns I’ve written about, do try to read about the period they were built in, and the religious influences they reveal. A guidebook is highly recommended. (Ohh, forgot to add, we had coconut water again after descending down the 600+ steps at Shravanabelagola – that makes it 3 in a day.) Till the next trip report then, adios.

My understanding of Jainism has been helped a great deal by an article published by the Jain Study Center of North Carolina, http://www.ibiblio.org/jainism/EmailBulletins/ConceptofGod_Jainism and of course Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tirthankara. Thanks to both the resources.

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9 thoughts on “Chikmagalur Trip – Part IV: Shravanabelagola

  1. Well now i am sure to find a new “modified jain” buddy…n m sure u understand me better now 🙂

    May b v can start exploring western states of India

    Like

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