Article: Śravaṇa Beḷgoḷa

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Located in the Hassan district of Karnataka, the small town of Śravaṇa Beḷagoḷa – frequently transliterated as Shravana Belgola – is one of the most important Jain sacred places, especially for Digambaras. It is closely associated with the early history of Jainism and with Bāhubali, the spiritual hero whose colossal statue has dominated the site since the tenth century. The idol is the focus of celebrations every 12 years in a grand festival that draws thousands of pilgrims and tourists.

Shravana Belgola also commemorates devout Jains who have chosen to fast to death at this holy site and those who have died as warriors. The twin hills and lake of Shravana Belgola help give the site a special atmosphere of peace and serenity, which is remarked on by almost all those who visit.

Main features

The setting of the holy site of Shravana Belgola is striking, with a lake positioned between two hills on a flat plain. The hills and lake form the heart of the small town of Shravana Belgola. The historical name for the lake probably gives the place its name. Both hills are holy sites, with the larger gaining most attention from pilgrims thanks to the huge statue of Bāhubali on its peak.

Since the tenth century the colossus has drawn generations of religious visitors and tourists, many of whom have left written evidence on the landscape. Hundreds of inscriptions can be seen all over the rocks and structures on the hills, some dating back centuries.

Topography

View from Vindhya-giri over Lake Kalyani towards Candra-giri. The town of Shravana Belgola is built on the plain between these hills and has several temples, including a mutt. The pilgrimage sites, including the statue of Bāhubali, are on the hilltops.

View across Shravana Belgola
Image by Pradam © CC BY-SA 3.0

The ancient site of Shravana Belgola is made up of a lake, two hills and a small town. Both hills are steep and rocky, the lake and town sitting between them.

Found in a very shallow valley, the lake is mentioned in ancient inscriptions as the 'White Lake' – Dhavala – or Śveta-sarovara in Sanskrit. Beḷagoḷa – or 'Belagola' – is a Kannada term with the same meaning. Śravaṇa – or 'shravana' – is another form of the Sanskrit term śramaṇa. It means 'ascetics', especially 'Jain ascetics'. Today this lake is known as Kalyani. At some point in the 19th century the lake was given walls on each side and therefore is now square.

The larger of the two hills is known by three names – Vindhya-giri, Indra-giri or Doddabetta. These all mean 'Large Hill'. It is a great dome of smooth grey granite strewn with mighty boulders and masses of broken rocks. It is 3,347 feet above sea level and 470 feet higher than the surrounding plain. Since the end of the tenth century the enormous image of Bāhubali has stood at the summit. Built by a philanthropist from Bombay in 1884, the flight of 500 steps leads to the top. Everybody has to climb to the top barefoot. As it boasts such an awe-inspiring statue, this hill attracts the lion's share of attention and there is a tendency to think less about the other one, although it is equally rich.

The smaller hill is on the other side of the village and also has several names, all meaning 'Small Hill'. Called Candra-giri, Tīrtha-giri, Ṛṣi-giri, Kaḷavappu – from the Sanskrit Kaṭavapra – and Chikkabetta, it rises 175 feet above the plain. History shows that Jains used it as a holy place earlier than the large hill and it boasts several important vestiges of the Jain past. Seeing far fewer visitors than its sister hill, Candra-giri's atmosphere is very peaceful and it is seen as an appropriate place for meditation and asceticism.

The town of Shravana Belgola nowadays has a population of approximately ten thousand inhabitants. It has several temples, the most prominent of which is the so-called Jain maṭh or maṭha, spelt 'mutt' in English. It is ornamented with mural paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. These depict episodes from the life of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, the 23rd Jina, and the legend of a Jain character, Nāgakumāra (see Doshi 1981).

For centuries the maṭh has been the residence of a Digambara religious leader – bhaṭṭāraka -– who holds the title of Charukirti. The present bhaṭṭāraka is Karma-yogi Swasti Shri Charukirti Bhattarakaji. Born in 1949, he is the force behind the development of Shravana Belgola as one of the principal Jain pilgrimage sites and general tourist attractions in the last forty years. He supervised the organisation of three of the ritual Anointings of Bāhubali, those in 1981, 1993 and 2006.

