EARLY HISTORY OF SRAVANA – BELAGOLA
1. SOURCES OF HISTORY
As Jainism was a very powerful influence that moulded the religious and cultural life of entire South India during the early and medieval epochs of its history. It had a number of important centres, scattered over different areas of South India. These centres were virtually strongholds of the varied activities of the Jains for several centuries. Among such significant centres in South India the sacred place of Sravana-Belagola enjoyed a prominent position. This sacred complex of Sravana-Belagola not only wielded consideradle influence on the cultural life of the Jainas and others in the region but also effectively served as a direct connecting link between the Jainas of South India and the Jainas of North India from very early times. That is why Sravana-Belagola has been really fortunate in having its continuous history right from the ancient times to the present day. In tracing this uninterrupted in an unusually large measure and in a very safe condition the following three major sources of history :
2. Local traditions and literature, and
3. Antiquities such as the remains of sculptures, paintings, and old structures
like caves, temples, pillars, Mathas, tanks, etc.,
These three categories of sources are mutually corroborative and they constitute important links in the historical account of the place and the region.
As regards the source of inscriptions Sravana-Belagola has got a very distinctive position in understanding the history of the Jainas in South India. It is true that there are other important places in Karnataka like Aihole in the Bijapur District, Malakhed in the Gulbarga District and especially Koppal in the Raichur District, which are famous for their very informative and authentic Jaina inscriptions. But these inscriptions are limited in number and through ancient, pertain to a retricted period upto the medieval age. On the other hand the inscriptions of Sravana-Balagola are not only much mumerous but they cover a much longer period stretching from the ancient times upto the last quarter of the nineteeth century, Moreover, the inscriptions of Sravana-Belagola acquired great importance as centre of cultural activities and as a place of pilgrimage with the installation of the colossl image of Gommatesvara in 981 A. D.
It is estimated that there are more than five hundred insciptions in and around the village Sravana-Belagola. These numerous ancient inscriptions engraved on rocks of the Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri Hills, on the pillars, walls, slabs and pedestals of the temple and on metal plates and images in Sravana-Belagola were unfortunately not completely known to the public as no adequate efforts were made to read and understand them. This pathetic postion of the Jaina inscriptions at Sravana-Belagola was described in a note dated 19th July 1873 by Mr. B.Lewis Rice. The great archaeologist and oriental scholar, in the following words: ï¿½At the Jaina village of Sravana-Belagola on a smaller hill named Chandra-Bitta, facing the loftier Indra-Bitta on which stands the colossal image of Gommatesvara, are a number of inscriptions cut in the rock both on the summit and around the sides. The characters in which they are engraved are of a curious elongated form, measuring a foot or more in length, strikingly distinct in the rays of the sun, but scarcely distinguishable when in shade. The inscriptions consist mostly of three or four lines apiece, and are scored about in all direction, without any appearance of order. The learned men attendant on the Jaina pontiff of the neighbouring ï¿½Mathaï¿½ can neither read the characters, nor give any account of the inscriptions.ï¿½ (vide ï¿½Indian Antiquaryï¿½, September 1873, pages 265-266).
With a view to change this lamentable position of the valuable inscriptions strenuous and devoted efforts were made by Mr. B. Lewis Rice, C.I.E., M.R.A.S in his capacity as the Director of Archaeological Researches in Mysore State. As a result, Mr.B.Lewis Rice deciphered and published 144 inscriptions for the first time in the year 1889 in the book entitled, ï¿½Inscriptions at Sravana-Belagolaï¿½,. This pioneering work of Mr. B.Lewis Rice in the field of bringing to light the inscriptions at Sravana-Belagola was further continued in the most sucessful and able manner by Praktana-Vimarsha-Vichakshana, Rao Bahadur R. Narasimihachar M.A, M.R.A.S., the Director of Archaeological Researches in Mysore State. Eventually Shri Narasimhachar succeeded in deciphering, translating and editing as many as 500 inscriptions ranging from 600 A. D. to 1889 A.D. and in publishing them in 1923 A.D. in the volumnious work entitled ï¿½Epigraphia Carnaticaï¿½, Vol.II, Inscriptions at Sravana-Belagolaï¿½. Obviously this monumental work of Shri Narasimhachar has proved a great boon in under standing the history of Sravana-Belagola as it sufficiently revealed for the first time the rich and hidden heritage of Sravana-Belagola. But this detailed historical information of great cultural value contained in the scholarly treatise of Shri Narasimhachar could not reach the general public as the book was written in English and the texts of the inscriptions were given in the Roman script. With a view to obviate these difficulties Dr. Hira Lal jain, M.A., LL.B., Ph.D., the great oriental Scholar and Jainologist, translated the treatise in Hindi and gave the texts of the inscriptions in the Devanagari script in his book entitled ï¿½Jaina-silalekha-Sangrahahï¿½ published in 1928 A.D. Really the entire credit of unearthing the history of Sravana-Belagola must go to these devoted archacolotgical researchers and oriental scholars.
This treasure of 500 inscriptions was scattered at different places in the sacred complex of Sravana-Belagola as follows:
Location of Inscriptions
|No. of inscriptions|
|1.||On the Chandragiri Hill||244|
|2.||In Sravana-Belagola Village||161|
|3.||Near Sravana-Belagola Village||65|
|4.||Near Sravana-Belagola Village||30|