A date with a 17.5m tall naked man

Trip Start Mar 03, 2008
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Trip End Mar 31, 2008


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Where I stayed
Jain Association guesthouse
Hotel Survarna Regency, Hassan

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Friday, March 7, 2008

After a quick visit to the market for some fruit, I left the bustling town of Mysore and took a 3 hour government bus (that usually means a clapped out, rickety, dirty bus) to my next destination.  It was actually a nice journey, despite having my bag wedged under my feet.  Various vendors got on the bus to flog everything from cucumber sticks to nail clippers!  After a hot, sticky ride through beautiful scenery of palms, rice paddies and dusty villages with chickens, goats, men sitting drinking chai and women carrying washing on their heads, we approached Shravanabelagola (try saying that when you've had a few pints!).  On the rocky hill ahead I could see the head of the statue I'd come to see, poking out from a temple enclosure.  Getting off the bus in this tiny village, the guidebook was not so helpful as I searched to find the Jain Association guesthouse complex.  Finally I found it and was offered a basic room with no wash basin, grubby sheets at 135rps (about 1.50) and this seemed to be the only option available.

Shravanabelagola is an important pilgrimage place for Jains (an offshoot of Hinduism) who are mostly based in North India.  Here in South India a 17.5 metre statue of Gommatheswara, sacred to Jains, was erected in AD980 which represents the saintly prince Bahubali.  I walked up the 614 rock steps cut out of a steep granite slope with fabulous views of the village tank.  Thank goodness I wore socks as it was hot, hot, hot.  At the top, I entered the tiny enclosure and was confronted with one of the tallest monolithic statues of this naked man.  His head and shoulders are disproportionate to the rest of his body and on the base there are inscriptions in ancient Kannada and Tamil.  With the evening sun casting its shadow on the statue, I tried to imagine the ceremony when millions of Jains around the world converge every 12 years here to pour milk, curds, saffron, ghee and gold coins over him from scaffolding erected especially for the festival.  The complex was very quiet with a few Jain worshipers and a Czech couple (the only non-Indian tourists I saw the whole time).

I had a lovely thali in the one eaterie in town and went back to my sparse room to read the Luxury of Time by Jane Tomlinson and her husband which is such a moving and humbling book about her original breast cancer diagnosis and how she tackled that and the secondary cancer 10 years later and of course her determination to rise to the challenges of running the marathon and doing the triathlon.  The streets were quiet, no rickshaws beeping in this village but plenty of howling dogs all night to disturb the peace.

The next day I was up at 6am for a solitary climb up to the top of the hill again, stopping to watch sunrise on the plains below and then I sat in the peaceful walled enclosure to marvel at the statue once more as the sun hit it from a different angle.  There were more visitors that morning including a Jain monk who was totally starkers as is traditional for Jain monks who are devoid of all wordly possessions and beyond feelings of modesty and shame.  Once down the bottom of the hill again, I indulged in a breakfast of a paper dosa (really huge table sized pancake type tube filled with spicy potato) and then I caught a bus to the nearby  Channarayapatna where I switched to another bus to Hassan.

Arriving in Hassan, I was seriously hot, sweaty and exhausted with all the bus travel.  Hassan is a very chaotic, noisy town with nothing of interest for the traveller, so I didn't bother to get my bearings and just got a rickshaw to a hotel recommended in my guide book.  They said they only had double rooms available, so when I threatened to take my business elsewhere, a single room miraculously became free!  Hotel Survarna Regency turned out to be a good deal with TV, good fan, 24 hour hot water and a shower that actually worked.  Not bad for 5.  I decided I was too knackered to take the three cheap buses to the nearby temples in Belur and Halebid (the reason I'd come to Hassan) an hour or so away, so I splashed out on a driver for 900 rps for the afternoon.

Well I've seen some temples in my time with the erotic Khajuraho temples being some of my favourite, but these Hoysalan temples were seriously phenomenal.  I got a guide at Belur who showed me round the Vishnu temple and I burnt my feet on the hot stones as I gazed in awe at the sculpturally exquisite and detailed carvings made of sandstone over every inch of the 12th century structure.  It was built to commemorate the victory of the Hoysalas over the Chola rulers and the images of all the Hindu gods, dancers and animals were a testament to the skill of the sculpters at the time.  Halebid was quieter and not as well preserved but still beautiful and set in nice grounds.
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Comments

Jai Jinendra on

his a god of jainism not a naked man kindly change it...u people acquire half of knowledge n hurt d beliefs n customs of ones religion which is not good...his Lord (Bhagwan) Bahubali...

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