On December 6th we visited Vindhyagiri or “big hill” in Shravana Belgola. This the home the truly giant monolithic statue of Bahubali. Bahubali was a great Jain king who eventually obtained enlightenment.
The statue was truly awe inspiring and is a monument to the ancient Indian’s genius in engineering. We all appreciated seeing it, but something else caught our attention.
The temple which holds the statue is crowded. Hundreds of people pass through it everyday. Many of them are pilgrims who have come from far away to experience their heritage. Our guest professor on Jainism took us to a higher second level of the temple so he could have some space to tell us about Jainism and so that we could have a better view. A guard blocking the staircase moved aside to let us in. Simultaneously, other temple goers tried to go up so they could have a better view, like us. The guards blocked them, but continued to allow us to go up. I don’t know the details of the event, but the end result is fairly clear. The group of white foreigners were allowed go up, but the heritage travelers weren’t.
Privilege was a topic we constantly encountered during this trip. When learning about social justice, its extremely frustrating to be given preferential treatment. Suddenly the theories we’ve been learning about in the classroom become real. The injustice becomes evident. It drives us to work for a world where the temple guard, if he is biased, is biased towards those who temple means most to and not those who are of a certain nationality or class.