Preparations for fete in 2018 on in full swing

Hassan: Preparations for Mahamastakabhisheka at the Jain pilgrimage centre, Shravanabelagola in the district, are going on in full swing. The event, celebrated once in 12 years, is scheduled to be held in the first week of February 2018.

While efforts are being made to ensure that devotees are provided with all the required amenities at the pilgrimage centre, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is keen on maintaining the heritage sit’s historical sanctity. The ASI has proposed another set of stairs on the Vindhyagiri Hill, atop which stands the 58.8ft-high monolithic statue of Gommateshwara, to provide an alternative route to the devotees. The new set of steps will be etched on the rocks of the hill.

Superintending archaeologist at ASI Bengaluru circle, T Arun Raj said that a series of developmental works would also be undertaken for the comfort of the devotees. Nearly 25 lakh people are expected to pour in to Shravanabelagola for Mahamastakabhisheka.

“We will also reduce the height of the existing steps, improve the pipe railings and ensure that the inscriptions are protected. The site will be equipped with solar lamps for the event. The preparations will be completed either by the end of this year, or by mid-January,” Arun Raj said.

In a bid to ensure that the visually challenged do not miss out on the experience, the ASI is contemplating brining out a book in braille script on the history of Shrvanabelagola and Mahamastakabhisheka.

Chairman of the Mahamastakabhisheka Managing Committee, and head of the Digambara Jain Mutt, Shravanabelagola, Charukeerthi Bhattaraka Swami on Thursday launched a 15-minute film on the history of the statue, and the event. “This short film will help those who cannot climb the hill learn about its antiquity. The proposed staircase will have 400 steps, and the width of each step will be 1.5m,” he said.

In a symbolic gesture, Bhattaraka Swami on Thursday started work on the new set of steps with the same golden chisel and silver hammer, implements that were used to carve the Gommateshwara statue. The last time the event was held was in 2006.

Erected in 981CE, the Gommateshwara statue was commissioner by Chavundaraya, a minister in the Ganga court.

Bhattarka Swami said that he had appealed to the government to take up developmental projects around the pilgrimage site ahead of the event next year. “We took up work on a fourth set of steps since the existing three sets are too small, and cannot accommodate the large number of pilgrims. The first set of steps was constructed in 1908, while the second and third were respectively built in 1967 and 1981. The last time we organised Mahamastakabhisheka, we were able to build the Bahubali Children’s Hospital. We have plans of expanding this to a 200-bed facility at the cost of Rs 50 crore this time round. More than 1.5 lakh children are benefitting from the free treatment at this hospital,” he added.

He pointed out that the state government had earmarked Rs 575 crore for the 2018 Mahamastakabhisheka. “It has so far released Rs 5 crore. The central government is yet to release funds for the event,” Bhattakara Swami said.

National President of the Mahamastakabhisheka Committee, Saritha MK Jain was also present when the first rock steps for the new set of stairs were carved on the hill.