The 600 steps to liberation
I have vague memories of watching a television program during my school days in early eighties. The program was about celebration of Mahamastakabhishek (Grand Consecration) festival at Shravanbelagola and the then prime minister of India Mrs.Indira Gandhi had visited the place to be part of the rich colorful celebrations.
The festivities involve bathing of the statue of Lord Bahubali with milk, sugarcane juice, and saffron paste, and sprinkled with powders of sandalwood, turmeric and vermilion. Offerings are made by devotees of petals, gold & silver coins and precious stones. It is indeed a very colorful festival and happens once every twelve years. The next one is due in the year 2018.
Lord Bahubali is the first tirthankara (holy man who is believed to have attained immortality through enlightenment) of Jainism and is revered among Jains. He is said to have meditated motionless in a standing posture for a year and that during this time, climbing plants grew around his legs. After his year of meditation, Bahubali attained omniscience. According to Jain texts, Bahubali's soul was liberated from the cycle of births and deaths. He is revered as a liberated soul.
Bahubali statue was built by the Ganga dynasty minister and commander Chavundaraya around year 981 AD. It is a 58-foot monolith statue situated on the top of the hill. It is believed to be one of the tallest monolithic free-standing statues in the world. In fact, in 2007, the statue was voted by the readers of one of the India’s leading newspaper Times of India as the first of the Seven Wonders of India. Overall, 49% participants voted in favor of the statue.
Shravanbelagola is located near the city of Hassan in Karnataka and has a rich historical as well as religious past and is a major pilgrimage destination for the followers of Jain religion. The small town of Shravanbelagola has many temples apart from the statute of Lord Bahubali which date back to the period between 6th to 10th century. The city of Hassan is about 50 kilometers away and has a connection with contemporary history by having the distinction of returning a Prime Minister of India from its parliamentary constituency.
This place was always on my bucket list and more so after I moved to Bangalore. It was all about making a plan and hitting the road. Finally, there was a plan in place and on one Saturday morning we started around 6.30 am from Bangalore and reached Shravanbelagola by 9.30 am. Even though it was a Saturday, we unexpectedly encountered city traffic which consumed some time before we could hit the Tumkur Road otherwise we could have reached earlier. It is located on the Bangalore-Mangalore highway and is about 150 km from Bangalore. The place has two hills i.e. Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri.
Bahubali statute is located on top of the Vindhyagiri hill and one has to climb up about 620 steps to reach the sanctum. The steps are carved on stone and all are not of same height and have also gone through some wear and tear process over the period. Therefore, one has to be cautious and careful while climbing. Shoes or slippers are not allowed. One can either go barefoot or wear socks. Due to this, it is advisable to start the climb as early as possible to beat the heat of sun which may make climb somewhat tough as hill-stone gets hot and may be unbearable in the afternoon.
We started the climb by 9.45 and were in the temple in about 20-25 minutes as the morning breeze was still on and the day was not as hot as it was predicted to be. In fact as we were climbing up, the breeze was becoming more pleasant. The most moving part was seeing the young children climbing up energetically.
Once inside the temple complex, one can’t remain untouched with the hugeness of the statute which generates a feeling of being calm and somber. Though it was not one of such days when the place sees huge rush of devotees but we could see many devotes sitting in the sanctum and reading the holy scriptures. There after spending about an hour inside the temple complex, we started climbing down and then started ahead with onward journey to Belur and Halebeedu about which I will capture in my later articles.
Few travel tips:
1. Plan to start early so that you can do the climb as early as possible to avoid afternoon sun.
2. You can do the trip in the same day from Bangalore. In fact, you can be back in Bangalore around afternoon.
3. You can also plan to spend more time within the town as there are many old temples.
4. If you are a bit adventurous, you can plan Shravanbelagola, Belur and Halebeedu in the same day trip.
5. Last but not the least, carry extra pair of socks as well as umbrellas though these are available in most of the shops around the foothill at starting point of climb.