Inscriptions

An 8th-century inscription in Kannada carved into the rock of Candra-giri at Shravana Belgola. Now protected by glass, this is one of 573 inscriptions found at this important pilgrimage site.

Inscription in Kannada
Image by Dineshkannambadi – Dinesh Kannambadi © CC BY-SA 3.0

The two hills at Shravana Belgola are covered with antique inscriptions carved directly into the stone of the rocks on the hill, the walls of temples, pillars and so on. Nowadays, some of the important ones, particularly the rocks on the hillside, are protected by glass frames and have been provided with a caption. Modern visitors are not allowed to add their own inscriptions.

There are 573 inscriptions in total, which makes Shravana Belgola a unique site in the number of inscriptions.

Number of inscriptions at Shravana Belgola

Place

Number of inscriptions

Candra-giri

271

Vindhya-giri

172

Shravana Belgola

80

Surrounding villages

50

The inscriptions have been edited and translated in a special volume of the scholarly collection Epigraphia Carnatica. Dating back to a period between 600 and 1820 CE, these inscriptions testify to the presence or visits of mendicants and laity for pilgrimage or other purposes.

Most inscriptions are in the Kannada language and script although some are in the Sanskrit or Prakrit languages using Kannada script. A few of the more recent examples are in Marwari, a language used in Rajasthan, and are records of pilgrims who came from north India.

The inscriptions' forms and style vary. Some consist of a single laconic sentence while others are detailed accounts of genealogies or religious events, or even poetry. Some describe events from the distant past. It is not always easy to know whether these record legendary traditions or historical facts.

Generally, the subjects of inscriptions relate to:

Religious importance of Shravana Belgola

Digambara monks live naked and without possessions as part of their renunciation of the 'householder' life. After they take religious vows to become wandering ascetics, Digambara monks use only a water gourd and a peacock-feather broom to sweep insects

Digambara monk sitting cross-legged
Image by Jainworld © Jainworld.com

Shravana Belgola is one of the main religious sites for Jains, particularly those in the Digambara sect. It has been a pilgrimage site for hundreds of years because of its importance in the early history of the Jain faith.

Shravana Belgola has attracted pilgrims for centuries, who initially came to pay homage to two key figures in early Jainism. Ācārya Bhadrabāhu and Emperor Candragupta completed the ritual of fasting to death at Shravana Belgola. Devout Jains have come to the site to follow their example for at least 13 centuries.

The tenth century inaugurated the development of Shravana Belgola as a principal centre of Digambara Jainism. Temples and memorials to Jain warriors began to be built, along with the huge statue of Bāhubali, a figure in Jain Universal History.

Above all, the site of Shravana Belgola is associated with Bāhubali. Though he is not a Jina, Bāhubali achieved enlightenment and, according to some Digambara sources, was the first person to gain liberation in the present era of time. Worshipped primarily by Digambaras, Bāhubali has numerous statues throughout India, the most famous of which is found here.

Bhadrabāhu and Candragupta

Sacred footprints in Bhadrabāhu’s Cave on Candra-giri at the pilgrimage site of Shravana Belgola, Karnataka. These footprints – caraṇa – are considered to be those of the 3rd-century sage Bhadrabāhu, who fasted to death at Shravana Belgola

Bhadrabāhu’s sacred footprints
Image by Ilya Mauter © CC BY-SA 2.5

The longstanding sanctity of the place to the Jains first comes from its association with the religious teacher Bhadrabāhu and the emperor Candragupta, the founder of the Maurya dynasty. The hill of Candra-giri has several artefacts that are traditionally connected with these important figures of the Jain past.

