“A serene sight of an unruffled landscape, perfectly pitched rocky hills and a beautiful pond reflecting the skies”, is how the town of ‘Shravanabelagola’ portrays; a place whose name holds in it the expression ‘a white-pond’, as interpreted in Kannada “Bel” means white and “kola” meaning a pond. Located in Hassan district, at a distance of 142 odd km from Bangalore, Shravanabelagola is an interesting destination for a weekend trip or for a day, as it corresponds to being an important Jain pilgrim center, a zenith of architectural and sculptural activity of Gangas of Talakad and a classic genealogy of the dynasties that ruled this land.
Shravanabelagola is a town that is built around a pond, which is embedded in between two glorious rocky hills, one of which is the ‘Vindhyagiri’ or ‘Doddabetta’ or ‘Indragiri’.
Standing at the interior of the town, the Vindhyagiri houses the 57-foot tall monolith statue of the Gomateshwara Bahubali, erected by a general of K i n g Gangaraya called Cham u n - d a r a y a .
Though there is a certain degree of damage, like its t o e has been chiseling out as a result of the coconuts that are broken at its feet by the devotees and the right hand forefinger missing, it stands tall atop this hill even today. The statue has at its base inscriptions in Kannada and Tamil, as well as the oldest evidence of written Marathi and is considered to be the world’s largest monolithic stone statue.
Opposite to Doddabetta, some distance away is ‘Chandragiri’ or ‘Chikkabetta’; 510 rock cut steps up this hill is the ‘Chandragupta Basadi’, built by Emperor Ashoka in the third century BC, in honour of King Chandragupta Maurya who renounced his throne to take up discipleship and meditated there. You can also see the 1000 years old ‘Chavundaraya Basadi’, built by Chamundaraya, and other memorials to numerous monks and ‘shravakas’, who have meditated there since the fifth century AD including the last King of the Rashtrakuta dynasty.
There are numerous other inscriptions that include texts in the Kannada; various Halagannada (Old Kannada) and Purvahalagannada (Pre-Old Kannada) characters, Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi, Marwari and Mahajani languages.
Some of these inscriptions mention the rise and growth in power of Gangas, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar Empire and Mysore Wodeyars. And the world renowned ‘Mahamastakabhisheka’ that takes place every twelve years, where worshippers in thousands flock the place to perform an extravagant ceremony covering the statute with milk, curds, and ghee, saffron and gold coins.
The next destination is a tiny village called ‘Hosaholalu’ of Mandya district, which lies at about 23 km from Shravanabelagola. It’s a village that houses a ruin temple of the once glorious Hoysalas. As you maneuver through this village’s crooked streets, caught in your sight; as it takes a seat at the centre surrounded by large and small village house is the ‘Lakshminarayana Temple’, built by King Vira Someshwara of the Hoysala Empire. In true Hoysala style this Vaishnava temple reflects distinct Hoysala architecture such as the material used for construction is chloritic schist or Soapstone, the ‘trikuta vimana’ or three shrines, the presence of a jagati or a platform that elevates the whole temple by about a meter. Further there are 24 sculptures of Vishnu standing upright holding in his four arms the four attributes, a conch, a wheel, a lotus and a mace in all possible versions. Other detailed miniature sculptures on the wall include depictions of birds, aquatic monsters, Hindu epics and mythology, leafy scrolls and processions of horses and elephants at the base. Though the temple complex is small, it is an interesting piece of work. You get here great detailed art work that together make a beautiful narration transcending the barrier of language.
To reach Hosaholalu, head first to Krishnarajapet (K.R.Pet), which is less than half an hour journey by bus. You can cover 21 odd km of secluded countryside with small villages lying here and there.
After which, spend 5 to 10 minutes in a rickshaw to cover the remaining 2 km.