KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
I had first heard about the statue of Gomatheswar, a Jain deity at Sravanabelagola (translated as The Monk of the White Pond) in South India when my brother visited it in the mid-70's and sent me a postcard. It is an amazing colossal monolith on top of a huge out-cropping of rock in the middle of nowhere, carved in 981 AD. Carved out of a single block of granite, this 60-foot-high statue stands majestically on top of the hill. The statue represents Bahubali who renounced his kingdom and withdrew into the forest to meditate in complete silence in a standing position until he reached enlightenment. The vines carved on this legs and arms as well as the ant hills on either side of his feet, attest to his stillness and detachment during meditation.
The carving is reached by climbing 614 steps cut into the rock face. At this time of year, the sun makes the rock unbearably hot to bare feet, so we purchased some socks from the vendors at the bottom and started to climb. There are several men who offer to carry those unable to climb the stairs. We learned that the cost of a "chair-lift" is Rs 150 for the trip up and for the trip down a "tip" is expected. I was pleased to see that the height of the stairs was relatively small, six inches, and that there are shaded spots along the way to give some relief from the noon-day sun. As we climbed, we were able to see the village below and the second hill on the other side of the town. The view to the land below made the climb worthwhile, and we still had the statue to cap the experience. For some unknown reason, the steps at the top are much higher and would be especially hard for anyone with shorter legs than ours.
Our first glimpse of the Gomatheswar was through the temple archway, the section from his waist to his knees featuring prominently. I wonder how prudish Indian women manage this sight, as it is a man in all his glory. As we stepped forward, we were able to see his serene face and delicately carved hands, a truly wonderful stone carving. Unfortunately, there is a large scaffolding surrounding the statue; it was erected during the last Mahamastakabhishekam festival. This festival is held once every twelve years, when the image of Gomateswara is bathed in milk, curds, ghee, saffron and gold coins. I would have loved to see the statue without all the surrounding distractions. Here is a link that will show you what it looked like when only the sky was touching his head and shoulders: The Man Without the Scaffolding.
The climb down was simple for me, but Anil suffered once again as the corns on the balls of his feet gave him no end of trouble on the stone stairs. I rewarded him for his efforts by getting him his favorite refreshing drink - fresh coconut. We found our driver sleeping in the car under a shady tree and once he was wide awake, we carried on to our next stop, Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka.