Shravanabelagola, the jain geant of Karnataka

The colossal Gomateshwara stands tall on its hilltop, like a lighthouse protecting the town of Shravanabelagola and benevolently guiding the traveller. This Jain holy place of rocks and palm trees breathes tranquillity.

Shravanabelagola (“Shravana’s white pond”) lies 150km from Bangalore, the state capital of Karnataka. It boasts two sacred hills, Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri. Tucked between them is a kund (bathing tank) called the bili-gola (“white pond”), from which the town takes its name.

The “biligola” (white pond) which gave its name to the city

The town has been a Jain holy place for over two thousand years. Bhagavan Bhadrabahu, the first great Jain master or Acharya, came from Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh) and settled in Shravanabelagola with his disciples. Chandragupta Maurya, the great emperor who ruled over a large part of India at the time, was so impressed by the monk that he passed his kingdom to his son and retired to the Shravanabelagola area.

Bhagavan Bhadrabahu teaching King Chandragupta | photo :

Vindhyagiri hill

A 18m granite colossus stands in meditative pose on Vindhyagiri hill, 134m above sea level. It was built in 981 CE, on the orders of a general called Chavundaraya, and is considered one of the largest monolithic statues in the world.

Gomateshwara, the giant of Karnataka, one of the largest monolithic statues in the world

Gomateshwara, also known as Bahubali, was the son of Adinatha, the first Jain saint or Tirthankar.

When his brother Bharata challenged him for the succession to the throne, the two brothers fought it out. Bahubali won but, suddenly struck by the futility of fighting for power, he renounced his throne and all worldly pleasures. He entered a deep meditation for a full year and attained kevali arihantha, the state of beatitude.

The 600 steps that lead us to the top of Vindhyagiri hill
Odegal temple

To reach Gomateshwara shrine you climb 647 steps. On the way you will pass the Odegal temple, so named because of the buttresses, called odegal, around the base.

The temple is also called the Trikuta Basti and consists of three chambers, each with a Tirthankar carved in schist.

The main shrine contains a beautiful figure of Adinath flanked by two chamara holders. Adinath is the first of the twenty-four Jain saints.

Adinath, the main statue of the temple of Odegal
The temple housing the statue of Gomateshwara, which can be seen from a distance of 30 km

Every twelfth year thousands of faithful gather at Gomateshwara temple to perform the Mahamastakabhishekam, a spectacular ceremony in which the statue is anointed with various substances such as coconut juice, sugarcane juice, milk, ghee, saffron, sandalwood paste, turmeric, gold coins and precious stones. The next Mahamastakabhishekam will take place in 2024

Mahamastakabhishekam | Photo : bahadur subash

Chikkabetta – Chandragiri hill

Opposite Vindhyagiri Hill stands the equally rocky 61m Chikka Betta or Chandragiri Hill, with a group of religious structures on its summit. Some of them are remarkable:

The Brahmadeva Stambha, a huge decorative pillar carved on the four sides of its base: Kushmandini on the north, Padmavathi on the south, Yaksha on the east and a galloping horseman (emblem of Brahmadeva) on the west.

The Brahmadeva Stambha carved pillar

It was erected by a Jain merchant during the reign of Mysore King Chikka Deva Raja Wodeyar (1672-1704 AD).

Brahmadeva is originally a Hindu god who was, over time, adopted by the Jain faith. He is a popular guardian deity mainly represented in Karnataka.

The pillar seen from the temple of Chandragiri with the horseman representing Brahmadeva

Kattale or Padmavathi temple, which houses an idol of Yakshi Padmavathi and a huge schist statue of Adinatha.

The temple of Kattale with its huge schist statue of Adinath

Chandragupta temple, which boasts a wall full of carvings recounting the life of Chandragupta, a king of the Maurya dynasty.

The carved wall retracing the life of Chandragupta

Bhadrabahu cave which is believed to be the tomb of the Jain master of the same name. We find there the feet of the sage carved in the rock.

The feet of Bhadrabahu

Bharata, an amazing statue of Bahubali’s brother, buried up to the knee. This 1.5m high figure, carved from a variety of soapstone, was never completed.

Statue of Bharata, Bahubali’s brother, which was never completed

Also worth seeing in Shravanabelagola

Mathada Basti

The brass entrance of Mathada Basti

A ‘matha’ is a Jain ashram. This matha is thought to have been renovated in the 18th century. Chavundraya is said to have founded it and settled his master, Namichandra Siddhantadeva, here.

The courtyard overlooking the three sanctuaries

The open space in the middle has been covered in with a glass roof. There are three garbhagrihas (inner sanctums) and numerous wall colourful paintings depicting audiences with the king Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, the Tirthankars, etc.

The splendid colorful frescoes of the mathada

Bhandara Basadi

Bhandara Basadi

Beside the Mathada Basti stands a temple built in 1159 by Bhandari Hullayya, treasurer to the Hoysala king Narasimha. The rectangular building is called the temple of the 24 Tirthankars. Its garbhagriha is surrounded by 12 pillars. One of the walls is decorated with the 24 Tirthankars and the entrance door boasts some finely carved dancing figures.

The 24 tirthankaras (Jain saints) on one of the Bhandara Basadi walls

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