1. SUBLIME AND MEANINGFUL SOUPTURE
Sravana-Belagola has been famous in the world for the last so many centuries for its lasting contributions to the culture of the world through its ideal saints, classic philosophical works, exquiste sacred monuments like temples, caves, pillars, etc., and especially the impressive colossal image of Gommatesvara. Sravana-Belagola is the well known temple city of the Jainas in India as it contained innumerable shrines situated on the Vindhyagair hill, on the Chandragiri hill, in the village proper and in the adjacent village like Jinanathapura and Kambhada-halli. These shrines, as per the established practice in South India, have been divided broadly into two categories, viz., ï¿½Bastisï¿½ and ï¿½Bettasï¿½. This division of the southern Jaina shrines into two classes, called Bastis and Battas, is the major peculiarity that distinguishes the Jaina architecture of South India from that of North India. The term ï¿½Bastiï¿½, properly ,Basadiï¿½, signifies a Jaina temple; and it is the kannada form of the Sanskrit word ï¿½Vasatiï¿½ having the same meaning. Hence ï¿½Bastisï¿½ are temples, in the usual acceptance of the word in North India, containing image of one or more of the twenty-four Tirthankaras which are the usual objects of worship. On the other hand, the term ï¿½Bettaï¿½, in the Kannada language, literally means a hill; but it is used in a specific sense by the Jainas in South India. Here in the term ï¿½Bettaï¿½ is applied to a special form of shrine consisting of a courtyard open to the sky, with cloisters round about and in the center a colossal image, not of a Trithankara, but of a saint and usually of the saint Bahubali, the son of the first Tirthankara, Lord Rishbhadeva. Hence the colossal image of Bahubali on the Vidhyagire hill belongs to the category of ï¿½Bettasï¿½ and provides the best and most ancient example of such ï¿½Bettasï¿½. This colossal and dignified image of Bahubali, which is one of the largest free-standing images in the world, is the most distinctive contribution of Sravana-Belagola to the culture of the world both from the sculptural point of view as the magnificent creation of art in the world and from the philosophical point of view through the message of eternal values it gives to the world.
The colossal image of Gommtesvara is the most impressive and wonderful image in the world because of its huge size of 57 feet in height and ot its location on the crest of the Vindhyagiri hill which rises over 450 feet above the level of the ground. Due to its unique size and location, this image, unlike other image, is visible from a distance of about 10 miles all around. It is carved out of a tall granitic tor which was originally on the hill-top and which amply satisfied the sculptor by its homogeneity and fine grained texture. The sculpture is finished in the round from the head down to the region of the thighs by the removal of the unwanted rock from behind, front and sides. Below the things, the knees and the feet are cut in very height relief with the parent rock-mass still left on the flanks and rear, as if to support it. The flanking rockmasses depict ant-hills and ï¿½Kukkuta-sarpasï¿½, i.e., cocktrices emerging out and from among them, and on either side emerges a ï¿½Madhaviï¿½ creeper climbing up to entwine the legs and things and ascending almost to the arms, near the shoulders, with their leaves spaced out and terminating in a cluster of flowers or berries. The pedestal on which stand the feet of Gommata, each measuring a feet, is a full-blown lotus, Broad-chested and majestic, Gommata stands erect in the ï¿½Khadgasanaï¿½-pose with his arma dangling on either side reaching to the knees and with thumbs facing in. The carving of the almost rounded head, 7.6 feet high, erect, facing the north, with a sublime compoure, is a most marvellous composition of any age. The half-closed and contemplative eyes, with their gaze turned towards the tip of the sharp and sensitive nose, the well-shaped pouting lips wearing a benign and serene smile, the slightly-projected chin with a dimple above, an imperceptibly high cheek, lobed ears and subdued and vaulted curls of locks on the head invading the broad forehead-all make for a charming face, yet quite serene. The broad shoulders, 26 feet across, of sturdy appearance and the lack of well-modulated elbow and knee joints, the broad and slightly heaved up chest, the narrow hip, about 10 feet wide in front, the wider pelvis, about 13 feet across in front, and rounded gluteal bulges, as if to balance the erect stance, the incurred and chandelled midline of the back, the firmly-planted pair of feet, in brief all the mahapurushalkshanas in the best grace of the stance, while at the same time they indicate the conventions of Jaina iconography adopted in respect of the Tirhankarasï¿½ forms that had to eschew undue emphasis on corporeal graces tending to the worldly an voluputous. The sculptor has very effectively brought into existence in stone the concept of mahapursha with all the anga-lakhshanas. The nudity of the figure, indicating absolute renunciation of ï¿½Kevalinï¿½, i.e., omniscient, the stiff erectness of the stance, suggesting firm determination and selfcontrol of a Jina, and the beaming simle and contemplative gaze-all blend together to bring out the greatness of conception and the mastery of the sculptor. The deft skill with which the head and its mien, the crease lines on the neck and the palm lines, the hands, the fingers, even the nails and the feet with their toe and nails are delineated in this hard intractable ï¿½in situï¿½ rock is something to be marvelled at.
