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Culture Stoned – A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu

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History and culture, or for that matter, cultural history as it is written in the text books, drab and boring, was never my forte. However, when it comes alive in front of my eyes, it’s different – it both excites and benumbs me.

We started off early on a Saturday morning, travelling first to Hassan, which is midway to the state capital, Bengaluru. 934 meters above sea level, this district Headquarters is accessed through a climbing winding road, called the Shiradi Ghat. It’s not the highway to hell it was before. In fact I must compliment the state government for the excellently refurbished roads – they made the drive pleasant and a little shorter than before – we could bypass the numerous gas tankers rather easily and smoothly.

Hungry bunnies we were, after starting out early morning and picnicking through a breakfast along the way just after Nellyadi, gas stove et al. After checking in at a rather new hotel, Hotel Raama, we feasted on an excellent lunch at their vegetarian restaurant, aptly named ‘Swad’. Stomach full, a siesta was a must, before we set out to see the wonder that is Sharavanabelagola, around 60 kms away towards Bengaluru.

My last visit to this small town was when I was a school kid, and as we neared the town, memories disturbed my driving! Sharavanabelagola means ‘the monk on the top of the hill’ and hermits, mystics and ascetics resided here since at least the 3rd century BC. Today it was my turn to visit, not reside, though the cool breeze at the top was rather inviting of residence.

Today it is bare rock, and access to the base of the rock is rather easy. However in the 11th century, the hill was thickly wooded and hermits could feed themselves from the vegetation of the forest. Near the middle of the 10th century AD, temples began to be constructed upon the hill and from that time the place has become one of the most important pilgrimage sites of the Jain religion.

Alighting at the base, I looked up to see the massive 58 foot, 8 inch statue of Sri Gomatheswar, also known as Bahubali, carved between 978-993 AD, out of the granite bedrock of the mountain smiling serenely in a world troubled by greed, revenge and destruction. Bahubali was the son of the legendary first Tirthankara, Adinatha (tirthankaras are the mythical, enlightened sages of Jainism).

The large hill I learnt is also called Vindhyagiri or Per-kalbappu, and is 3347 feet above sea level. Having caught a glimpse of this serene sage from the bottom of the hill, I was drawn to climb the 614 steps to his abode, and at the top, besides the cool breeze, I experienced peace, and the cool clime under the rock roof before descending into the rough and tumble of the world we live in.

Interestingly, I found that there were many who due to infirmity could not undertake the strenuous climb, but made it to the top on a poor man’s palanquin (basically a cane chair) hefted by four men at an approximate cost of Rs: 1000 per trip after the haggling was done. One of them told me that they made 4 trips a day. Hard and uncertain work, but a noble cause all around. What amazed me was the perfect coordination among them coming down – they literally ran down the steps – the palanquin firm on their shoulders, and they were not young men!

Rest beckoned and we returned to the hotel late in the evening tired, dusty and hungry. A grand meal and a good sleep were all we needed for rejuvenation and the next morning we were ready to re-explore our childhood excursions again.

An early breakfast and check out for the return trip and we were off to Halebeedu, the 12th-13th century capital of the Hoysala Empire. The temple complex sculpted from soapstone comprises two Hindu temples, the Hoysaleswara and Kedareswara temples and two Jain basadis. Two Monolith Nandi’s grace the sides of the temple complex. Sadly, the sculptures have been vandalized.

I was fascinated by the intricate stone carvings both within and without the temple complex, something that cannot be envisaged in this day of straight in the air, glass and concrete encased architecture. The walls of the temple are covered with an endless variety of depictions from Hindu mythology, animals, birds and shilabalikas or dancing figures. No two sculptures of the temple are the same. I noticed a strange logic in the rows of carvings that adorned the outer walls of the temple complex. The powerful but heavy elephant was at the bottom while the lighter birds flew on at the top, with man in the middle – just as it is on earth.

After spending a good two hours there, we moved on to Belur, around 40 kms from Hassan, the home of the Chennakesava Temple, built on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur, by the Hoysala Empire King Vishnuvardhana. Here the sculpted temples were even more marvelous, and the fine detail in their sculptures was a sight to behold.

As we moved around the temple courtyard, we came across a couple of indeterminate nationality. I believe they were Thai. The gentleman dressed only in black shorts, was performing the most intricate surya namaskara and other yogasanas flawlessly, with the carved temple wall in the background, and his partner filming his moves. Quite possible that history was repeating itself, I thought.

On our return trip, we stopped at the Manjarabad fort at Saskleshpur, Tipu constructed with French help in 1785. Manjarabad Fort takes up the entire top of its supporting mountain, making it virtually unassailable other than through its main gate. It’s a short climb and another 280 steps to the entrance of the fort, which is an eight pointed star, designed more as a watchtower, given its strategic location than a fortified city.

Visions of gore and bloodshed came alive before my eyes given Tipu’s battle record, though historically there is no record of the fort being involved in any conflict. There are reports of bodies being found below in one of the many tunnels that emerged from the fort, but nothing concrete, literally! Apparently, the fort is less famous for the battles it was involved in than for the scenes of the 2006 Kannada movie Mungaru Male which were shot there. The fort’s name reportedly came from the fact that its mountaintop was frequently shrouded by mist, which is known as manju in Kannada. Once at the top, we were shrouded in heat rather than mist, given that it was mid noon. 

From then on it was literally all downhill till we reached home sweet home, after an eventful, excerciseful, and educative two days in the sun!

Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu
Culture Stoned - A visit to Sharavanabelagola, Belur and Halebeedu

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