In Shravanabelgola, India, A Giant Stone Statue Gets a Drink and a Wash

THE DAILY PIC: At the Rubin Museum, Deidi von Schaewen documents Jains annointing a sculpture.

THE DAILY PIC (#1606): People often draw comparisons between art and religious rituals, but the Rubin Museum in New York recently woke me up to a new parallel: Both involve expending vast social resources on bits of nonfunctional culture – on things that you can’t eat or wear or hurt someone with.

In the Rubin show called “Sacred Spaces,” the artist Deidi von Schaewen is showing a video projection that documents a ritual from the Jain community in Shravanabelgola, India. Every 12 years, Jains gather atop the world’s tallest statue carved from a single stone, a millennium old and stretching 57 feet from toe to head. They then spend hours pouring vast vats of spices and drinks over it, in a notable case of conspicuous devotion.

The waste of resources is clearly part of the ritual’s efficacy, proving the extent of the believers’ commitment. And of course that’s true also of every single artwork – including especially the giant statue in Shravanabelgola. Whenever a work of art gets made, someone is sending a message that they believe enough in what it stands for – whether esthetics or deity or even class status – that they are willing to spend their surplus on the art rather than on a meal or a war.

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