Chandragiri Hill and the spread of Jainism in South India

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Shravanabelagola Quest

Chandragiri Hills at Shravanabelagola is associated with the revival of Jainism in South India. This place was known to the Jain devotees as early as third century BC. It was a popular destination for doing santhara, an arduous tapasaya done mainly by ill and aged devotees giving up food, water and all pleasures of life, accomplishing a desire-less death. It is believed that hundred and six such deaths happened here, out of which sixty-four were monks, eleven Jain sadhvis, twenty-three male disciples and the rest were female disciples.

Chandragiri Hills, Shravanabelagola

Chandragiri Hills, Shravanabelagola


Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of Maurya empire and the first emperor to unify most of Greater India into one state, became a follower of Jainism in his declining years under the influence of the Jain guru Bhadrabahu. Bhadrabahu is considered the last shrut-kevalin (one who had complete knowledge by listening) among Jains and has authored two important Jain texts – KalpaSutra and Upsargahara Stotra. Kalpasutra is best known and the most popular work of all Jain literature. It has sections on the life of Tirthankara, detailed section on the life of Mahavira – the twenty-fourth Tirthankara and the rules for Jain monks.

Chandragupta once had sixteen nightmares on successive nights. In the last of his dreams he saw a terrifying dragon with twelve heads. He discussed all his dreams with Acharya Bhadrabahu. The revered saint interpreted the last dream as an indication of a famine that would last for twelve years and would devastate the North India. Aghast at the possibility of such a calamity under his rule and his complete helplessness, the monarch left for the south along with the saint and his twelve-thousand disciples.

The Shravanabelagola Town

The Shravanabelagola Town

The large entourage of pilgrims and ascetics reached Shravanabelagola. The Jain saint Bhadrabahu realized that his end is approaching, he selected Visakha as his successor and ordered him to move further South along with the disciples. The devoted monarch decided to stay with the saint at Shravanabelagola. Bhadrabahu later died in a cave which was also his residence during the stay; Chandragupta lived for twelve more years worshiping the foot-print of his revered guru. It is believed that Chadragupta and acharya Bhadrabahu both laid their life following the tradition of santhara. A temple was later constructed on this hill to commemorate Chandragupta’s association with the place. The shrine is known as Chandragupta Basadi and is one of the oldest monuments of the area. With time the hill itself was known as Chandragiri after the monarch.

One last look at the Chandargiri hills!

One last look at the Chandargiri hills!

It is also believed that this migration eventually seeded the division of Jains as Svetambar and the Digambars. While leaving Magadha and moving towards South, the revered saint Bhadrabahu had chosen Acharya Sthulibhadra as his successor to guide the monks and Jain disciples who were unwilling to move South. During famine, the conditions were so bad that Acharya Sthulibhadra and his followers made certain modifications in the rules for the monks. One of the modifications was to wear white cloth instead of remaining nude.

After twelve years when some of the Jain monks who moved South returned back, they found a wide gap between their conduct and the conduct of those who stayed back. Acharya Sthulibhadra and Acharya Visaka tried to do a reconciliation, but it was unacceptable to the followers of both the group and thus formed the Digambar and the Svetambar sects in Jainism. These differences reminds me of the beautiful lines

ये मुसलमान है, वो हिंदू, ये मसीही, वो यहुद
उस पे ये पाबंदीयां और उस पे यह कयूद|

I would like to make a pause here and would come back with articles on Jainism in South India, starting with Jainism in Kerala. I would like to see it grow with more information from the readers 🙂

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