1. DISTINCTIVE FEATURES
Sravana-Belagola is the most important ï¿½tir thaï¿½ i.e., sacred place, of the Jainas in South India and at the same time it is a place of great cultural significance in South Indian History. This holy place with a continuous and glorious tradition of several centuries occupies a unique position among the innumerable sacred places of the Jainas found practically in all parts of India from very ancient times. It has got a rare combination of many distinctive features which are hardly present among similar places of religious nature in different parts of the world. Sravana-Belagola is famous in the world not only for its religious sanctity but also for its natural beauty, historical antiquity and architectural superiority.
From the point of view of religion, Sravana-Belagola is regarded as a significant sacred place and a prominent centre of spiritual activities of Jaina ï¿½Sadhusï¿½ i.e., ascetics in particular and of Jaina ï¿½Sravakasï¿½ i. e., lay followers in general. In fact the close association of the Jaina ascetics with this place is clearly enshrined in the very name of this place, viz., Sravana-Belagola. The prefix ï¿½Sravanaï¿½ attached to the name of the place is derived from the Sankrit world ï¿½Sramanaï¿½ meaning a Jaina ascetic. Hence the term Sravana-Belagola signifies Belagola of ï¿½Sramanasï¿½, i.e., Jaina asceties. This is testified by the fact that from very ancient times many Jaina asceties used to practice penance here for long periods and ultimately lay down their lives in accordance with the rule of Sallekhana, i. e., willing submission to inevitable death, precribed by Jaina scriptures. In view of this fact it is recorded in history that the great Jaina sage Bhadrabahu, the last in line of ï¿½Srutakevalinsï¿½, i. e., Masters of Knowledge, and the eighth Master in succession to Lord Mahavira, migrated at long with his ï¿½Sanghaï¿½, i. e., group of 12,000 Jaina ascetics, to Sravana-Belagola from Magadha, i. e., Bihar in North India, in 3rd century B.C. Bhadrabahu was followed by his diciple, Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, who spent the rest of his life as a Jaina ascetic practising penance at Sravana-Belagola. This prevalent atmosphere of serene religious sanctity surrounding Sravana-Belagola was greatly enhanced by the installation of the imposing statue of Bhagavana Bahubali on the top of the Vindhyagiri hill of Sravana-Belagola in the year 981 A.D. by Chamunda-Raya, the renowned Military General and Prime Minister of Ganga Monarch Raja-malla (IV). In the long history of religious practices connected with Jainism this event assumed considerable significance as it marked the beginning of the practice of erecting huge statues of Bhagawana Bhaubali and of constructing temples in his honour during the medieval period and this practice is continued even to the present day in different parts of the country. In this connection it is pertinent to note that the usual practice among the Jainas from the ancient times was to construct temples only in honour of one or more of the twenty-four ï¿½Tirthankarasï¿½, i. e., Supreme Preceptors, who preached religion in this age to the benefit of the entire humanity. A New addition was made to this practice by setting at Sravana-Belagola and image of Bhagawana Bahubali who was was not a Tirthankara. Naturally, it greatly increased the religious importance of Sravana-Belagola in the minds of the Jainas. Further, Sravana-Belagola has got a distinction in having a ï¿½Mathaï¿½, i. e., monastery, from the eraly medieval period. The Bhattarrkas, i. e., the religious heads of the Mathas, wielded great power and guided the social and religious life for the Jainas in Karnataka and adjacent areas. This institution of Bhattarakas is still in full swing at Sravana-Belagola. More over, Sravana-Belagola has got a number of old religious structures like temple, caves, pillars, etc., ï¿½Grantha-Bhandarasï¿½, i. e., treasures of religious scriptures and old manuscripts on different subjects and ï¿½Pathasalasï¿½, i. e., schools for religious instruction.
