4/4/2008 to 4/5/2008 | India , Karnataka

The Sculpture of the Hoysala

Central Karnataka was ruled by the Hoysala dynasty during the 11-13th centuries.  Their temples were characterized by incredibly ornate sculptural detail, possible because the soft steatite soapstone used in construction oxidizes and hardens when exposed to air, beautifully preserving the artistry for almost a thousand years.  The Hindu temples of Halebid and Belure are two of the most famous examples of Hoysala architecture, with Halebid built slightly later, but never finished, and exhibiting more sculptural detail.  Belur is more complete and still actively used as a temple today.  I had been to both temples my first time in India but as I was in the area to see the large Jain sculpture and temple complex at Sravanabelagola, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit these two temples which boast some of the finest Hindu sculpture in India.

Sravanabelagola is a place scared to the followers of the Jain religion.  It is believed to be the place where a Jain practicing Mauryan emperor Chandragupta starved himself do death in meditation around 300 B.C.  Allegedly several other Jain devotees have followed his lead and chose this place to die as well over the years.  Much of the architecture dates from the late 10th century including the huge monolithic statue of Gomateshvara standing naked in meditation in the forest as vines grow up his legs.  Gomateshvara was the son of the first of 24 Jain Tirthankara (holy figures who freed them selves from the cycle of rebirth).  After a fight with his brother Gomateshvara rejected greed and meditated in the forest standing motionless as vines grew up his legs and snakes coiled at his feet until he achieved moksh, release, roughly the Jain equivalent of nirvana.  In so doing he became the first human to achieve such a state, even before his father.

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