Shravanabelagola, an ancient town in Hassan district of Karnataka and overlooked by two rocky hills, Chandragiri and Indragiri, is used to the constant influx of tourists. Nothing can, however, prepare the small town for the onslaught that is expected from January 22 to February 19, 2006. The occasion-the Mahamastakabhisheka or the head-annointing ceremony of the statue of Bahubali or Gomateshwara. The year 2006 is special not only because of the Mahamastakabhisheka, which is regarded as one of India's most important religious events and occurs once in every 12 years, but because the celebrations are bigger than ever. This is the first Mahamastakabhisheka of the new millennium and is taking place after the completion of the 1,000 year anniversary celebrations of the creation of the statue. The statue that has stood the vagaries of time and is a symbol of renunciation from all worldly desires will be anointed according to what is prescribed for abhisheka in the scriptures, with some minor modifications. "As Jains, we do not consume honey. Instead we will use sugarcane juice," explains his holiness Jagadguru Karmayogi Swastishree Charukeerthi Bhattaraka Mahaswamiji, the head of the Digambara Jain sect in India.
The grand event will be inaugurated on the January 22. The Mahamastakabhisheka, however, will commence on February 8 and will be performed daily for the next nine days. During the ceremony, priests and devotees will climb the 618 steps leading to the foot of the 57-ft monolith, after which they will climb to the head of the statue on the special scaffolding and steps that have been built just for the occasion. The lord will be annointed first with water, and then with tender coconut, sugarcane juice, milk, rice flour, turmeric paste, kashaya (a herbal concoction), shrigandha (sandal paste), chandana (coloured sandal paste), ashtagandha (eight varieties of sandal paste), saffron, gold and silver flowers, precious stones and finally with a shower of flowers. The entry is free but the kalasha holders and devotees inside the temple premises have to adhere to the dress code-white or saffron coloured dhotis for men and saris for women.
According to an estimate, over 30 lakh devotees from across the world are expected to throng this town to witness this event. On any given day, there are at least 1,000 people who travel to the summit of the hill to view the colossal monolith.
| Lord Gomateshwara, also known as Bahubali, was the son of the first Jain Teerthankara, Lord Adinath. Challenged by his brother Bharatha over the succession to the throne, Bahubali took on Bharatha in a duel that involved three forms-Drishtiyuddha, Mallayayuddha and Jalayuddha. Though Bahubali finally emerged victorious, he realised the futility of materialistic things, renounced the world and its comforts and went in search of nirvana. Driven by his quest, he stood in deep meditation and came to be known as Gomata. It was Chavundaraya, prime minister of the Ganga Kingdom, who consecrated the statue of Bahubali in meditative form in 981 AD. |
To meet the steady influx of visitors during this period, the organisers have planned a cable car project to help VIPs, the old and the disabled to reach the top without having to walk up the 618 rock-cut steps. The cable car project has received sanction from the Archeological Survey of India and work on it has commenced. The second project was to build an airport at Hassan but since this has fallen through, six helipads have been created at Shravanabelagola. In addition, special trains from Hassan will ferry passengers to Shravanabelagola.
Large-scale developmental activities are underway in and around the shrine. Massive iron girders are being fixed on the roof of the temples surrounding the statues. These will be covered with plywood and seating arrangements will be made for select invitees. During the ceremony, only temple authorities, Jain mahagurus and invitees will be allowed to enter. However, once Mahamastakabhisheka is over, the temple will be open for all.
Apart from the abhisheka atop the hill, cultural activities are planned throughout the 15-day period in which musicians like Hariharan, Anuradha Paudwal, Balamuralikrishna, Yesudas, Kadri Gopalnath, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan and dancers like Hema Malini and Shobhana will perform at the venue, showcasing the culture of the state. Besides this, there will be light and sound shows at Belur and Halebid, and a four-day celebration at Hassan. The state government has also organised seven "Jain Tours" for those interested in exploring the history of Jain culture in India.
A whopping sum of Rs 100 crore has been allocated for the event with the Centre pumping in Rs 75 crore and the remaining being funded by the state to make Mahamastakabhisheka an event to remember.
While the exterior of the shrine is being beautified, a scribbled inscription on an inside wall reads-"Manju loves Pushpa". Looks like the modern world is catching up with Lord Bahubali.