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Gomateshvara, the giant of Sravana Belgola#

The top of a mountain as holy place of the Jain Religion#

by

Günther Jontes

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.

Unlike Buddha the Tirthankaras are depicted with a breast jewel (Khajuraho)
Unlike Buddha the Tirthankaras are depicted with a breast jewel (Khajuraho)
Tirthankara Parshvanata with a snake bonnet (Dilwara/Mount Abu)
Tirthankara Parshvanata with a snake bonnet (Dilwara/Mount Abu)

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.

The mountain Indragiri with the colossal statue
The mountain Indragiri with the colossal statue
At his feet the large ritual pond and the temple mount Chandragiri
At his feet the large ritual pond and the temple mount Chandragiri
The small Indian city Sravana Belgola
The small Indian city Sravana Belgola
The entrance to the pond is through a Gopuram gateway of South Indian style
The entrance to the pond is through a Gopuram gateway of South Indian style
A staircase of 600 steps lead to the plateau at the top
A staircase of 600 steps lead to the plateau at the top
To the sides there are some small sanctuaries
To the sides there are some small sanctuaries
Centuries have added again and again something new
Centuries have added again and again something new
Numerous reliefs show Tirthankaras and his followers
Numerous reliefs show Tirthankaras and his followers
Also the Jainismus disposes of a world of Gods
Also the Jainismus disposes of a world of Gods
Seen from the top, the landscape around Sravana Belgola is mostly uninhabited
Seen from the top, the landscape around Sravana Belgola is mostly uninhabited

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.

Probably the biggest toes in the art history
Probably the biggest toes in the art history
One of the ritual worships is the affusion with water (Sanskrit abhisheka)
One of the ritual worships is the affusion with water(Sanskrit abhisheka)
Permanent cleaning belongs to the tasks of the temple servants
Permanent cleaning belongs to the tasks of the temple servants
A first comparison by size of man and statue
A first comparison by size of man and statue
Flowers and water donated by pilgrims
Flowers and water donated by pilgrims
A small gilden votive copy of the original
A small gilden votive copy of the original
A small gilden votive copy of the original
A small gilden votive copy of the original
Figur
On the sides of the colossal figure are stone guards with ceremonial fly whisks with which they keep away evil influences
On the sides of the colossal figure are stone guards with ceremonial fly whisks with which they keep away evil influences
Pilgrims are appearing
Pilgrims are appearing
Inscriptions in old-Kanarese language and writing are reporting about the foundation and the origins
Inscriptions in old-Kanarese language and writing are reporting about the foundation and the origins
There is even evidence of Sanskrit and Devanagari language
There is even evidence of Sanskrit and Devanagari language
Here is this giant man and at his feet there are termite mounds hewn in stone, in which snakes are living
Here is this giant man and at his feet there are termite mounds hewn in stone, in which snakes are living
The meaning of this relief is that the ascetic goes to the loneliless of the jungle far from people in order to meditate
The meaning of this relief is that the ascetic goes to the loneliless of the jungle far from people in order to meditate
Snakes are living in termite mounds
Snakes are living in termite mounds

Shvetambara-pilgrims with mouthpiece and brom in order not to swallow an insect or to step on a worm, because this is against the commandment not to kill
Shvetambara-pilgrims with mouthpiece and broom in order not to swallow an insect or to step on a worm, because this is against the commandment not to kill
His eyes look expressionlessly into the distance
His eyes look expressionlessly into the distance
His ears show that in former times, as a duke’s son he wore rich jewelry
His ears show that in former times, as a duke’s son he wore rich jewelry
Everything about him is giant and anatomically accurate
Everything about him is giant and anatomically accurate

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.

A monkey has snatched something
A monkey has snatched something
Fish in trifoil with one head
Fish in trifoil with one head
Fighting monkeys
Fighting monkeys
An elephant fetches food
An elephant fetches food
Two fish flirting with each other
Two fish flirting with each other
A cow suckling her calf
A cow suckling her calf
Two pairs of legs and only one body
Two pairs of legs and only one body
There is also Hindu image repertoire: Krishna is fighting against a snake demon and two snake deities
There is also an Hindu image repertoire: Krishna is fighting against a snake demon and two snake deities