Meher was visiting from Holland last week. We decided to take a day trip to Sravanabelagola, Belur and Halebid: three temple towns in Karnataka. We had both visited these temples years ago. I had good memories of them and wanted to see them again.
We rented a taxi for the day and set off at 7am so we could beat the traffic. This we managed until we hit Tumkur Road heading towards the north-west which was jammed with traffic, mostly trucks. Construction work was in progress to widen this busy road.
But before long we were outside the city and heading through the beautiful countryside. We passed people working in the fields and children on their way to school. We noticed that the huge old trees lining the road to Hassan were being cut down. At one point we were directed to make a detour through a field to avoid a felling in progress. The driver informed us that this road would be widened too. Traffic did not seem heavy on this road at all, though it was a weekday and maybe the scene is different on weekends. It was sad to see all these big beautiful trees disappearing and we saw quite a few trucks hauling huge logs away.
We often had to slow down to pass over long stalks of some type of grain which were put across the middle of the road by the villagers. I asked the driver what this was and he told me it was ragi - a type of locally grown cereal which is a staple in this region. By having cars and trucks drive over it, the grains are separated from the stalks, making the task a little easier for the farmers!
As we approached Sravanabelagola for our first stop, we could see the huge statue of Gomateswara standing atop the hillside. It was a surreal sight to behold. We left our shoes in the car and prepared to climb the 614 steps to the Jain temple at the top of the hill where Gomateswara was waiting. Meher couldn’t remember if the statue was male or female and I assured her that she would have no doubt about that once she saw it!
614 steps later, all 58 feet and 8 inches of Gomateswara was standing before us. This is the largest free-standing statue in the world, carved out of the granite bedrock of the mountain between 978 and 993 AD.
Once every 12 years during the Maha Masthaka Abhisheka festival, Jain devotees chant mantras while ritually pouring milk, ghee, curd, honey, saffron and gold coins over the statue. The last time this took place was in February 2006.
The Jain priests had just finished a puja. A few devotees were receiving their blessings and a group of French tourists were busy snapping photos. We had a look around and admired the spectacular view from the top of the hill before heading back down.