The historical details are vague but it is believed that a severe drought of 12 years led Bhadrabāhu and Candragupta to migrate from northern India in the 3rd century BCE. They brought a large portion of the mendicant community to southern India. This mythical event is recorded in an inscription of 600 CE on the hill of Candra-giri. According to Digambara traditions, Candragupta renounced his kingship and became a mendicant and both Bhadrabāhu and Candragupta undertook the ritual of fasting to death at Shravana Belgola.

According to tradition, the presence of both men can be traced principally in the following three venerated features of Shravana Belgola:

  • Bhadrabāhu's Cave
  • Bhadrabāhu's footprints
  • Candragupta Basadi.

The cavern known as Bhadrabāhu's Cave is found on Candra-giri and shelters what is considered to be Bhadrabāhu’s footprints – caraṇa. The Candragupta Basadi is a small temple on Candra-giri, built to mark the place where the emperor is supposed to have died. It looks ancient but it is impossible to know when it was built. The temple contains a remarkable screen panel of stone in two parts, with 90 scenes relating to the legends of Bhadrabāhu and Candragupta. The screen is a later addition, probably dating back to the 12th century. One of the scenes depicts the 16 dreams seen by Candragupta, which were interpreted by Bhadrabāhu, revealing the predictions they concealed.

These features are meant to underline the connection with these revered figures but are historically dubious. Bhadrabāhu's Cave is an example of a phenomenon found in many pilgrimage places as they rise and fall in prominence over the centuries. The claims of religious sites may rarely be able to withstand historical scrutiny but Bhadrabāhu's Cave 'in fact [...] represents an anachronistic attempt to enhance the prestige of an emerging holy place' (Dundas 2002: 225).

Fasting to death at Shravana Belgola

Cave temple at Shravana Belgola in Karnataka. The cave where the sage Bhadrabāhu is believed to have fasted to death in the ritual known as sallekhanā is a very holy site for Jains.

Bhadrabāhu's cave
Image by Ilya Mauter © CC-BY-SA-2.5

The legendary example set by Candragupta and Bhadrabāhu is the basis of the fame of the two hills at Shravana Belgola that lie at the heart of the site. The hills became the destination of those who wanted to carry out the ritual known as fasting to death – sallekhanā.

Several stone pillars, reliefs and temples are memorials – nisidhi – to those who have performed the ceremony. A large number of inscriptions engraved directly on the rocky ground or on pillars, walls and so on record periods of fasting undertaken by ascetics and later also by lay men. Dubbed sanyasa or sanyasana – 'complete rejection' – in the inscriptions, these fasts are a way of embracing the experience of the original two fasters.

The oldest memorials date back to a period between the seventh to tenth centuries. An instance is this simple epigraph:

Upasena-guravaḍigaḷ, disciple of Paṭṭini-guravaḍigaḷ of Mālanūr, having observed the vow of sanyasana for one month, ended his life.

Epigraphia Carnatica, Number 28, Candragiri hill

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).

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.

Candra-giri

Temple complex on Candra-giri, the lower of the two hills at Shravana Belgola. Candra-giri boasts 16 temples and several holy objects and, since it is less visited than its sister hill, retains a peaceful, spiritual atmosphere.

Temples on Candra-giri
Image by Dineshkannambadi © CC BY-SA 3.0

There are 16 temples on Candra-giri, most of which are generally small in size. The oldest one dates back to the eighth century though most of them were completed in the 12th century.

In addition, there are holy objects on the hill that are significant in either religious or artistic terms. These comprise sculptures and buildings as well as a large granite boulder.

Main temples of Candra-giri

Temple

Date of completion

Features

Chamundaraya Basti

982

Built by Cāmuṇḍarāya, it houses an image of the 22nd Jina Neminātha or Lord Nemi on the ground floor and of the 22nd Jina Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva on the upper storey.

Shantinath Basti

 

It features a statue of the 16th Jina Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti.

Chandragupta Basti

 

Marking the spot where Candragupta fasted to death, it holds a two-part stone screen depicting stories of Bhadrabāhu and Candragupta. The screen is a later addition, probably of 12th-century origin.

