During our stay in Melkote our hosts thought it might help us to begin to understand the cultural stew surrounding us by visiting the one thousand year old statue carved out of a granite mountain top of Gommateshvara Bahubali at Shravanabelagola, a Jainist pilgrimage site and a stunning wonder of human achievement. In addition it’s a pretty easy hike (which must be done barefoot(!) due to the sacred nature of not just the statue but the mountain on which it stands) with magnificent views from the top of the surrounding countryside, all the way back to Melkote and beyond.
Looking back on the barefoot climb which was very pleasant because the carved steps were worn smooth and warm from the summer heat.
Once we arrived at the top, rested a bit and drank some water, we proceeded into the statue area, which is a courtyard surrounded by a square hall with many smaller chapels and figures of Jainist monks. We heard music as we approached and it turned out there was a full ceremony taking place at the literal foot of the statue. A man on a keyboard was singing and playing music while many devotees — women and men — washed the feet of the statue with milk and ghee and other sacred offerings. Sumanas grew up in Melkote and drove us to the site and accompanied us up to the statue together with a few of the orphans being cared for at the Trust. He said that he had visited the statue many times but had never seen a ceremony before. Apparently every twelve years Jainists from around the world make a pilgrimage called the Mahamastakabhisheka to the statue where they build a scaffolding around it and anoint the entire body with sacred foods and decorations — the next one is 2018 if you’d like to mark that on your calendar.