Gomateshvara, the giant of Sravana Belgola#
The top of a mountain as holy place of the Jain Religion#by
All photos were taken by the author in the years 1975, 1978 and 2004 in Sravana Belgola and are part of his archive "Pictureflood Jontes". The author has kindly made them available to the Austrian-Forum.
Approximately at the same time when the historical Gautama Buddha appeared in India, another preacher was wandering in Northern India. He taught a peaceful religion of redemption. He came from a royal family and his name was Vardhamana. He pointed his followers a way out of suffering from rebirths by crossing a ford through the river of rebirths in order to gain a victory. For that reason he was also called Tirthankara „A man who crosses the river“, Jina „winner“ or Mahavira „great hero“. The followers call themselves Jaina and their religion is called Jainismus until today. In total, the Jains count 24 Tirthankaras (= omniscient Teaching Gods who preach the dharma (righteous path). The word tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha which means a fordable passage across the sea of interminable births and deaths.) However, the Western religious studies regard as proven historically only Vardhamana and his predecessor Parshvanatha.
Today, there are 4,5 million of Jains in India. They are excluded from most professions because of their rigorous credo in non-violence. They are mainly bankers, jewelers and traders and hence among the richest in India. Accordingly, their temples belong to the most splendid ones in India and are treasure houses of architecture and of artistic furnishing.
One of the absolute highlights of the pilgrimage sites of the Jains is the peak sanctuary of Sravana Belgola which is situated 150 km west of the capital of the Indian state Karnataka Bangalore. Today, the village has about 6500 inhabitants. It is located between several temple mountains, which bear all Jain shrines. Its name derives from the large ritual pond Belagola. Even from a distance, you can see at the top of the higher mountain of Indragiri the 18 meters high stone sculpture, which is considered the largest standing figure in the world hewn from a single stone block. It can be reached by 600 steps that are chiseld out of the bare bedrock. One cannot help to not be overwhelmed by the huge statue that bears the name of the ascetic Gomateshvara or Bahubali.
Around the year 980 AD, under King Rachamall of the Ganga-dynasty, the Colossus of Gomoteshvara was cut from the bedrock. Thus the top of the mountain was transformed in a religious work of art. The stone has a perfectly smooth structure and colour. The sculpture is very clean and not messed by birds. Permanently, temple servants are taking care of the giant, are accepting sacrificial donations and are busy with rituals. Since the Jains themselves have no priesthood, these services are executed by Hindu Pujaris, who come mostly from the Brahmin caste.
According to legend, he was said to be one of the first sons of Tirthankaras Rishabha or Adinath. He renounced to rule over the kingdom of his father after a fraternal quarrel and chose the life of an ascetic.
In South India, sanctuaries can be identified by the fact that the enclosing walls are divided by vertical white or ocher colored stripes. In Sravana Belgola, the reliefs should be carefully observed. There are a lot of witty auspicious pictures and also pointedly funny scenes.