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Jain sacred hill of Sravanabelagola

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Karnataka, India.

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The hill of Sravanabelagola, 120 kilometers west of Bangalore in the state of Karnataka, is a noted place of pilgrimage in the religion of Jainism. The large hill, also called Vindhyagiri or Per-kalbappu, is 3347 feet above sea level. A flight of 614 steps, finely chiseled into the granite of the mountain, leads to the summit, where stands an open court and the great statue of Sri Gomatheswar. Sravanabelagola means 'the monk on the top of the hill' and hermits, mystics and ascetics have resided here since at least the 3rd century BC. In those early times the hill was thickly wooded and hermits could feed themselves from the vegetation of the forest. Near the middle of the 10th century AD, temples began to be constructed upon the hill and from that time the place has become one of the most important pilgrimage sites of the Jain religion.

The 58 foot, 8 inch statue of Sri Gomatheswar, carved between 978 and 993 AD out of the granite bedrock of the mountain, is the tallest free-standing statue in the world. Sri Gomatheswar, also known as Bahubali, was the son of the legendary first Tirthankara, Adinatha (Tirthankaras are the mythical, enlightened sages of Jainism). The chief festival of Sravanabelagola is called Maha Masthaka Abhisheka, or the 'Head Anointing Ceremony'. Prior to the festival enormous wooden scaffolding is built around the statue of Sri Gomatheswar and more than one million pilgrims assemble upon the slopes of the sacred hill. During the climax of the festival, priests and devotees standing atop the scaffolding chant holy mantras and ritually pour thousands of gallons of milk, honey and precious herbs over the head of the statue. While flowing downwards over the body of the statue these sacred offerings are believed to acquire a powerful charge of spiritual energy from the great deity. Collected at the feet of the statue and distributed to the waiting pilgrims, the magical libations are considered to assist individuals in their quest for enlightenment. The festival is performed only once every twelve to fourteen years during periods of rare astrological significance. Recent festivals occurred in 1981, 1993 and 2006.

Photos: Statue of Sri Gomatheswar atop the hill of Sravanabelagola

The Holy Feet of the Sri Gomatheswar statue, Sravanabelagola

More about Sravanabelagola.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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