Posted by: Johan Normark | August 27, 2009

Shravanabelagola – almost a Seventh Wonder of the World

The series of my own Seven Wonders of the World has fallen into coma. There are three left to describe but here I choose to describe a monument that almost made it to my list. My wife and I awaited the Y2K event on the Andaman Islands. Not really, but we happened to be there when 1999 became 2000. Before we made it out to the Andaman Islands we travelled around in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in south India. Ever since my trip to Rajasthan in 1991/1992 I have been interested in Jain architecture and art. Back then I visited Ranakpur and Mount Abu.  

Jainism is a dharmic religion (which also includes Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism). It is widely known for prescribing non-violence against any living being. Every living soul is potentially divine. A Jain follow the Jinas (conquerors) who rediscover the dharma (one’s righteous duty or virtuous path) before becoming completely liberated and teach others the spiritual path. There are 24 special Jinas who are called Tirthankaras. The most recent of these is Shri Mahavir who lived 599-527 BC. All others lived in what we perhaps could call a mythic past.

Jain ritual at Shravanabelagola

Jain ritual at Shravanabelagola

158 km west of Bangalore we find the important Jain pilgrim centre of Shravanabelagola. There are two hills at the site where king Chandragupta (c. 320-298 BC), the founder of the Maurya dynasty who defeated Alexander the Great’s armies, is believed to have been meditating. After conquering almost the whole Indian subcontinent Chandragupta gave up his throne and became an ascetic follower of a Jain monk. Within a cave at Shravanabelagola he ended his life in sallakhana which is the religious ritual of voluntary death by fasting.

The way up to Vindyagiri hill

The way up to Vindyagiri hill

On top of the hill called Vindyagiri stands the 17.38 m tall monolithic statue of Bhagavan Gomateshwara Bahubali. Lord Bahubali was the second of the one hundred sons of the first Tirthankara, Lord Rishabha who is believed to have lived several thousand years ago. Gomateshwara is the world’s largest monolithic stone statue. It was erected by Chamundaraya (AD 940-989), a military commander, poet and a minister in the court of king Rachamalla of the Western Ganga Dynasty (AD 350-1000). On the base of the statue are inscriptions in written Marathi that dates to AD 981. The statue was erected for the general’s mother and can be seen from a distance of 30 km. Every twelve year thousands of Jains congregate to perform a ceremony in which the statue is covered with milk, curd, ghee, saffron and gold coins.

Statue of Bhagavan Gomateshwara Bahubali

Statue of Bhagavan Gomateshwara Bahubali

In a recent poll, half of the Indians voted Shravanabelagola as the top Seventh Wonder of India. Taj Mahal only came in third place on the national list.

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Responses

  1. As an activist for the Jain minority right under the Indian Constitution and a Jain scholar I am happy to note that you have given a very good introduction to the monolithic statue of Gommatesvara as the 7th wonder. Recently in February 2006 the first Head anointing ceremony of the sacred statue was performed. My book on the thousand year olf history of Gommatesvara is published as ‘Jainism: an Eternal Pilgrimage’. You can find all the information on the website:http://jaina.in as also several articles/blogs on http://balpatil.sulekha.com

  2. I will check them out before I publish my posts on Ranakpur and Mount Abu.

  3. Interesting article. I am intrigued with that statue. Thanks for sharing with us your wonderful experiences.

  4. It is an impressive site. I forgot to mention the logistic problems of hauling the monolith up the hill.

  5. There was no question of hauling the monolith up the hill because it was carved out of the hill itself. If I may quote from my book “Jainism an Eternal Pilgrimage” published by Hindi Granth Karyalay, Mumbai:

    “There can be no question as to how the colossus was made. As it is cut from a single block of granite, it is manifestly impossible that it could have been hauled up such a smooth and steep hill as Vindhyagiri and raised upto an upright position. It seems practicall certain that a projecting mass of rock was on the very summit of this hill which was carved into the figure.

    Standing on the erest of the Vindhyagiri as Indragiri hill, 470 ft. above the plain (and 3,347 ft. high above sea level) it is visible from great distances all around. The huge image stands in almost perfect state of preservation despite its antiquity. This ancient monument in the stillness of its hill-top shrine is a most impressive sight and one stands before it with a feeling of wonder and awe.

    The sculpture is finished in the round from the head down to the region of the things by the removal of unwanted rock from behind, front and sides. Below the things, the knees and the feet are cut in very high relief with the parent rock mass still left on the flanks, and the rear, as if to support it.