Sravana-Belagola is well-known for its scenic beauty as well as for its religious sanctity. The two hills, the tank in between, and the entire surroundings of Sravana-Belagola are so enchanting and pleasing that they invariable attract the attention of all kinds of persons. The travellers, both Indian and foreign, are highly impressed by the lively environment, green scenery and natural charm of the place. In view of this encouraging impact of nature throughout the year, the place was considered as ideal by the poets and authors for composing their creative works, by the philosophers for contemplation and by the saints for practising penance.
The sacred place of Sravana-Belagola was also famous from the point of view of the history of the region, in the sense that it was closely associated from ancient times with Emperors, Monarchs and their Generals and Prime Ministers and that it very well preserved the detailed and varied information of great historical value. In the ancient period Chandragupta Maurya, the first Emperor of India the founder of the Mauryan Dynasty, came to Sravana-Belagola after abdicating his throne and spent the last twelve years of his life at Sravana-Belagola as a Jaina ascetic. It is believed that his grand-son Ashoka, The Great, visited Sravana-Belagola to see personally the place where Chandragupta Maurya practised penance and died according to the Jaina rite of Sallekhana. In the medieval period Sravana-Belagola came to importance under the Ganga monarchas and later on flourished under the king of Rashtrakuta and Hoyasala Dynasties. These Rulers and especially their able Generals and Ministers like Chamunda-Raya, Ganga-Raja and Hulla-Raja greatly enhanced the importance of Sravana-Belagola by crecting images, constructing temples, making endowmentws of lands, granting patronage to poets and scholars, practising penance and preparing themselves to die by taking the vow of Sallekhana. In the modern period the Mysore kings took personal interest in preserving the prestige of Sravana-Belagola, performed the ï¿½Mahabhishekasï¿½, i. e., the Great Anointing Ceremonies and granted rich endownments for upkeep of and worship at Sravana-Belagola. In the post-Independence period the same generous support has been continued by the Government of Karnataka.
Apart from this close connection and continuous relationship with the rulers and administrators for centuries, Sravana-Belagola has rendered a district and valucable service to historical and cultural studies in the region by suppling in large number different sources of historical data. It is a matter of great pride that Sravana-Belagola has been the veritable treasure-house of all kinds of historical information pertaining to their achievements in different fields of activities. The temples, caves, pillars, statues, foot-prints, Matha buildings and other structures of Sravana-Belagola have provided a great amount of relible archaeological evidence which is hardly found at any other single place in South India. Similarly, Sravana-Belagola, though small in size, has supplied a great store of authentic and trustworthy information through its huge collection of epigraphic and literary evidence in the forms of inscriptions on rocks, stone statues, metal images, metal plates, etc, and in the form of rare manuscripts written on palm leaves or inscriptions on rocks, stone statues, metal images, metal plates, etc and in the form of rare manuscripts written on palm leaves or papers and carefully preserved in the Mathas and Granth-Bhandaras. This kind of varied and dependable only at Sravana-Belagola in South India. Obviously, Sravana-Belagola has become an important centre of studies in South Indian History.
Above all, Sravana-Belagola is famous all over the world for its colossal statue of Gommatesvara erected on the top of its Vindhyagiri hill. This tallest and most imposing image of 57 feet in height is considered as one of the wonders of the world. Both in its conception and execution of the work of sculptural art in stone on such a grand scale and at such a high altitude open to the sky, this dignified image of a Jaina Deity is without a parallel in the world. In fact, like the Taj mahal of Agra and the rock-cut Kailasa temple of Ellora, this colossal and at the same time very impressive and dignified image of Gommatesvara at Sravana-Belagola is the contribution of India to the civilization of the world.
In this way the sacred place of Sravana-Belagola has been a place of spirtual significance, of natural munificance, of historical importance and of sculptural magnificance.
