Article: Śravaṇa Beḷgoḷa

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Local courts and warriors

Chamundaraya Basti on Candra-giri, Shravana Belgola, which holds images of the Jinas Nemi and Pārśva. This temple is named after Cāmuṇḍarāya, the man who commissioned it, an important royal official in the 10th century.

Chamundaraya Basti
Image by HoysalaPhotos © CC BY-SA 3.0

The tenth century marked a new development in Shravana Belgola's place in Jain sacred geography.

One of the key persons in this change was Cāmuṇḍarāya, a minister serving Rājamalla IV, a king of the Ganga dynasty who ruled Karnataka from 974 to 984 CE. Cāmuṇḍarāya was a follower of Jainism through his spiritual teacher, Nemicandra. This period corresponded to a golden age for the Jains in Karnataka, seeing the foundation of the Shravana Belgola maṭha. It became a centre of economic activity under the leadership of the local religious authority – bhaṭṭāraka – which became the owner of several villages, lands and so on.

Hero stones commemorating those who died in war from the tenth century onwards are also present on Candra-giri.

Statue of Bāhubali

The 17-metre-high statue of Bāhubali that dominates Shravana Belgola was erected at the end of the tenth century. Set at the top of Vindhya-giri, this idol is often referred to as Gommaṭa or Gommaṭeśvara, which are alternate names of Bāhubali, especially in Karnataka.

The statue shows this spiritual hero standing in the meditation posture known as kāyotsarga, with which he is closely associated. Son of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, Bāhubali is often considered equal to a Jina, though he is not one.

Origins of the statue

Buchanan's sketch of Bāhubali

Buchanan's sketch of Bāhubali
Image by  © Heidelberg University Library

The minister and general Cāmuṇḍarāya commissioned the image and the consecration took place during the reign of Rājamalla. The precise date is not known for sure, but cross-referencing information from various inscriptions and literary works suggests that it was around 983 CE. The date of Sunday 13th March 981 is widely accepted, since it meets astrological requirements for ritual installation and matches information in some documents. The year 1981 was therefore proclaimed the millennium anniversary of the official ritual installation– pratiṣṭhā.

It is not known exactly why the idol of Bāhubali was commissioned. Legendary accounts and historical events offer their own explanations for the statue's construction.

It seems that Bāhubali was very popular among the royal dynasties of the Deccan Plateau in southern India. Some even considered him as their lineage deitykula-deva. Part of the warrior caste, these dynasties were frequently at war and members of the same family often fought one another. Bāhubali's defeat of his half-brother Bharata indicates why he could easily have become their hero. The erection of the colossal statue at Shravana Belgola could have been a means of proclaiming this association publicly.

A legendary account also explains why the image was erected there. Cāmuṇḍarāya's mother is said to have taken a vow not to taste milk until she saw Gommaṭa. Cāmuṇḍarāya and she undertook a pilgrimage to north India together, to visit the statue that Bharata had erected to celebrate his brother Bāhubali's victory. After seeing this dilapidated image, Cāmuṇḍarāya decided to establish a better idol at Shravana Belgola. Back in southern India, he shot an arrow from Candra-giri. It fell on a large boulder on Vindhya-giri. The general approached the place the arrow had landed and, having perceived a clear image of Gommaṭa, he ordered the sculptors to carve the statue on that spot (Jain 2005: 10).

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