Thursday, 30 April 2020

Shravanabelagola – The Saint on the Hill

The Great Konkan Run – Day 15: Shravanabelagola and Kasargod

This is the second year in a row you are in the Konkan in the rains. You have done the Maharashtra and Goa legs and you remember most of it. Maybe because you have been to some places twice and written brief posts about them that you can recall bits and pieces of the travels.

View of the pushkarni and Chandragiri from Vindhyagiri or Doddabetta which is 3347 feet high - Sharvanabelagola in Karnataka

Shrines dotting Doddabetta

In the last leg of the trip, you drive from Bangalore into Kerala. In just a few days you pack so much of Kerala that the trip has turned into a blur and you don’t seem to recall which places you actually visited and in which particular order! But then blame it on Kerala. Every city, town and village has so much beauty and history that it is difficult not to just lose yourself; and hence the need for the unravelling of the hours to give the trip a coherent pattern.

And there is no better way to recall than to write a few blogposts just when you think you are in that zone just having finished some huge twelve posts from the same year’s earlier road trip in Gujarat. So, you will start from Day 15 as you leave on a cool monsoon day in this beautiful state that you love for a state that you have never set foot upon yet. Also, instead of going to the more popular and touristy South Kerala, you will enter from the North, seeing places away from the usual trails and in monsoon you hope to have the places to yourself. You will come back to first fourteen days memoirs in the near future.    

You leave Bangalore early in the morning before the nice rat-racing IT geeks clog up the roads taking the suburban Highway 48 that rings the western part of the city. Monsoon clouds drift in the sky. It is going to be a nice day to drive through the countryside.

Love these signs in Karnataka and MP

So Many Choices So Little Time

The first view of the hill - Sharavanabelagola

British Library

Photograph from an album of 40 albumen prints by Edmund David Lyon. Shravanabelagola in the Hassan district of Karnataka is a site sacred to those of the Jain faith, especially venerated by the Digambara sect of Jainism. It comprises the Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri hills and at the summit of the former, larger hill is a colossal granite statue of the Jain saint Bahubali, dating from the 10th century. For over 1000 years it has ranked as the world's tallest monolithic free-standing sculpture with a height of 18ms. The serene statue is known locally as Gomateshvara. It was carved at the behest of Chamundaraya, a minister in the court of the Western Ganga king Rachamalla IV (ruled 974-99). Bahubali, the son of Rishabanatha, the first Jain saint, himself achieved sainthood through meditating for several years and the statue portrays him standing upright, with vines growing about his limbs. This view looks towards the Vindhyagiri hill and the Jain shrines on the summit. Lyon wrote in his 'Notes to Accompany a Series of Photographs Prepared to Illustrate the Ancient Architecture of Southern India' (Marion & Co., London, 1870), edited by James Fergusson, that this ' a view of the Rock taken from below, close to the camping-ground. The enclosure at the top is the temple, and above it, the head and shoulders of the statue are also seen. There is no path of any sort up the rock, and visitors must scramble as best they can to the door seen in the wall, by which the temple is entered'.

You have not seen this South-Western part of Karnataka so far including Mysore. It is time to tick off one place in the list - Shravanabelagola, the great Jain pilgrimage town with the colossal monolithic statue of Shri Bahubali. Turning south off the Bangalore-Mangalore Highway brings you to the banks of the Kalyani nestled between the hills of Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri. It was on Chandragiri that Chandragupta breathed his last in 298 CE living as an ascetic.

The 620 steps cut into the rock will take you to the top

Vindhyagiri to the South and Chandragiri to the North - Shravan Belagola

British Library

View of Chandragiri where Chandragupta Maurya (reign 321-298 BCE) spent his last years as a Jain bhikshu

Dogs are always companions at heritage sites

Today, you have only time to climb Vindhyagiri to go have darshan of Gommateshwara. Taking off your footwear you set off to climb the rock cut steps over the gentle rockface. It is not warm and your feet are comfortable. You still remember when you actually scorched your feet walking on the burning floor at the Simhachalam Temple in Vishakhapatnam. On turning back you can see the town with the Pushkarni – Belagola or White Pond spread out below. On the other side of the pushkarni is the other hill called Chandragiri where Chandragupta Maurya spent his last days as a bhikshu.

Love how Karnataka ASI takes care of their heritage. Here the inscriptions are covered with plexiglass


Doddbatetta in Sharavanbelagola

Today, as you climb, cool breeze builds up, the views get better and sun stays hidden behind the clouds. The bunch of these sprightly elderly ladies would climb few steps, take a break, then again climb a flight and take a break. And they are covering every point of interest on the hill methodically at a fast clip. They would disappear into a mandap, pray and make their way to the next shrine. So even as you are making your way to the top, the ladies are already descending, having done their job.


Once on the top, you walk through the gateways and shrines that remind you of Hampi and Vijaynagar and always puts in a happy mood. Granite pillars and walls, inscriptions on the rock, relief images on boulders, hero stones, largely undamaged deities in the basadis that dot the hill and the general vibe as you climb the last few flights that are steep with few left over boulders providing natural fencing and protection.

