A Medley of History, Rituals and Spirituality

JU News Desk
Published: July 2018

Mahamastakabhisheka held once in every 12 years in Karnataka, reverberates with the heritage spanning across centuries

Thousands of devotees anointing the 58 feet tall monolithic statue of Lord Mahabali Gomateshwara and chanting of hymns filling the air with their sacred timbre is a sight witnessed once in every 12 years at Shravanbelagola in the Hassan district of Karnataka.

Lord Gommateshwara Bahubali was the son of Adinath, the first of 24 Jain Tirthankaras. A spectacle like no other, the Mahamastakabhisheka (head anointing ceremony) draws the young and old, rich and poor alike to seek the blessings of Lord Mahabali during the festival. The year 2018 witnessed the 88th year of this ancient ritual with crowds flocking from far and wide during the month of February. Turmeric, milk, powdered rice, ashtagandha, gold and silver and precious stones flew freely from atop bathing the colossal statue in fragrant finesse.

The nine-day long ceremony takes months and months of preparations. Right from the construction of the scaffolding to preparing the town for an estimated 25000 people, it includes meticulous planning and execution. Kalashas set to be used for the ceremony carried by priests from the Digambara Jain mutt to the Vindhyagiri marked the beginning of the ceremony. The days that followed were full of rituals and traditions.

If you are fortunate enough to be one among the milling crowd, it is easy to be swept in the moment, living one of the most profound experiences ever. Even after more than eight decades, this ancient ritual has a pull that transforms Shravanbelagola, a name that derives its meaning from two words, Shravana (Jain ascetic) and Belagola (white pond), a reference to the pond situated in the centre of the town. A destination that gives you a chance to revel in nature’s immaculate beauties, immerse in spirituality and experience the historicity of a heritage spanning centuries can be safely called irresistible. Shravanbelagola registers a positive on all three points. It is also one of the most revered centres of Jain pilgrimage.

While the Mahamastakabhisheka ritual is an experience etched in the memory for a lifetime, Shravanbelagola has plenty to offer during the other times of the year too. The colossal statue of Lord Bahubali that stands tall atop the Vindhyagiri hill is a relic from more than two thousand years ago, built by Chavundaraya, a minister of the Ganga King, Rachamalla in 981 A.D. A long winding staircase built from stone takes you to the statue.

If climbing up more than 500 steps is a difficult task, the spectacle awaiting is worth the arduous journey. To behold the architectural wonder of the north-facing Bahubali Gomateshwara statue is awe inspiring in itself. It denotes the Kayotsarga meditative pose, free of all adornments. The base of the statue has inscriptions in Prakrit.

View from atop the hill of the plains below is breathtaking. The Bhandari Basti near the main statue contains statues of the first 24 Jain Tirthankaras. Once you descend the Vindhyagiri, it is better to take a break and then continue instead of skipping Chandragiri, another statue. Though the major attraction is the gigantic statue, the other, smaller hill has its own charm and spiritual havens.

As per the folklores, Chandragupta Maurya and his guru, Archarya Bhadrabahu visited these hills and meditated here to attain salvation. It houses 14 temples which showcase the architectural splendor of the past. Many have come to these hills, some seeking spiritual solace, others to immerse in nature’s tranquil surrounds. The people who built these wonders and birthed these rituals have faded in the annals of history, but their legacies have remained, telling us the stories, which otherwise, might have been lost forever.