Article: Śravaṇa Beḷgoḷa

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The colossus

Since the tenth century, the huge statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola has attracted countless pilgrims. Nearly 18 metres in height, Bāhubali, also known as Gommaṭa or Gommaṭeśvara, takes the kāyotsarga meditation posture

Colossus of Bāhubali
Image by Ashok 666 – Ashok Prabhakaran © CC BY-SA 2.0

The monolithic nude statue, standing like a sentinel, can be seen from a distance of about 10 kilometres away across the flat plain, but not from the foot of the hill. Its size and weight suggest it was carved from a single rock found on the spot because it is hard to imagine that such an impressive block of granite could have been carried up the steep hill.

The majestic and very sober statue is freestanding in an open courtyard, facing north. The shoulders of the figure are squared and the arms hang straight down the sides with the thumbs turned outwards. The feet rest upon a low pedestal carved to represent an open lotus flower. The face has regular features, short hair styled in spiral ringlets and very long earlobes. Up the legs twine foliage and vines, representing the long period of deep, motionless meditation for which Bāhubali is known.

It is extremely difficult to give exact measurements of the immense statue and reports vary, but the rough statistics are impressive.

Measurements of the statue of Bāhubali

Body part

Approximate measurement

Width across the shoulders

8 metres / 26 feet

Length of toes

0.83 metres / 2 feet 9 inches

Length of middle finger

1.13 metres / 5 feet 3 inches

Length of foot

2.74 metres / 9 feet

Height of the heel

0.84 metres / 2.75 feet

Span of the waist

3.05 metres / 10 feet

This impressive and majestic image, with its unique features, leaves hardly anyone indifferent. An example is that of the Jain Kannada poet Boppaṇṇa, whose work is engraved in a Shravana Belgola inscription dated 1180 (Number 234/336; Sangave 1981: 84). Down the centuries, many foreign travellers have also been struck by this arresting sight.

The spirit of Jain renunciation is fully brought out in the statue. The nudity of the image indicates absolute renunciation while its stiff and erect posture stands for perfect self-control. The benign smile on the face shows inward bliss and sympathy for the suffering world

Sangave
1981, page 83

Temples and holy objects

The two hills and the town at the site house scores of temples built at different periods. These show how various royal dynasties wanted to demonstrate their presence at Shravana Belgola, to be associated with its religious and cultural prominence. The site also has a host of objects considered sacred. Ranging from inscriptions and boulders to pillars and buildings, these display either artistic merit or religious interest. Scholars have not explored these temples and holy artefacts in much detail so it is wise to avoid going beyond basic information in this context.

Vindhya-giri

The huge figure of the Jain saint Bāhubali towers above the roofs of the temples at the summit of Vindhya-giri. There are eight temples and several sacred objects on the top of this hill, which is the most popular area of this important pilgrimage site.

Summit of Vindhya-giri
Image by Manju.ngl © CC BY 3.0

Of the eight temples found here, four form the focus of pilgrims' interest on the hill.

Four main temples of Vindhya-giri

Temple

Date of completion

Features

Chaubis Tirthankara Basti

1648

Images of the 24 Jinas on a slab.

Oudegal Basti or Trikut Basti

 

One of the biggest temples at the site, boasting images of the Jinas Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti and Neminātha or Lord Nemi.

Chennanna Basti

1673

Named after the builder, it has an image of the eighth Jina Candraprabha and several noteworthy pillars.

Siddharth Basti

 

A small image of Lord Siddha.

In addition, there are holy artefacts that are not temples on Vindhya-giri. These are also interesting to religious visitors and tourists.

Notable holy objects on Vindhya-giri

Holy object

Description

Akhand Bagilu

Carved out of a single boulder of granite, this 'door without joints' forms the entrance to the upper enclosure of the statue.

Siddhargundu

A big slab of granite bearing numerous inscriptions and images of Jain teachers.

Gullikayijji Bagilu

Named after a devotee, it displays an inscribed image of a sitting woman.

Tyagad Brahmdeva Stambha

This is a carved pillar showing, among other scenes, Cāmuṇḍarāya and his religious mentor Nemicandra.

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