You have seen similar reliefs at Jain sites; can be seen on the way up to Gwalior Fort

A woman hunter who has just stepped on a thorn! Or the love story of Chenchita & Narsimha!
She reminds you of the Dancing Girl of Hampi - her skirt is the same but has a different hairstyle. What is she holding in her left hand?

The always adorable Darpan Sundari. She could also be Mohini who turns Bhasmasur to ashes - another mind boggling chapter in HIndu Mythology

Now this is something new and you see couple of such reliefs here - Monkeys apparently love jackfruits and will not let go of them or share them

There is a crocodile lying in wait on the steps
This overseas guy is apparently happy today
Is this Dandiya Raas? Yes it is played in all southern states and is called Kolata in Karnataka

Look at her hairbun!

Wonder what those holes are for?

Bal Krishna tied to the pillar by Yashoda!

Ram, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman

Now this is never seen before - women performing acrobats and tricks

Oh yes, bagful of money?

The best part of Vijaynagar architecture style is looking for these relief images which usually denoted everyday life and would be inspired from mythology and local tales. Some are animals – both terrestrial and aquatic; there are kolata dancing women, scenes of Nat women performing street acrobats, there are hunting scenes, guards who definitely look foreign and similar to the ones on the walls of Mahanavami Dibba of Hampi; the thrill is to find these images hiding in plain sight and then trying to figure out what they depict.

Every now and then you see the 58 feet tall monolithic statue of Gommateshwara peeping above the fort like granite walls. This part of Karnataka seems to be dotted with Bahubali statues. You had visited the lesser known site at Karkala in the neighbouring district of Udupi, again built on an atmospheric wooded hill.

The 58 feet Gommateshwara was installed in 981 CE during the Western Gangas Dynasty by their general Chavundaraya

Hoysala Influence too

And then you pass the narrow gateway to emerge into the courtyard and see the huge idol of Gommateshwar standing there like He would have for more than thousand years depicting Him meditating with vines climbing his legs. The experience is humbling and when you look at Buddha and the Jain Tirthankars you do wonder what they went through giving up everything, meditating for years and then attaining this salvation and becoming Gods. It is too far-fetched and unattainable for a critter like you. You say silent prayers and come down the hill.

The White Pond of the Shravana

The Pushkarni or the Kalyani provides lovely views for some photographs. The town is not a mess like most pilgrimage spots are. You load up on some water. Kerala is waiting.

Plantations on the way - Malabar is known for coffee and spices 

Black Pepper Plantation - Black Gold

Coffee Beans

This is the perfect route for a road trip. The route taken is CR Pattana, then swinging by Hassan, Sakleshwar and Subramanya. The road passes through coffee and spice plantations. This is first time you are seeing the coffee plants. You remember passing through tea plantations on your way to Kaziranga National Park and on the way to Dibrugarh from Sibsagar. Rains come down in sheets, swollen streams run past the road.   

The Misty Western Ghats that come alive in the monsoons

The voluptuous Payaswani river

The Jalsoor Cherkala road flitting through the two states

One of the prettiest roads in India - The Jalsoor-Cherkala road as it winds through the Western Ghats not able to make its mind to be in Kerala or Karnataka

One of the prettiest stretches of roads brings you to God’s Own Country for the first time. Driving from Subramanya in Karnataka to Kasargod, Kerala’s northernmost district is a delight. But do remember to turn right at Jalsoor. This is the Jalsoor-Cherkala SH 55. The NH 275 will continue North towards Mangalore. The road zig-zags through dense woods in pitch dark with rain pouring down and seemingly unable to make its mind whether to enter Kerala or stay in Karnataka. Apparently, the road keeps moving back and forth between Karnataka and Kerala. The ‘Welcome to Kerala’ and ‘Welcome to Karnataka’ signs will keep alternating every kilometre! 

Now you would really want to drive on this road in daylight when you could the drive could have been relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of Western Ghats. Speaking of sound, the evening sounds of birds and the jungle reach a crescendo amid the fresh glossy leaves of fifty shades of green. The curvy Payaswani river keeps company on the left all the way to Kasargod.

Kukke Subramanyam Temple dedicated to Kartikeya has a gilded shikhar that glints in the night. Would have loved to stop and have darshan but it is pitch dark, road goes through a jungle and it better that you keep going. You will drive for another 90 kms through the lovely stretch of asphalt.

It is late in the night when you reach Kasargod. You are tired but feeling relieved that you are finally in Kerala. Finding a roadside shack, you will have the first of the many Parotta meals in the coming days in Kerala.

The journey continues.

Day's Stats
  • Route Taken – Bangalore to Shravanabelagola; then turning south at Jalsoor and then Kasargod in Kerala
  • Distance covered today – 410 kms
  • Total Distance covered so far - 410 kms 


The Great Konkan Run

Day 15 - Shravanabelagola 

Day 16 - Kasaragod

Day 17 - Kannur

Day 18 - Kozhikode

Day 19 - Kochi

Day 20 - Part I - Spice Wonderland

Day 20 - Part II - Kodungallur

Day 21 - Thrissur

Other Similar Posts on this Blog

The Bahubali Gommateshwara of Karkala in Udupi

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