Further, as a masterpiece of monoliths the image of Gommtesvara is unrivalled in the world. The Egyptian colossi, including that of Ramses, as also the great Buddhas on the faces of the cliffs of Bamian in Afganistan, are at best reliefs, while the Gommatesvara is in the round for most of its height above the knees, with a rear side as perfectly shaped and modelled as the front side. Further, this sculpture is cut and is wrought out of the hardest stone as compared to the above reliefs carved in much softer sand stone.
Added to this is mirror-like smooth aud shining polish of the entire body that brings out the rich fine grains of this greyish white granite, an art that had been lost or forgotten for more than a millennium since the workmen of Ashoka had polished the extensive interiors of the Ajivika caves in the hills near Gaya in north India. For a hypaethral statue on a high hill-top exposed to sun, rain heat, cold and abrasive dust and rain-carrying winds the polish acts as a great refractory- a fact which the makers seem to have understood. Unlike the earlier examples of Gommata at Ellora and other places, the creepers entwining round the body have been shown here with great control with their distinctive foliage well-spaced apart and in way that would not detract from the majesty of the main figure itself.
Thus this colossal image of Bahubali is known as marvellous creation of art, unsurpassed so far in the whole world. But this image is still more significant in theworld for the message of eternal values which is gives to the entire humanity. The image, though huge, is so expressive that apart from its total effect of awe and serenity, its different features also invariably convey certain profound meanings which crate a deep impact on the visitors even within a very short period of their visit. For instance, the stiff erectniess of the image in the ï¿½Kayotsaraï¿½ posture indicates perfect self-control and firm self-confidence, the faint and begin smile of the face indicates complete inwards bliss and utmost sympathy for the suffering world, the nudity of the figure suggests absolute renunciation and full detachment from the world, and the huge size of the figure reveals the greatness of the saint and at the same time it creates the feelings of hope inj man that he also can achieve similar greatness by following hope of the saint and at the same time it creates the felling of hope in man that he also can achieve similar greatness by following the path of penance laid down by him. Its ï¿½bhavyaï¿½, i.e. grand pose its ï¿½vitaragaï¿½ i.e., impassive face, its equisite appearance and its meditative mood are really exemplary. Even though it one thousand years old, it looks extremely beautiful and bright, as though quite first from the chisel of the artists. It creates such a deep impact of superb feelings on the mind which even the reading of scriptures would not be in position to do Naturally, this image evokes in the minds of the visitors utmost admiration for the unknown artist, who carved it, and for the commander ï¿½ in chief Chamunda-Raya, who installed it.
Further, the very sight of the image gives a kind of profound spiritual bliss and mental satisfaction to us. If ever and anywhere stone can speaks, it certainly speaks here for all times. Nay, it does more. It instils in us feelings of devotion, piety and humility. It makes us bold to shun all forms of hypocrisy and sin, and strengthens us to walk on the path of right-eousness. Obviously, the sublime statue creates at once deep feelings of compelling reverence and complete submission. For example, there have been many instances when the fierce iconoclasts who rushed up the hill to mutilate the image, had, on seeing it to throw their axes aside and stand ashamed in mute reverence. That is why during the long period of Muslim domination in South India, this image, unlike the images at Hampi, Koppal, Lakkundl and other sacred places in Karnataka, remained throughout unhurt and unmultilated. Similarly, this image did evoke pious feelings in the minds of foreign dignitaries also. The great general Sir Arthur wellesley who was commanding the British troops at Seringapatam heard about his image and went to see it. On entering the enclosure and on seeing the image, the impression created in his mind was such that he took off his hat and exclaimed, ï¿½O ! My God!ï¿½ Further, in this connection the recent incidence of the visit of the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, along with his daugher Smt. Indira Gandhi, the present Prime Minister of India,k to Sravana-Belagola on the 7th of September 1951 only for the purpose of seeing the image of Gommatesvara can be cited. On entering the enclosure when Pandit Nahru had the full view of the image, he was so much impressed by the sublime and imposing figure that he was struck with awe and wonder, continued to look at it for several minutes with concentration of mind, stood before the image in prayerful mood and ultimately exclaimed to Smt Indira Gandhi standing nearby : ï¿½ Am I standing on this earth or am I in the environment of the heaven ? I am seeing for the first time in my life such unparalleled and pleasing image.ï¿½