Parshvanath Basti

 

It houses an idol of Pārśva with seven snakehoods plus a younger, freestanding pillar – māna-stambha – built in 1700.

Kattale Basti

1118

Meaning the 'Dark Temple', it was repaired in 1885 and holds an image of the first Jina Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha.

Chandraprabhu Bati

probably 800

It houses an image of the eighth Jina Candraprabha-svāmī or Lord Candraprabha.

Shasan Basti

1137

Called the 'Inscription Temple', it features a statue of Ṛṣabha and an inscription at the door.

Majjigana Basti

 

Named after the builder, the temple holds an image of the 14th Jina Anantanātha or Lord Ananta.

Eradukkate Basti

1118

It houses an image of Ṛṣabha.

Savati Gandha Varan Basti

1123

It contains an idol of Śānti.

Terin Basti

1115

It is dedicated to Bāhubali.

There are other sacred objects on Candra-giri that are of religious and artistic note.

Notable holy objects on Candra-giri

Holy object

Description

Chamundaraya Sila

A big boulder of granite of this name at the foot of Candra-giri.

Kuge Brahma-deva Stambha

A lofty pillar at the south entrance of the enclosure with a seated figure of the god Brahma-deva on top.

Mahanavami Mandap

Two pavilions to the south of Kattale Basti with stone slabs, one of which records the fasting unto death of a Jain monk in 1176.

Bharateshwarji

A statue of Bharata, Bāhubali's half-brother, from knees to head.

Iruve Brahmadeva Temple

Outside the walled area, this temple was built in 950 and houses an image of Brahma-deva.

Shravana Belgola town

The town of Shravana Belgola holds several temples and religious buildings that attract pilgrims and visitors interested in art and history. Mostly dating from the 12th century, the temples and other buildings shine a light on the religious and political history of the site over the centuries.

Main temples in the village of Shravana Belgola

Temple

Date of completion

Features

Bhandari Basti

Houses images of the 24 Jinas in the main pavilion.

Akkan Basti

1180

Dedicated to the 22nd Jina Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva.

Siddhant Basti

1700

Its name arose because it used to house the authoritative Digambara scriptures.

Danashale Basti

The place where the maharajahs gave donations for the upkeep of the shrines and chief statue.

Kallamma

 

A non-Jain temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kālī, to which the Jain Maṭha sends rice.

Nagar Jinalaya

1195

Features a standing figure of the first Jina Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha.

Mangayi Basti

1132

Shelters an image of the 16th Jina Śāntinātha or Lord Śānti.

Jain Maṭha

10th century

Headed by the bhaṭṭāraka, it owns several villages and lands and is a centre of economic activity.

Later history of Shravana Belgola

The statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola is drenched in red during the ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – mahāmastakābhiṣeka – in 2006. The centrepiece of a month-long festival, the spectacular rite involves tipping different consecrated substances.

Statue of Bāhubali anointed with red
Image by Dhiraj Chawda © Dhiraj Chawda

A survey of the temples and sacred objects found on the site shows that the main architectural activity was completed before 1300. Yet the following centuries saw some additions and enlargements, demonstrating how royal dynasties continued to patronise Jainism in Shravana Belgola. This was the case not just with the Jain dynasty of the Hoysalas (1006–1345), but also with the Vijayanagara kings and the Mysore rulers from the 17th century onwards. Although non-Jain, they were tolerant of Jainism, at least to some extent. They showed their protection through grants of lands or money to repair the temples and by encouraging Jain worship.

Even so, religious life in the site was less vibrant than in earlier periods because after the 12th century the influence of the local Jain communities diminished. This was felt in several areas, such as:

Nowadays, Shravana Belgola is a peaceful, holy place with about 10,000 inhabitants, but every dozen years the population increases temporarily by thousands during the renowned ceremony of anointing the statue of Bāhubali. This huge event is managed by the state government of Karnataka with the active support of the local bhaṭṭāraka and of Digambara communities all over India.