    The flanking rock-masses depict ant-hills and Kukkuta-sarpas or cockatrices emerging out and from among them, and on either side emerges a madhavi creeper climbing up to entwine the legs and thighs and ascending almost to the arms, near the shoulders, with their leaves spaced out and terminating in a cluster of flowers or berries.

    The pedestal on which stand the feet of Gommata each measuring 2.75 m. is full down lotus, broad-chested and majestic Gommata stands erect in the Khadgasana –Kayotsarga pose with his arms dangling on either side reaching to the knees and with thumbs facing in.

    The carving of the rounded head, 2-3 m. high is most subline composition of any age. The sharp and sensitive nose, the half closed and contemplative eyes, the well-shaped pounting lips wearing a benign smile that could be discerned from any direction, the slightly projected chin with a dimple above, an imperceptibly high chock, lobed ears and subdued and voluted curls of locks on the head invading the broad forehead- all make for a charming and serene face.

    The broad shoulders, 8. m. across of sturdly appearance and the lack of well modulated elbow and knee-joints, the narrow hip, 3 m. wide in front and rounded gluteal bulges, as if to balace the erect stance, the incurved and channeled midline of the back, the firmly planted pair of feet, all in good proportion, accentuate the beauty and stance of the figures while at the same time they indicate the conventions of Jain iconography that has nothing to do with corporeal appearance, perhaps due to the utter other-worldly personality of a Jina or a saint for whom this material world does not exist.

    The nudity of the figure indicating absolute renunciation of a Kevalin, the stiff erectness of the stance suggesting firm determination and self control and the beaming smile yet contemplative gaze- all blend together to bring out the greatness of conception and the mastery of the sculptor.

    The deft skill with which, besides the head and its mien, the hands, the figures, and even the nails or the feet with their toes and nails are delineated in this hard intractable in situ rock is something to be marvelled at.

    The sculptor’s conception was that of a holy man wrapt in contemplation so profound as to be unconscious of the serpents about his feet or the plants winding their tendrils around his mightly arms. It looks as bright and clean as just from the chisel of the artisan and has not been injured by a thousand years of wind or weather.

    As Dr. Fergusson, the distinguished archaeologist says ( History of Indian and Eastern Architecture , Part-I) ; “Nothing grander or more imposing exists out of Egypt and even there no known statue surpasses it in height, though it must be confessed they do excel it in perfection of the art they exhibit.”

    Around the pedestal and on the stone of an anthill on either side are inscriptions in Marathi, archaic Kannada, Grantha and Vatteluttu (Quasi-Malayalam), characters, and in Marathi, Kannad and Tamil languages aproclamation; “Chamundaraya caused the image to be made.”

    The ascent to the Gommateshwara statue on the Indragiri hill is made by nearly 500 steps hewn in the granite, and as the hill is held in great esteem and sanctity, not only the Jains but also the non- Jains and foreigners climb it bare-foot. The steps lead through two decorative stone-arches and past the first small shrine and the arch as one ascends, one has a beautiful view of the village below with its fine temples, sacred lake and graceful palms.

    The next ascent brings the pilgrim to the summit of the hill upon which stands an open court of the hill surrounded by corridor containing eight Jain temples. The corridor is again surrounded by a heavy wall, a good part of which is picturesquel band by boulders in their natural position. In the center of the court stands the colossal statue of Gommateswara standing 57ft. high.

    Measurements of the Statue

    Total height : 57 feet.
    Total height from the crown
    of the head to the bottom of the ear : 7 feet.
    Total height from the foot to the
    bottom of the ear : 50 feet.
    Lengnth of the foot : 9 ft.
    Breadth across the foot 4 ft. 6 inches.
    Lengnth of the great toe 2 ft. 9 inches.
    Breadth across the shoulders 20 ft.
    Breadth across the pelvis 13 ft.
    Length of the forefinger 13 ft. 6 inches
    Lengnth of the third finger 4 ft. 7 inches.

    The sculpture of Gommateshwara definitely surpasses “Worlds most heroic sculptures of two Giant American Presidents faced over Mount Rushmore in South Dakota of United States carved between 1927-1941 A.D. “

  6. Thank you for the correction and for giving much more information. I was under the impression that the stone was brought from a distant quarry since I could not find any mentions of a quarry on the hill. I know of large monolithic monuments from Egypt, the Maya area, the Andes and Europe (megaliths) that must have been brought to the precent location by manpower. The Inca for sure trasported huge blocks but that was either downhill or on flat ground. You are probably correct that there once was a large block on top of the hill. I saw similar “free” blocks on the smaller hills at Mahabalipuram.


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