Standing tall on top of the Vindhyagiri Hill at an altitude of 3347 feet, in the Temple Town of Shravanabelgola, located in the Indian state of Karnataka, the giant monolithic statue of Gommateshwara was built in the 10th century by Chamundaraya, the commander of the King Rajamalla of the Ganga dynasty. Considered one of the largest free standing monolithic statues in the world, the 57 feet (17 m) tall granite statue, weighing about 80 tons, is visible from 30 km (19 miles) away, Dedicated to Jain deity Lord Gommateshwara, also known as Bahubali, the son of Rishabhanatha, the first of the 24 Tirthankaras in Jainism, the statue symbolises the Jain precepts of peace, non-violence, the sacrifice of worldly affairs and advocates simple living. However, to get a closer look at the colossal statue and visit several other temples erected on the site, one has to negotiate 614 steps hewn into the rock face.
As depicted in Adi Purana, a Sanskrit verse, written in the 9th century by the Digambara monk Jinasena, praising the life of the first Tirthankara Rishabhanatha, Bahubali was born to Rishabhanatha and Sunanda during the Ikshvaku Dynasty in Ayodhya. Before he became a monk, Rishabhanatha distributed his kingdom among his 100 sons, when Bharata was gifted the kingdom of Vinita (Ayodhya) and Bahubali got the kingdom of Asmaka from South India. However, as his 98 brothers became Jain monks and submitted their kingdoms to him, Bharata wanted to get the whole Empire and challenged the supremacy of Bahubali, his elder brother.
Eventually, when a war between brothers became imminent, the ministers on both sides suggested to settle the dispute between the brothers by three kinds of contests, Eye-fight or staring at each other without batting an eyelid, Water-fight or Jala-yuddha and Wrestling or Malla-yuddha, in place of a bloody war. Although Bahubali won all the contests, he became disgusted with the life of a king, full of violence, jealousy and self-interest. He, therefore, gave his kingdom to his brother, left his family and abandoned all the worldly pleasures and possessions, ornaments and even clothes and began meditating with great resolve. He stood in a motionless posture, known as Kayotsarga, to attain salvation and Kevala Jnana, the omniscience, by practicing renunciation, self-restraint and complete dominance of ego.
According to a legendary story, depicted in the inscriptions at the base of the statue of Gommateshwara, Kalala Devi the mother of Chamundaraya, once saw a huge statue of Gommateshwara in her dreams and vowed not to eat until her dream is materialized. Subsequently, Chamundaraya decided to build the statue in Shravanabelgola, as it was already sanctified by the Jains. According to another version of the story, on his way to pilgrimage with his mother, Chamundaraya arrived at the site, a place with two hills, Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri and a pond in between. Suddenly, as if in a dream, Chamundaraya saw himself shooting an arrow from the summit of Chandragiri to the adjacent Vindhyagiri and the figure of Gommateshwara flashed on the spot, where the arrow hit. Consequently, the huge granite statue was built on the top of the Vindhyagir, between 980 and 983 AD, under the supervision of sage Arishtanemi and the valley between the two hills around the pond was named Shravanabelgola.
The north facing huge stone sculpture of Lord Gommateshwara with perfectly chiselled features, broad shoulders and long arms stretched straight down, is depicted in the upright posture of meditation known as Kayotsarga. He has ringlets of curly hair and large, elongated ears, big open eyes and a faint smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
His face, adorned with a heavenly smile and his calm posture embodies a serene tranquility, associated with an ascetic detachment. While the statue stands on a carved lotus flower, a symbol of peace, enlightenment and divinity, and is devoid of support from the waist up, an anthill is depicted at the base of the statue and a creeper is twined around both his legs and arms, blossoming into flowers and berries on the upper arms.
Every 12 years, Jain pilgrims from all over the world gather at Shravanabelgola to celebrate the Mahamasthakabhisheka ceremony of Lord Gomateshwara. On the occasion, the devotees pour 1,008 vessels of milk, honey, sugarcane juice, coconut water, vermilion, sandalwood paste, turmeric paste and paste of saffron flower on the head of the massive monolithic statue, from a specially erected scaffolding.
Enlisted by theArchaeological Survey of Indiaas an Adarsh Smarak Monument, along with a group of monuments in Shravanabelagola, the sculptured statue of Gommateshwarawas voted the first of Seven Wonders of India in 2007, in a Times of India poll, when 49% of the total votes went in its favour.