1. PICTURESQUE LOCATION
This most distinctive and world-renowned sacred place of the Jainas lies in the South-eastern part of the state of Karnataka and is situated at 160 km by road from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka State. It is quite convenient to reach Sravana-Belagola from Bangalore and this journey by road is most pleasant and rewarding. After leaving Bangalore by the trunk road trunk road to the Western Coast through the Marjarabada Ghata and on approaching Chennarayapattana at a distance of about 145 km. From Bangalore, the eye of the traveller is arrested by a conspicuous hill, a few kilometers to the south, bearing on its summit what appears at first to be a column but which on drawing nearer proves to be a colossal statue of a human being. This striking and unusal object, which is visible for miles around, marks the site of one of the most interesting spots in the south of India and of one of the significant centres of culture whose traditions carry us back to the earliest authentic period of Indian history. This place is the famous Sravana-Belagola, the chief seal of the Jainas in Southern India and their very highly revered sacred place.
Geographically the Tirtha, Sravana-Belagola, is situated in 12051ï¿½ north latitude and 76029ï¿½ east longitude, about 15 kilometers to the south of Chennarayapattana in the Chennarayapattana Taluka of the Hassan District of the Karnataka State. This place can be comfortably reached throughout the year by the well maintained metalled roads from the important centres round about like Bangalore, Mysore, Hassan and Arsikere. Sravana-Belagola is at a distance of about :
(i) 160 km. From Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka State,
(ii) 100 km. From Mysore, the capital of former princely State of Mysore
(iii) 50 km. From Hassan, the District Headquarters and the important
Railway Station on the Arsikere Mysore section of the Meter
Gauge railway line of Southern Railways, and
(iv) 70 km. From Arsikere Railway Junction on the main Poona-
Bangalore Section (Broad Gauge between poona and Miraj
and Meter Gauge between Miraj and Bangalore) of the South
Central and Southern Railways.
All these four road routes to Sravana-Belagola go via Chennarayapattana, the Taluka Headquarters, which it situated at a distance of about 15 km. From Sravana-Belagola.
The term Sravana-Belagola refers to (I) the village of the same name, (ii) the hill named Vindhyagiri, (iii) the hill named Chandragiri, (iv) the tanks named Kalyani, and Jakki-Katte, and (v) Chennannaï¿½s pond.
(i) The village is an ancient, ordinary, poor and small place with a population of 3628 as per 1971 Census. Capt. J. S. F. Mackenzie describes this village as ï¿½a mean collection of houses whose inhabitants gain a precarious living by working in brass and copperï¿½ (vide ï¿½Indian Antiquaryï¿½, May 1873 ), The village lies picturesquely between two rocky hills, one larger than the other, which stand up boldly from the plain and are covered with huge boulders.
(ii) The larger hill known as Vindhyagiri is situared towards the South of the village and is at a height of 3,347 feet from the level of the sea and at a height of about 470 feet from the plain ground below. A flight of about six hundred steps cut in the granite rock leads up summit of the hill, upon which stands an open court surrounded by a bettlemented corridor containing cell, each enshrining the figure of a jina or some other deity, The corridor is again surrounded at some distance by a heavy wall, a good part of which is picturesquely formed by boulders in their natural position. In the centre of the court on the top of the hill stands the colossal image, about 57 feet high, named Gommatesvara. This huge image has been carved from the natural pointed peak of the solid rock of the hill. Apart from the statue of Gommatesvara there are seven other Bastis, i. e., Jaina temples on this Vindhyagiri hill.
(iii) The smaller hill known as Chandragiri is situated to wards the north of the village and is at a height of 3,052 feet from the level of the sea and at a height of about 295 feet from the plain ground below. A portion of this hill appears to have been known as ï¿½Tirthagiriï¿½ and Rishigiriï¿½ All the Ba tis, i. e., temples on this hill with the exception of a minor shrine stand in a walled area measuring in its greatest length about 500 feet by about 225 feet where it is widest. They are all built in the Dravidian style of architecture, the oldest of them going back probably to the eighth century. Altogether the number of temples in the walled area is thirteen and their plans are mostly similar to one another.