Monday, May 21, 2012

Revisiting the heritage of Hoysala Architecture - Shravanabelagola

The weekend of mine was dedicated for 'heritage tourism'. A term that had very less significance to me when I thought about it for the first time. But a visit to some heritage places in Karnataka depicting the Hoysala Architecture changed my perception completely. In this post, I talk about one such visit to Shravanabelagola to experience the statue which was voted by Indians as the first of Seven Wonders of India On August 5, 2007.

I started my trip from Bangalore at about 6:30 in the morning. There was minimal expectations and I was looking forward to get a break from the usual lifestyle. I preferred a bus ride for two reasons : (1) I wasn't going with a group of friends (2) I did not know the route. There was excitement for visiting a place for the first time! I still remember when I was a kid I woke up at 3:30 in the morning one day and got ready for I was told that we were going to Chennai for some function. That was my first train trip I could remember of!

I had the morning tea at some place named Singonahally. The breakfast served there was bad :( I reached Shravana Belgola at about 10 in the morning. The summer heat was catching up. The bus took us through a small street and I could see the magnificent hills and a stream of pilgrims trekking to her heights.Shravana Belgola is a Jain pilgrim location located at 13 km to the south-east of Channarayapatna of Hassan district of Karnataka. The town is wedged between two rocky hills- Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri. It is at a distance of 51 km south-east of Hassan, 78 km from Halebidu, 89 km from Belur, 83 km from Mysore and 157 km from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka. The name means "White Pond of the Shravana", an allusion to the pond in the middle of the town.

According to legend when Emperor Vrishabhadeva renounced his kingdom to lead a life of penance, a mortal conflict originated between his two sons over his empire which led to bitter battle. The hard fought battle was won by the elder son Bahubali (Who later became the second Tirthankar). At the moment of his victory Bahubali realized the flesh of revelation and the shallowness of the materialist world. He gave away the kingdom to his younger brother Bharata and moved for a life of an ascetic that continued for thousands of years. It is believed that he stood motionless in meditation for so long that anthills formed at his feet and vines grew around his body. 

The moment I stepped out of our bus, we were surrounded by street vendors selling socks, books about this temple. For a moment I thought about the rigorous training we go through for our graduation, post graduation, specialized marketing and business strategy degrees. Here we have a set of less privileged people who knew what to be sold to a bunch of tourist and no MBA degree gave them this idea! The temple is built on top of Vindhyagiri hill. The hill is one solid rock. It must be climbed barefoot. The statue stood approximately 470 feet above us and we had to climb almost 660 steps to reach there (618 to the base of the temple and rest to the statue)! It must be climbed barefoot. Socks were allowed! 

I left my shoes in the bus, saving the coins I had to pay at the shoe counter on the base of the hill. The sun was kind for the moment, the road was not as hot as expected. I followed the small crowd who came along to experience the breathe taking sight I was about to have! The street was buzzed with activity. There were small vendors selling books, table-tops, gift articles, souvenirs, bags and prasad.

I was not prepared for the sight of the steps which would lead us to the temple! The steps were cutout in the rock and it crawled like a snake to the top of the hill. The sight was scary and tiring! I was sure that a few of them who came with me would not complete their visit to the temple and would go back to the bus satisfied with the view of these steps. I wasn't wrong! Trekking was tiring. I took small breaks in between and gave life to a few photographs. Marasimha's Manasthambha was visible on the opposite hill. The scenic beauty of the place is amazing. There are two sets of steps at this main stairway: one set to go up, and one set to come down. The climb is very steep and the older people or the ones with cardiac/blood pressure related problems are advised against it. There is a palanquin service available to them on request and usually they charge 300 Indian rupee for one ride to the temple (up and down). 

The 57 ft. (17.5 mt.) tall magnificent monolithic statue of Gommateshwara Bhagawan Bahubali reside above the hill. It was consecrated by Chavungaraya, the Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief in the Talakad Ganga Kingdom in 981 A.D. The statue, considered to be the world's largest monolithic stone statue, was built in 12 years. It is estimated to weigh approximately 80 tons. The base of the statue has inscriptions in Kannada and Tamil, as well as the oldest evidence of written Marathi, dating back to 981 AD. These inscriptions are protected and covered with Glass (looked like glass to me) sheets. The statue is carved beautifully from a single block of rock with accurate sense proportion and expression. Gommata has curly really nice hair in ringlets on the head and long, large ears. His eyes are open as if viewing the world with detachment. His facial features are perfectly chiseled with a faint touch of a smile at the corner of his lips and embody calm vitality. His shoulders are broad, his arms stretch straight down and the figure has no support from the thigh upwards.

There is an anthill in the background which signifies his incessant penance. From this anthill emerge a snake and creepers which twine around both his legs and his arms culminating as a cluster of flowers and berries at the upper portion of the arms. The creepers encircling the arms and legs are artistic and beautiful. The nude north facing, stand upright stone sculpture of Bahubali (Lord Gommateshwara) in the posture of meditation known as Kayotsarga, symbolizing renunciation, self-control and subjugation of ego as the first steps towards salvation. The digambara (nude) form of Bahubali represents the complete victory over earthly desires and needs that hamper spiritual ascent towards divinity. The entire figure stands on an open lotus signifying the totality attained in installing this unique statue.

Beside this is the Odigal Basti. The Odegal Basti is so called because of the odegal or stone props used for strengthening against its basement walls. In the literary works the temple is known as the “Trikuta Basti” It’s the only Trikutachala (triple shrine) at Shravanabelagola. This Basti or temple is also known as Trikuta Basti because it has three cells facing different directions. It has a fine granite structure of the Hoysala period with a plain exterior. It consists of three cells and three open sukhanasi with a common navaranga and a mukha mantapa.

The navaranga pillars are cylindrical in shape and the central ceiling has a lotus pendant. The main cell contains a fine figure of Adinatha with a well carved prabhavali, flanked by male chamara bearers; the left cell has a figure of Neminatha and the right a figure of Shantinatha. Adinatha or Vrishabhanatha was the first among the twenty four Jinas. He is also known as Purudeva. He was the father of Gommata.

This place is a photographer's haven. The best time to go is early morning since I couldn't capture many shots because of the high exposure due to the harsh sun light. Blame it partly on lack of my skills :)

The climb down was bad! The rocky stairs were very hot. It was nearing to noon when I climbed down and it was really hard to keep the bare foot on the hot rock. I had to take breaks in between and I also washed my feet with cold water - wrong idea! Please do not wash your feet with water in between since it is going to make your feet more sensitive to heat. I learned it the tougher way. I reached the bus at about 12. I could not visit Chandragiri hills :( That visit would have to wait. In the bus, I had a quick look through the photographs and was happy to have visited this place. It was time to continue the journey. The cool air in the bus was much relaxing as I closed my eyes on my way to the next stop - The Chennakeshava Temple, Belur. More about that coming up :)

For more photographs I took, please visit this link: Shravanagolabela

Disclaimer: Data used here has been taken from couple of books sold there and from word-of-mouth knowledge. I do not take any responsibility or claim on facts presented. In case of a dispute, kindly mail me and the data shall be removed/corrected.