Images

  • View across Shravana Belgola View from Vindhya-giri over Lake Kalyani towards Candra-giri. The town of Shravana Belgola is built on the plain between these hills and has several temples, including a mutt. The pilgrimage sites, including the famous statue of Bāhubali, are found on the hilltops.. Image by Pradam © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Inscription in Kannada An 8th-century inscription in Kannada carved into the rock of Candra-giri at Shravana Belgola. Now protected by glass, this is one of 573 inscriptions found at this important pilgrimage site.. Image by Dineshkannambadi – Dinesh Kannambadi © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Digambara monk sitting cross-legged Digambara monks live naked and without possessions as part of their renunciation of the 'householder' life. After they take religious vows to become wandering ascetics, Digambara monks use only a water gourd and a peacock-feather broom to sweep insects from their path. Nudity is respected as a sign of advanced spirituality because nude monks show detachment from the world.. Image by Jainworld © Jainworld.com
  • Bhadrabāhu’s sacred footprints Sacred footprints in Bhadrabāhu’s Cave on Candra-giri at the pilgrimage site of Shravana Belgola, Karnataka. These footprints – caraṇa – are considered to be those of the 3rd-century sage Bhadrabāhu, who fasted to death at Shravana Belgola. The flowers and powders on the footprints are evidence of a ritual of worship which devout pilgrims have performed recently. . Image by Ilya Mauter © CC BY-SA 2.5
  • Bhadrabāhu's cave Cave temple at Shravana Belgola in Karnataka. The cave where the sage Bhadrabāhu is believed to have fasted to death in the ritual known as sallekhanā is a very holy site for Jains. . Image by Ilya Mauter © CC-BY-SA-2.5
  • Chamundaraya Basti Chamundaraya Basti on Candra-giri, Shravana Belgola, which holds images of the Jinas Neminātha or Lord Nemi and Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva. This temple is named after Cāmuṇḍarāya, the man who commissioned it, who was an important royal official in the tenth century. He was also responsible for erecting the colossus of Bāhubali on Vindhya-giri, which has become the main attraction at this major pilgrimage centre.. Image by HoysalaPhotos © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Buchanan's sketch of Bāhubali When Scots-born Francis Buchanan surveyed the newly conquered kingdom of Mysore in 1800, he drew various monuments he encountered on his travels. This sketch of the huge statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola in Karnataka captures the detailed carving of the figure's hair and the leaves that twine up its arms and legs.. Image by © Heidelberg University Library
  • Colossus of Bāhubali Since it was carved from a single stone in the tenth century, the huge statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola has attracted countless pilgrims. Nearly 18 metres in height, the idol shows Bāhubali, also known as Gommaṭa or Gommaṭeśvara, in the kāyotsarga position. He is so deep in meditation that anthills and plants have grown over him. The statue is the focus of the ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – mahāmastakābhiṣeka – that takes place every 12 years.. Image by Ashok 666 – Ashok Prabhakaran © CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Summit of 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.. Image by Manju.ngl © CC BY 3.0
  • Temples on Candra-giri Temple complex on Candra-giri, the lower of the two hills at Shravana Belgola. Candra-giri boasts 16 temples and several holy objects and, since it is less visited than its sister hill, retains a peaceful, spiritual atmosphere. Shravana Belgola in Karnataka is one of the most popular pilgrimage centres for Digambara Jains. . Image by Dineshkannambadi © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Statue of Bāhubali anointed with red The statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola is drenched in red during the ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – mahāmastakābhiṣeka – in 2006. The centrepiece of a month-long festival, the spectacular rite involves tipping different consecrated substances over the statue's head. Wealthy lay Jains bid for the privilege of pouring one of the thousand-plus pots of substances over the 17-metre-tall idol.. Image by Dhiraj Chawda © Dhiraj Chawda

Further Reading

A Journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar: for the express purpose of investigating the state of agriculture, arts and commerce; the religion, manners, and customs; the history natural and civil, and antiquities
Francis Buchanan
T. Cadell and W. Davies; London, UK; 1807

