The Gommateshwara Statue is a colossal statue of Bahubali (meaning ‘the One with Strong Arms’), found in Karnataka, India. Bahubali was a son of Rishabhanatha, the first Tirthankara of Jainism. Jain legends say the statue was the result of a dream and elements of the religion’s stories and symbolism are represented in features found across the 10th century statue.
The Gommateshwara Statue is located in the town of Shravanabelagola. The massive statue is located on the top of Vindyagiri, one of the two hills in Shravanabelagola (the other being Chandragiri). The statue was carved out of a single piece of granite and reaches a height of 17 meters (about 56 feet), making it one of the largest monolithic statues in the world. It was built around 983 AD by Chavundraya, who served under Rachamalla II, the ruler of the Western Ganga Dynasty .
The monolithic statue of Lord Gomateshwara at Shravanbelagola.
Legends of the Creation of the Gommateshwara Statue
According to one legend, the mother of Chavundraya, Kalala Devi, saw a giant statue of Bahubali in her dreams, and made a vow that she would not eat until her dream was realized. As a result of this, her son decided to have the Gommateshwara Statue built at Shravanabelagola, a site which was already sacred to the Jains.
According to another legend, Chavundraya and his mother arrived at the site of Shravanabelagola during a pilgrimage. At the site, Chavundraya had a dream in which he shot an arrow from the summit of Chandragiri to Vindyagiri, as instructed by Kushmandini (one of the Yakshi, or nature spirits who were the attendants of the god Kubera). On the spot where the arrow landed, a figure of Bahubali appeared. When Chavundraya woke up, he had a giant statue of Bahubali carved under the supervision of the sage Arishtanemi and placed on Vindyagiri. The valley between the two hills had a white pond in it, hence the name Shravanabelagola (‘Shravana’ meaning ‘saint’, and Bel Gola’ meaning ‘white pond’).
Symbolic Features on the Statue
The Gommateshwara Statue depicts Bahubali in the Kayotsarga position. This is an upright posture of meditation aimed at the attainment of salvation through the practice of renunciation, self-restraint, and complete mastery over the ego. According to Jain belief, Bahubali stood in the Kayotsarga position for a year, at the end of which he attained omniscience and became the first human being of this world age to achieve liberation. Whilst he was meditating, Bahubali stood so still that anthills rose around his feet, and vines grew up his arms and legs. These details were carved in to the Gommateshwara Statue.
Apart from the vines and anthills, there are also other details on the statue that reflect the detachment achieved by Bahubali. The most obvious of these is the fact that the Gommateshwara Statue is entirely nude. The nudity is meant to symbolize the victory over earthly attachments and desires, which is typical of Jain tradition . This detachment is visible also in the calm facial expression of the Gommateshwara Statue.
Lord Bahubali, the world’s largest monolithic statue, at the Jain temple of Shravanabelagola, Karnataka.
Anointing the Statue for Mahamastakabhisheka
The Gommateshwara Statue is a well-known pilgrimage site for Jains and it receives a large number of devotees each day. The best-known religious event involving the Gommateshwara Statue is the Mahamastakabhisheka (meaning the ‘Great Consecration Festival’). Any anointment of Jain images on a large scale is given this name, and the Mahamastakabhisheka of the Gommateshwara Statue is arguably the most famous example.
During the festival, the statue is first be sprinkled 1008 vessels of water by devotees. Then, it is anointed from head to toe with sugarcane juice, milk, and saffron. Finally, the statue is sprinkled with flower petals, turmeric, sandalwood powder, and vermilion. This grand festival is held once every 12 years, the most recent one occurring in February 2018, and the next one to be celebrated in 2030.