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.
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.
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.