Full details

‘The Temples and Monuments of Shravana Belgola’
Robert J. Del Bonta
Homage to Shravana Belgola
edited by Saryu Doshi
Marg Publications; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1981

Full details

Homage to Shravana Belgola
edited by Saryu Doshi
Marg Publications; Bombay, Maharashtra, India

Full details

‘The Art Treasures of Shravana Belgola’
Saryu Doshi
Homage to Shravana Belgola
edited by Saryu Doshi
Marg Publications; Bombay, Maharashtra, India; 1981

Full details

The Jains
Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14
Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002

Full details

‘The Gommaṭeśvara’s Grand Mahāmastakābhiṣeka Ritual: 'Aisthetics of Religion' as a New Method of Research of Jaina Ritual’
Eva Maria Glasbrenner
Svasti – essays in honour of Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah for his 75th Birthday
edited by Nalini Balbir
Muddushree Granthamala series; volume 75
K. S. Muddappa Smaraka Trust; Bangalore, Karnataka, India; 2010

Full details

Bahubali of Jainbadri (Shravanabelagola) and Other Jain Shrines of Deccan
Surendranath Shripalji Jain
and Sarojini Surendranath Jain
S.D.J.M.I. Managing Committee; Shravanabelagola, Karnataka, India; 2005

Full details

Opulent Candragiri
Hampa Nagarajaiah
S.D.J.M.I. Managing Committee; Shravanabelgola, Karnataka, India; 2001

Full details

Inscriptions at Sravana Belgola
Benjamin Lewis Rice
Epigraphia Carnatica series; volume 2
Institute of Kannada Studies, University of Mysore; Mysore, Karnataka, India; 1973

Full details

World Renowned Jain Pilgrimages: Reverence and Art
Mahopadhyaya L. Sagar
Prakrit Bharati Academy; Jaipur, Rajasthan, India; 2000

Full details

The Sacred Shravanabelagola: A Socio-Religious Study
Vilas A. Sangave
Bhāratīya Jñānapīṭh Publication; New Delhi, India; 1981

Full details

Śravaṇa Beḷgoḷa: an illustrated study
Shadakshari Settar
Rūvāri; Dharwad, Karnataka, India; 1981

Full details

Inviting Death: Historical Experiments on Sepulchral Hill
Shadakshari Settar
Institute of Indian Art History, Karnatak University; Dharwad, Karnataka, India; 1986

Full details

Pursuing Death: Philosophy and Practice of Voluntary Termination of Life
Shadakshari Settar
Institute of Indian Art History, Karnatak University; Dharwad, Karnataka, India; 1990

Full details

Jainism: A Pictorial Guide to the Religion of Non-Violence
Kurt Titze
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 1998

Full details

Glossary

Abhiṣeka

Anointing ceremony for a king, a Jina, a Jina image or any other holy image, with water or milk. Part of daily or special worship.

Ascetic

Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.

Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.

Asceticism

The practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition. Asceticism involves self-denial – for example refusing tasty food or warm clothes – and sometimes self-mortification, such as wearing hair-shirts or whipping oneself.

Bāhubali

One of the hundred sons of the first Jina Ṛṣabha, Bāhubali is one of the most revered Jain saints. After fighting with his half-brother Bharata, he renounced the world and finally conquered his pride to reach enlightenment. He is always shown in the kāyotsarga pose in art and immense freestanding statues of him are a feature of southern India.

Basadi

A term for a Jain temple common in Southern India.

Bharata

One of the Lands of Action or Karma-bhūmi in the first continent, Jambū-dvīpa, in the Middle World where humans live. Bharata is also the name of the eldest son of the first Jina, Ṛṣabha, who succeeded his father as king.

Bhaṭṭāraka

Sankrit term meaning 'pontiff'. This title is given to a type of Digambara clergy who are not mendicants. Instead of practising the 'wandering life' – vihāra – of Jain monks and nuns, a bhaṭṭāraka stays in one place, living in a kind of monastery called a maṭha. There are several bhaṭṭārakas in south India, who lead the local Jain community.

