Bahulbali – the two films made the characters popular. I had just watched the films and wondered where the word Bahubali came from. I did not have to go too far. A family wedding took me to Mangalore – met the two Bahubali Gomateshwara statues at Karkala and Venur. That was a trigger to explore the history and popularity of him in South India.
The name literally means the one with strong arms. Yes, that is what the WhatsApp joke saying Neil Armstrong was none other than Neelendra Bahubali refers to.
So, come with me to meet the two giants near Mangalore.
Who is Bahubali?
He was the son of first Jain Tirthankara – Rishabhnath or Adinath. It is said that Adinath had 100 sons. But Bahubali and Bharat Chakravartin were the two main contenders to his legacy. Adinath divided his kingdom and gave the northern kingdom to Bharat who ruled from Ayodhya or Ayodhyapuri. It is also referred to as Vinita in some texts. The southern kingdom was given to him.
When Bharat tried to be the Chakravarti or the king who rules all four directions, he went around the world and conquered all kingdoms. However, he still had to win his brother’s. All brothers except he conceded. Two brothers then fought in all kinds of ways and Bahubali was the winner.
However, as soon as he won he was dejected. He felt guilty for defeating his own elder brother. He went to Mount Kailash and meditated in standing position on the mountain. And he was so still that vegetation and ant hills grew around his legs and his body became part of the place he was standing on. A year later his brother Bharat came and prayed to him – at which point he was liberated of his guilt. Metaphorically, he won over his own vices and attained the ultimate knowledge. He was liberated and he became a Siddha.
It is his liberation that is celebrated in various tall monolithic statues dedicated to Gomateshwara. What is interesting is that most of these statues exist in Karnataka – a state that is home to many Jain temples, Basadis, and Gomateshwara statues.
Standing posture of his is known as Kayotsarga. Jain Tirthankaras can be seen in two postures while meditating – sitting in lotus pose or Kayotsarga.
Bahubali Gomateshwara statue at Karkala
After exploring the Jain Kashi or Moodbidri we headed to Karkala. We climbed the huge rock on which the Gomateshwara statue is located. The rock has been cut to create steps for the visitors. You can also climb the rock if you want.
There are about 500 steps to climb – being small steps, they are not very difficult to climb. The intriguing bit is that you cannot see the statue until you have almost climbed all the steps. If the weather is good, climbing can be fun, as you see the lush green landscape around the hill. As you go up, the view changes.
The tall monolithic Gomateshwara statue stands in a walled temple complex. As you enter the temple complex, there is the platform on either side to sit and admire the statue. There is a large compound in which the statue stands.
Karkala Gomateshwara statue was built in 1432 CE by King Vir Pandya of Kalasa-Karkala dynasty. This was a period when Jainism was at its peak in South Canara region of Karnataka.
The monolithic statue measures 42 feet in height, add to it the five feet of its stone platform.
Opposite the statue is a Maanstambh or a pillar with a Yaksha image sitting in a canopy on its top. The Yaksha and the main statue face each other.
Some stone images of various Jain Tirthankaras are placed behind the main statue.
Bahubali stands erect on the Kayotsarga posture. The statue has all the features of a Mahapurusha like elongated ears, long arms, three folds on the neck & curly hair. What makes it distinct from other Mahapurush iconography is the creepers and ant hills on his legs and arms. This is a feature that belongs solely to Gomateshwara.
The grains of ash gray stone adds texture to the stone statue.
The oldest and the most famous Bahubali statue is at Shravanabelagola that was built in 981 CE.
As we started walking back from Karkala hill, we saw a lovely temple bang opposite it – just a small distance away. Surrounded by green trees on all sides, this absolutely symmetric structure with a small boundary wall going all around it – looked beautiful.
We gathered that it is called so because of the four symmetrical sides.
After soaking in the greenery from the hilltop, we decided to visit the Chaturmukha Basadi. It was afternoon and the Basadi was closed. We were told it opens for a very small time in the mornings and evenings.
We went around it and tried to peep in through the doors of this late 16th CE temple. The Basadi has four beautifully carved gates on all four sides. Wooden doors had elaborately carved doorjambs with Dwarapalas on either side. Steps leading to the doors have beautiful balustrades.
On the circumambulation path too, the walls had various figurines and ceilings had typical Jain beam and lintel roofs with geometric designs. Gargoyles were shaped like animal faces. All signs of a temple of its era.
Bust of his statue can be seen emerging from the hill opposite the temple.
Venoor or Venur is a small town few kilometers from Karkala on the banks of river Gurupura.
Here again, on a hill stands another giant statue of his. This one is about 38 feet in height and built a few years later than the Karkala one. It is believed that the renowned sculptor Amarshilpi Jaknachari has carved this statue from a single stone.
This statue stands on a double pedestal and has all the signs of a Bahubali.
The Yaksha on the Maanstambh has no canopy over him, so you can get a clearer view of him.
A Mahabhishek is performed every 12 years here and the last one was in 2012.
The good part is you need to climb just a few steps at Venur, the car goes right to till the gate of the temple. It also stands in a walled enclosure on a rocky hill.
Travel Tips for Karkala and Venur Bahubali
- To visit Karkala and Venur, you can stay at Mangalore and do them as a day trip from there.
- It is advisable to climb the Karkala Hill early in the morning or evening. It can get really hot during the day.
- Check the temple timings before you go.
- Venur statue complex is also closed after 4 PM, though you can still see the statue from the gate.
- Stop by the various rivers like Phalguni and Gurupura that you cross – they have a very active bird life on their banks.
- You get simple south Indian food in these towns.
Some beautiful birds can be spotted from atop the hill on the trees in the surrounding valley. Spend some time if you are interested.
We managed to capture the Brown-headed Barbet and Jerdon’s Leafbird in about 15 minutes there.
Recommend you read following travel blog on nearby places to visit.