Shravanabelagola. Try saying that five times fast. Yeah, most of us can’t either. On our last field visit of the semester, we travelled a few hours away to the town of Shravanabelagola for a crash course on Jainism. Meaning ‘the white pond’, this holy city of Jainism boasts two major hills where much of the Jain history can be found. Knowing next to nothing about Jainism, I looked forward to adding this to our repertoire of Indian religions. So far having covered Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, this marked the last stop on our religious and spiritual journey throughout India.
After dining on a delicious lunch, including a magnificent chickpea sauce critically acclaimed by all, we met with Professor Jeevan Kumar who acted as our window into the religion of Jainism. We started class that day by first shedding our shoes at the base of the small hill and beginning the climb up to the top. Walking with all manners of people from children too young to walk to elderly people, we panted our way to the top. We made a pit stop next to one of the sites of the hill to get a little background on Jainism. The professor began with the historical side and as we tried to follow the Sanskrit terms, we learned about Chandragupta, thirthankaras, and the flourishing of Jainism in South India.
As we progressed to the main temples, or bastis, of the small hill, these terms began to come together. Chock-full of Indian history, this little hamlet of temples boasted innumerable examples of ancient architecture and inscriptions. Each temple was centered around a single, nude statue of a man in either a sitting or standing position. These men are known as thirthankaras, or path-showers. Flanked by both a male and female attendant-god these imposing figures are representations of the men of Jainism that have achieved liberation from the rebirth cycle. When people come to bastis they worship the attributes of the thirthankaras that have allowed these religious figures to achieve the level of liberation. The five truths of Jainism make up these attributes: non-violence, non-stealing, non-possession, celibacy, and truthfulness.
We wound up our tour of the temples just as the sun began to set. Looking down from the hill we could see the mist rising up from the town. With our brains mulling over Dravidian architecture, paths to liberation, and the enormous spider we spotted outside a temple, we began to make our way back down. The professor sped us along as the town of Shravanabelagola (Have you tried saying it out loud yet?) eats dinner before sunset. So if we wanted more chickpea sauce, we had to hurry. Upon reaching the bottom, we reclaimed our shoes and proceeded back to refuel and continue our exploration of Jainism.