In the Lap of Nature’s Pristine Forests

  • A visit to Sravanabelagola and Sringeri

How come most of the famous Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples and monuments are located on top of the hills in midst of deep forests?  A puzzling question indeed! This question haunted our minds when we were on the way from Bangalore to Sravanabelagola at a distance of 150 KMs and from there to Sringeri  200 KMs. away.

We started at around 10 AM from Bangalore. The weather was very pleasant and cool with dark clouds about to pour down. Enjoying the ride in the buzz of speeding vehicles on the well laid roads of Bangalore we entered in to the silent serene surroundings giving us all a feeling of entering a new beautiful world. We gradually went in to complete silence from  the sounds of our loud gossip realizing at the same time how much we are missing the beauty of the Mother Nature with its pristine glory spreading all over the shining lush green environs.  Dotting the road in between on both sides are the rows of colourful tiled houses in unique Kodagu style reminding us of our childhood days.

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By 2 PM we reached Sravanabelagola. A big temple tank is located on one side of the place which was encircled by a big wall built with rocks. Belagola in Kannada language means a tank with fresh clear water. We know that Sravanabelagola is famous for an 18 meter high nude idol of Bahubali. Till we reach that place we were not knowing that one has to climb 650 steps to see the high idol. We all started climbing the steps along with other visitors. The stairs were constructed only 150 years ago. We surprised how the tourists used to climb the hill without stairs.

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Bahubali is also known as Gomatheswar and Manmadha. As per the Jain tradition he is known as the first Kamdev born in Ikshwaku race at Ayodhya, in North India. Bahubali was known to be a very strong man and his father Vrishabhanatha made him king of Asmaka state. While he was a king he had to fight with his own elder brother Bharatha. Though Bahubali won the war he loses interest on being a ruler of the kingdom. Having developed an aversion to all the worldly matters he becomes a Digambar Jain Sanyasi. This story of Bahubali has further raised so many questions in our minds on how and why he came all the way from Ayodhya to this far off mountain in South Iindia.  

Another interesting factor that surprised all of us was that there was a priest offering  ‘harathi’  to the statue of Bahubali and putting ‘tilak’ on the forehead of all the visitors and sprinkling the consecrated holy water on the tourists  as done in the Hindu custom of worship.  Though many people could not differentiate between Jainism and Hinduism and their customs, they as usual offered flowers and prayers to the Bahubali statue. After finishing our trip to Sravanabelagola we started our journey to Sringeri around 5 PM.

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Sringeri is situated in western ghats of Karnataka state in the Chikmagalur district which once became famous as the constituency of former Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi in 1977. The place is very famous for coffee plantations. But we got the opportunity to visit that place now only. We took packed food for dinner there and started our journey to Sringeri. As we move on it became quite dark the moment we entered the ghat section of the road. Though people say that the forest around is an abode of wild animals we did not come across any one.  The bus meandered through the thickly vegetated mountainous path and we reached Sringeri which is located at an elevation of 673 meters above mean sea level, at 11.30 in the night.

Sringeri is the place where Adisankaracharya established his first centre ‘amnaya peetham’ for the revival of Hinduism and to foster the sacred tradition of ‘Sanatana Dharma’ and teaching of  Vedas and Advaitha philosophy twelve centuries ago. He himself was the first head of the centre.  The seat of learning and sanathana dharma has been continuing the tradition since then with ascending of the peetha by various dedicated achaaryas. There has been a close relation between Andhra people and Sringeri as many of the people follow the sringeri sankara tradition and many learned scholars from Andhra became the heads of the peetham in later years including the present ‘peethadhipathi’ Jagadguru Sri Bharathi Teertha Maha Swamy who hails from Narasaraopet in Andhra Pradesh. The present junior peethadhipathi Sri Sri Vidhusekhara Bharathi belongs to Ananthavaram in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh.

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As we woke up in the morning we felt so refreshing as the surroundings were cool with mist like a winter morning. Though everything around was appearing as any other tourist place with hotels, shops etc., a mysterious silence was felt around.  After finishing our morning ablutions, we started for the darsan of Sarada Devi, the presiding deity and Sankaracharya Peetham. The entire area around the  temples was so clean  in spite of number of tourists moving around the place and the entire place was so calm and quiet with the river Thunga flowing majestically under a hanging bridge leading the way  to the math. The pathway to the Sankaracharya Peetham was so fresh and beautiful with rows of tall trees on both the sides, wide meadows around and batches of cow herds moving on the banks of the river  Thunga looking picture perfect.

It was the Harathi time when we visited the Sarada Devi temple. We had a good darsan and proceeded to the adjacent Vidyasankara temple. Vidyasankara temple was built in the name of vidyaranya, once the peethaadhipathi of Sringeri math and the Guru of Harihara and Bukkaraya brothers who were the founders of Vijayanagar empire in the past. The temple has a unique architecture, a combination of Chalukya, Vijayanagara and Dravida styles and looks totally different from the other temples.

On seeing the temple one of our tourist group member having a lot of interest in history and anthropology noted the fact that there exists no Siva temple there which reminds us of the then existent  matriarchal system. In olden days people used to worship only Sakti in the form a Goddess. In fact throughout the world, there used to be only Goddess worship and no importance was attached to God in the form of a male. The fact that there was no temple in the name of Siva is quite interesting and needs a deep study. After ending the discussion there we all had a holy dip in the river Thunga. A swarm of fish in that crystal clear water vying to catch the rice flakes thrown by the people gave a breath taking view.

Later we proceeded to the main hall where the peethadhipathis do the daily pooja, and give darsan to the visitors. All the male visitors are required to be barechested without banians and shirts and ladies should wear traditional saree to have the darsan of the Sankaracharyas.  Around 10.30 AM we had the darsan of the peethadhipathis and returned back to our hotel.

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The next day our return journey started. As the journey was on daytime we had the opportunity of having a full view of the hills, valleys and the most pleasing coffee plantations amid the soothing breeze of pristine forests while travelling on the ghat road. We had brief halts enroute wherever good view points were there to catch the nature’s glory.  We had seen the Sankara waterfalls and travelled further to witness another big waterfalls as the sun started setting. Then followed a discussion among us with the person with a great interest in history and anthropology initiating discussion with posing a question to the other members of the group whether they know why such famous temples of yester years and monuments of Jainism and Buddhism exist in such high altitude areas on top of the hills in distant corners in the midst of thick forests. Some people told it was just a coincidence while another said that it was to put to test the worshipper’s real faith in travelling to such places undergoing all the vagaries of the wilderness. The person told that answer was wrong and explained the reason behind the fact. As the industrialization has taken place worldwide in the modern times, extension of agriculture in a wide scale has taken place throughout the world in those times.  In order to bring more and more area under agriculture by cutting the woods more work force was required. So many settlements for people were established in many forest and mountainous areas and the system was followed strictly. To make it more attractive to people to stay in such places comfortably various temples, centers of religious importance were established with the close co ordination between the kings and peethaadhipathis. He further told that Bahubali’s coming to southern India has a reason. He came and settled their along with his big army which was similar to Agsthya Mahamuni’s crossing of Vindhyan mountains.

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Engrossed in the discussion we reached Chikkamagalur. We have purchased coffee powder from that place and by around midnight reached back Bangalore. The next day entire Bangalore city came to a standstill with so many violent incidents and imposition of curfew to control the protests against the Cauvery judgement of court in the interstate water dispute. Within no time we all were brought into another of world harsh reality from a blissful experience of visit to Sringeri and Sravanabelagola.

GVGK Murty & K.V.S. Sri Krishna

Photos: K. Lalitha Prasad

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