Moving on from Melkote, we drove through the green countryside of Hassan district, we were headed to visit the giant statue of Gomateswara at Shravanabelagola. Way back in 1986, we had visited this place as little kids with our parents. We do not remember much of the place except that there was this massive statue and we had to climb several steps, something we did without troubling our parents and that goes down as one of the few good things our parents have to say about us after all these years !
The historical icon of Jainism
Shravanabelagola had been an important centre for Jainism and its goes back in history by over 2000 thousand years. The great Chandragupta Maurya is believed to have lived here after renouncing his crown and taking up the life of a Jain monk. About 9 centuries later, the Gomateshwara statue was built here and to this day, remains the tallest monolithic statue in the world and an important icon of Jainism.
After a drive through the green belt of Karnataka, complete with lush green coconut trees and ponds, we reached the Vindhayagiri Hill where the 57 feet statue of Gomateshwara is situated.
About 400 hundred steps, cut on the face of the rock, take you up the hill. It is truly an uphill task, as the steps are steep and there is no cover. On a hot day, climbing the hill is challenging.
As you climb higher, you get some lovely views of the landscape and the opposite Chandragiri Hill, named after the great Chandragupta Maurya. There is also a belief that the legendary king spent his last days here.
Half way up, you can find Jain shrines and mandapas.
Some so old that they are now in need of support.
Ornate pillars like these seem to tell you some silent stories of the glorious past of Jainism in this part of the country.
When you look from here, the green landscape of coconut groves stretches for miles together. This, added to the cool breeze makes you want to sit there forever, for a moment, even the giant Bahubali seems to be forgotten.
Close by, there several inscriptions on the rock from various eras and kingdoms that ruled over this land and played a part in making Shravanabelagola what it is today. Glass panes have been placed around the inscriptions to protect them.
One should commend the authorities for their efforts in protecting the inscriptions. The information boards tell you what the inscriptions are about, if only one could read the language, it would be like holding conversations with people 2000 years before you !
A personality as towering as the statue !
As you marvel at the sights and the ancient structures, it strikes you that, funnily, even after reaching almost to the top, there is no sign of the Gomateshwara statue.
To pay a visit to the great Bahubali, you need to climb some more steps, steeper than the ones below.
When you arrive at outer walls of the main temple and you can finally see the head of the Gomateshwara statue. If someone were to visit Shravanabelagola without any idea about the place, they would be in for a massive surprise because until you reach the very top, the statue is not visible from anywhere else. It is actually surprising how they managed to hide such a big statue, especially when it is located on top of a hill !
The difficult climb up the steps will leave you short of breath and when you finally step inside the temple, the tallest monolithic statue in the world leaves you breathless and speechless !
Bahubali, also known as Gomateshwara, was a legendary Jain monk. Born a prince, he had to wage a war against his own brother in the race to the throne. When he was close to victory, he suddenly realised the futility of all worldly things and decided to renounce his life as a prince and become a Jain monk, attained Enlightenment through intense meditation and has come to be revered by Jains ever since. The internet gives you a more interesting rendition of his story.
The statue left a lasting impression on the writer who visited Shravanabelagola about 2 and 1/2 decades ago, years may have gone by but Gomateshwara leaves you awestruck every time.
The statue is an unparalleled sculptural marvel and one the brightest gems of Indian sculptural wealth ! The statue represents Bahubali as a Digambara, deep in meditation, unmindful of the vegetation and anthills that grew around him. You cannot even begin to imagine how the sculptors managed to carve out a statue of such proportions, mind you, this was 2000 years ago ! The statue’s precision with the human body is unbelievable, they even took care of sculpting the nails to look real !
When you zoom in close to the face, the calm and composed face of Gomateshwara seems to be gazing over the horizon in search of the divine truth of life.
If you want to compare yourself with the statue, let us say, you would reach upto the ankle level ! You can also find some inscriptions in what looks like rudimentary Devanagari on one side and a mix of Tamil and Kannada letters on the other.
Ancient corridors run around the statue, there are shrines for Jain Thritankaras and other deities.
As you sit opposite the statue and look up at the peaceful face, you wish you had the serenity of Bahubali. For that, you need to practice detachment, which for ordinary humans like us, is a task as gigantic as the statue itself !
The Gomateshwara statue is a fitting tribute to a man who attained Divine status not by virtue of his birth but by the way he lead his life.