Shravanabelagola is one of the most important pilgrim centres of the Jains in South India. It is a place of great importance in view of its religious heritage and is of great archaeological significance too. The place derives its name from the point that Shravana or Shramana means a Jain ascetic and Belagola or Biliya Kola means white pond.
The Sanskrit equivalents Svetasarovara, Dhavalasarovara and Dhavalasarasa used in the inscriptions support this meaning. The place is also designated as Devara Be?go?a “White Pond of God” and Gomma?apuram “city of Gomma?a” in some epigraphs.
More than 800 inscriptions have been found at Shravanabelagola, dating back to various times from 600 AD to 1830 AD. A large number of these are found in the Chandragiri and the rest can be seen in the Vindhyagiri Hill and the town. Most of the inscriptions at the Chandragiri date back to the 10th century. These inscriptions include texts in Kannada. The second volume of Epigraphia Carnatica, written by B. Lewis Rice, is dedicated to the inscriptions found here. The inscriptions are written in Purvahalagannada (Ancient Kannada) and Halegannada (Old Kannada) characters. Some of these inscriptions mention the rise and growth in power of the Western Ganga Dynasty, the Rashtrakutas, the Hoysala Empire, the Vijayanagara Empire and the Wodeyar dynasty. These inscriptions have helped modern scholars to understand the nature and development of the Kannada language and its literature.
According to Jain theology, there are periods of happiness and peace called “Utsarpini”, during which truth and Dharma’ reign. Alternately, during ‘Avasarpini’, truth declines and ‘adharma’ reigns. During the period of deterioration and decline the “Thirthankaras” (the realized souls) incarnate in this world and guide people to truth and the right path.
There are 24 Thirthankaras. The first Tirthankara is Purudeva also called Vrishabhadeva or Adinatha. Vrishabhadeva had two wives.
Following are the prominent Basadis in the town:
The elder queen was called Yashaswathi. She gave birth to Bharatha and other sons and a daughter called Brahma. The younger queen was Sunanda who gave birth to a son called Bahubali and a daughter Sunadri.
Purudeva renounced the world and announced his elder son Bharatha as King. Bahubali was anointed as the Yuvaraj (heir apparent). They squabbled between themselves for the kingdom. When Bharata returned to the kingdom after successfully conquering many other kings, Bahubali refused to hand over the throne back to him. In order to avoid bloodshed, the two brothers decided to fight among themselves. In the ensuing fight, Bahubali defeated his brother. However, he soon was overcome by grief and shame of seeing his defeated brother. His mind
transforms and he renounced the world. Bahubali observes penance and attained Kevalagnana.
Thousands of years later, a local chieftain Chavundaraya was reigning the land. In identical dreams to Chavundaraya and his mother Kalala Devi, the Kushmandini Yakshi ordered Chavundaraya to erect a statue in honour of Bahubali. The next morning, as directed in the dream, Chavundaraya shot his golden arrow during the first daylight from the top of Chandragiri hill to the top of the Vindhyagiri hill on the opposite side. Prophecy came true as the image of Bahubali appeared. Chavundaraya resolved to have an idol of the same description built at the same spot on Vindhyagiri hill. The sculpture was carved out of a single block of granite by the most skilful sculptors of the land under the guidance of Arishtanemi.
Shravanabelagola has two hills, Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri. Acharya Bhadrabahu and his pupil Chandragupta Maurya are believed to have meditated on the Chandragiri hill. Chandragupta Basadi, dedicated to Chandragupta Maurya, was originally built by Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE. Chandragiri also has memorials/Basadis dedicated to numerous monks and Jain ascetics who have meditated here since the 5th century CE. Chandragiri also
has a famous temple built by Chavundaraya.
The 58-feet tall monolithic statue of Gommateshwara is located on Vindyagiri Hill. It is considered to be the world’s largest monolithic statue. The base of the statue has
inscriptions in Prakrit dating from 981 CE. The inscription praises the King who funded the effort and his general, Chavundaraya, who erected the statue for his mother. Every twelve years, thousands of devotees congregate here to perform the Mahamastakabhisheka.
The temple town of Shravanabelagola has a population of about 5000. The Jain matha is located in the town. The matha is headed by His Holiness Swasti Sri Charukeerthi Bhattrakha Swamiji. The town is also famous for the large Kalyani(stepped well) and 7 other prominent Jain Basadis. The local populace is famous for their accommodating nature during the world famous Mahamastakabhisheka. Several residents are known to allow visitors to occupy their houses while they themselves move out and stay at their relatives’ places in nearby villages during the entire period of the mega event. Even though the practice has declined in recent years, most residents rent out their premises at nominal costs for the devotees. n