Divine, tranquil ambience

Last Updated : 30 June 2014, 14:35 IST
Last Updated : 30 June 2014, 14:35 IST

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Chitra Ramaswamy writes about Gomatagiri, home toa lesser-known Gomateshwara, a monolithic sculpture carved from granite.

We were greeted by the 16-foot tall monolithic statue of Gomateshwara, well before we reached the hillock upon which it stood. The hill temple of Gomatagiri, popularly known as Shravanagudda, stands in the midst of nowhere, on a bald, rugged hillock near the small village of Bilikere, on the Mysore-Hassan track.

The statue of the Jain deity, also known as Bahubali, the son of the legendary first Jain tirthankara, Adinath, is a rare sculpture in granite, supposedly crafted by the artists who had sculpted the colossus of Gomateshwara at Shravanabelagola.

Enrapturing place

We reached this village via picturesque fields in the early hours of a winter
morning. A dwajasthamba stood at the base of the hill. On the crest of this little hillock, the idol stood desolate, with no roof. Though it was close to 8 am, there was no sign of life with the exception of a few workers engaged in renovation work. A cyclist passing by, stopped and became our self-appointed guide.

After introducing himself as Ramappa, a local resident, he began to narrate tales associated with the Temple. Pilgrims who visit the Bahubali shrine at Shravanabelagola, do drive down the extra mile to pay their obeisance to Gomateshwara here also, he adds.

At the landing of the rough and uneven flight of steps, we spot imprints of a pair of feet which Ramappa tells us belongs to Bahubali himself. We then made a slow and measured ascent, stopping now and then to soak in the tranquility of our surrounds. We also spotted a platform bearing the footprints, supposedly of Neminatha, the 24th Jain tirthankara.

The view from the top was stunning, our environs serene. The backwaters of the Krishna Raja Sagar Reservoir add their bewitching charm to the panorama. Our immediate neighbourhood, best described as the Temple complex, is dotted with mandapas, one for each of the 24 Jain tirthankaras. Every one of these shrines has a marble-sculpted paduka or footprints of the tirthankara.

A narrow doorway at the landing of the flight, leads to the four-walled enclosure inside which the majestic idol of Bahubali stands in a meditative posture. Twin serpents rise from anthills to rest their hoods on the tip of the middle finger of a serene-faced Gomateshwara, and entwine themselves in a zigzag pattern around his limbs.

Curly tresses cap the idol’s crown, completing a simple but compelling work of art. The pair of hooded serpents flanking the figure is what sets Bahubali of Gomatagiri apart from the one at
Shravanabelagola. The serenely expressive Gomateshwara is believed to be symbolic of the triumph of the spiritual over the physical.

A Jain hub

While the history of Gomatagiri is shrouded in mystery and there are no
inscriptions to throw light on the ruler who built it, it is evident that Jainism must have flourished here centuries ago. While art historians attribute the statue to the early Vijayanagar period and say it is about 700 years old, the locals believe it is over 1,000 years old.

Even as far back as the 3rd century BC, the Gomatagiri region and its vicinity were a strong bastion of Jainism. Ramappa tells us that once the Jains moved out of the
region hundreds of years ago, the place remained neglected and the Temple itself had few visitors.

Vagaries of weather worsened the situation when lightning split the hillock, creating a huge crack, making the shrine difficult to access.

Following centuries of neglect, the Temple experienced “resurrection” thanks to the efforts of the Gomatagiri Kshetra Seva Samithi. The statue and its surrounds were restored to former glory and the anointing ceremony began to be held annually since 1950.

Come September-October, the statue is bedecked in myriad hues, amidst chanting of shlokas. Devotional fervour marks the annual celebrations. Coconut water, milk, turmeric, sandal paste, vermilion and  theertha or holy water, cascade down the idol, as devotees scramble to get a handful of the sanctified mixture.

It is the only occasion when hundreds of worshippers make a beeline to visit the Temple, reveals Ramappa.

Unfortunately, quarrying operations in surrounding areas are beginning to
adversely affect the statue. Signs of damage in the form of cracks are visible on it.

Published 30 June 2014, 14:35 IST

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