Sravanabelagola

Sravanabelagola, 'the monk on the top of the hill', has had hermits, mystics and ascetics residing here since at least the 3rd century BC, when the hill was thickly wooded and hermits could feed themselves from the vegetation of the forest. In the 10th century AD, temples began to be constructed upon the hill whence it became an important pilgrimage site for the Jain religion. The 58 foot, 8 inch statue of Sri Gomatheswar (also known as Gomata or Bahubali), carved between 978-993 AD out of the granite bedrock of the mountain during the period of Chamundaraya, a minister of the Ganga King Rajamalla, is the tallest free-standing statue in the world. Sri Gomatheswar was the son of the legendary first Tirthankara, Adinatha (tirthankaras are the mythical, enlightened sages of Jainism).

Starkly simple, the beautifully chiseled features of Gomata embody serenity. His perfect lips are turned out at the corners with a hint of a smile, viewing the world with detachment. The chief festival of Sravanabelagola is called Maha Masthaka Abhisheka, or the 'Head Anointing Ceremony'. Prior to the festival an enormous wooden scaffolding is built around the statue of Sri Gomatheswar and more than one million pilgrims assemble around and upon the slopes of the sacred hill. At the conclusion 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 throngs of 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 February 1981, December 1993 and February of 2006.