Candragupta

Founder and first ruler of the Mauryan Empire, Candragupta (circa 340–298 BCE; ruled from circa 320 BCE) is an important figure in Jain history. According to Digambara tradition he abdicated his throne to become a monk and followed the sage Bhadrabāhu. The pair fasted to death at Shravana Belgola and are commemorated there.

Caste

Hindu society is traditionally divided into numerous jātis or classes, which are usually grouped into the four varṇas – often called 'castes' – of:

  • Brāhmaṇa – priest
  • Kṣatriya – warrior
  • Vaśya – merchant or farmer
  • Śūdra – labourer.

Relating to ritual purity, castes are hereditary and probably based on occupation. Members of different castes performed particular socio-economic roles and did not mix or eat the same food. People outside the caste system were usually looked down upon.

Common Era

The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.

Consecration

A ritual in which an item or place is declared to be holy. A person may also consecrate a specific time or activity or be consecrated, which means becoming dedicated to a religious purpose.

Dhyāna

Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.

Digambara

'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.

Disciple

An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.

Fast

Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:

  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.

Idol

An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jina

A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.

Karnataka

State in south-west India.

Kāyotsarga

'Absence of concern for the body'. This commonly refers to a standing or sitting posture of deep meditation. In the standing position the eyes are concentrated on the tip of the nose and the arms hang loosely by the body. The individual remains unaffected by whatever happens around him.

Kevala-jñāna

Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.

Lotus

A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.

Maṭha

Taken from the Sanskrit term for the dwelling of an ascetic, the term maṭha is nowadays often rendered as mutt in English. Associated with Digambara Jains, maṭhas are complexes of buildings centred on a temple and are similar to a Christian monastery. They usually comprise a manuscript library, mendicant dwelling-hall and pilgrim facilities, such as a refectory and dormitory. A maṭha is the seat of a bhaṭṭāraka, a clerical leader. Most maṭhas are in southern India.

Mumbaī

The capital of the state of Mahārāṣṭra, the city of Mumbai is the biggest and richest in India. Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is the centre of Indian film-making and commercial activities.

Nudity

The Digambara mendicants are 'sky-clad' because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers went nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This vow entails renouncing all possessions, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white saris and are thus technically spiritually advanced celibate laywomen. Śvetāmbara mendicants of both sexes, however, wear white clothing. The difference of opinion over whether the vow of non-possession includes clothing was one reason for the Jain community's split into these two major sects early in the Common Era.

Pilgrimage

A journey to a place of religious significance. Some religions encourage pilgrimage as ways to advance spiritual progress and deepen the faith of those who make the trip – pilgrims.

Prākrit

A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.

Pratiṣṭhā

Ritual installation of an idol in a temple. A new statue or picture is often the centre of a noisy procession through the streets to the temple, where a ceremony to consecrate the image takes place. Public rejoicing surrounds the pratiṣṭhā.

Pūjā

Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.

Rajasthan

The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.

Rāma

An avatar of Viṣṇu, the preserver or protector who is one of the three major Hindu gods. Rāma is a prince of Ayodhyā and is often shown with blue skin, holding a bow and arrow. The epic poem Rāmāyaṇa recounts his adventures as he searches for his wife Sītā, who has been kidnapped by Rāvaṇa. Blending Jain values into the story, the Jain Rāmāyaṇas cast him and other figures in the tale as some of the 'great men' of Jain Universal History.

Renunciation

Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.

Rite

A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.

Sāgāra

Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.

Sallekhanā

The progressive eradication of passions and other negative features in order to reach total spiritual purity. In practice, it is the ritual of fasting unto death.

Sanskrit

A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.

Śrāvaka

'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay man, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The feminine form is śrāvikā.

Temple

A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.

Vrata

Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā

Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:

  • aṇu-vratas – 'Five Lesser Vows'
  • guṇa-vratas – three supplementary vows
  • śikṣā-vratas – four vows of spiritual discipline

All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders. 

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