President Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday flagged off the celebrations to anoint the Gomateshwara statue in this Jain pilgrim town in Karnataka's Hassan district.The President, along with the First Lady Savita Kovind, arrived in Bengaluru on Tuesday evening and were flown by a chopper to flag off the 'Mahamastakabhisheka' (grand consecration) celebrations of the Jain god Bahubali's Gomateshwara statue here."This magnificent statue and the whole philosophy of Jainism are valuable because they teach us world peace," Kovind said in his inaugural address.Lakhs of people from across the country visit Shravanabelagola to take part in the 'Mahamastakabhisheka' festival, which is held once in every 12 years for over 1,000 years now.The statue of Gomateshwara, dedicated to the Jain god Bahubali (a god with strong arms), built around 983 A.D., is one of the largest free-standing statues in the world. Bahubali was the son of Adinath, the first 'Tirthankara' (spiritual leader) of Jainism.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, state Governor Vajubhai Vala, Janata Dal (Secular) leader and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda were also present at the festival's inauguration.During the festival, the 17-metre high mighty monolithic statue of Gomateshwara is anointed with milk, saffron, ghee etc.While the President flagged off the celebrations on Wednesday, the actual anointing of the statue will take place on February 17. The last anointing ceremony took place 12 years ago in 2006."The fest will be celebrated for 18 days from February 7 to 25, with various Jain rituals held for the first nine days and the anointing ceremony taking place from February 17 to 25," the festival organising committee's chief of publicity P.Y. Rajendra Kumar said.While the key days of the festival are from February 17 to 25, devotees and VIPs have been pouring into this town for the last three weeks.According to officials, about 2.25 lakh people are expected to visit the town for the mega Jain observance. The pilgrim town has been spruced up at an estimated cost of Rs 175 crore for the fest.Hundreds of policemen were deployed in the town along with CCTV cameras in order to monitor the crowds.