Bahubali – the Ego buster

According to the Jain legends, Bahubali’s leaving the arena, even after almost winning the duel, cleanses Bharat’s heart. When Bahubali attains Kevalgyan, Bharat becomes his devotee; he installs a golden statue on the exact spot in the jungles of Paudanpura where Bahubali performed austerities. It is a remarkable colossus of 525 bow-length (a bow length equals three feet and four inches). The colossus stands in a thick jungle inhabited by wild beasts. In the beginning devotees from far and wide throng to visit the statue. As it stands in a difficult terrain, slowly and slowly people stops visiting the place and it goes into oblivion, almost forgotten.

Bahubali Statue at Shravanabelagola

Bahubali Statue at Shravanabelagola

Tenth Century: Kalala Devi, mother of Chamundaraya, a powerful and valiant minister of King Rachamalla V of Ganga dynasty, is listening the sermons of the wandering Jain muni, Jinasena. The Jain muni is giving a sermon about Bahubali, based on Jain-Purana. In the end of the sermon he talks about the legend of the golden statue. Kaladevi is curious and desires to go on an expedition to find the statue.

Chamundaraya is based in southern Madurai. He has served three generations of his patron Ganga Dynasty and has won many battles for them. He is regarded as a valiant conqueror. He is also deeply religious and has scholarly learnings of the Jain teachings and its lore.

After reaching home Kalala devi discusses about the statue and shares her desire to go on pilgrimage to search for the Bahubali’s lost golden statue. Chamundaraya is impressed by the idea and decides to join her mother and acharya Jinasena in the search along with a small retinue of pilgrims.

In their pursuit to find the statue, they reach Sharavanbelagola which is a Jain pilgrimage spot. The pilgrimage party settles around a cave where earlier Chandragupta’s guru, Acharya Bhadrabahu, lived and died. In the night, both Chamundaraya and his mother have a common dream. Jain yakshini and the guardian spirit, Padmavati, dissuades them from looking out further for the golden statue which was long-lost. She suggests that the next day Chamundaraya should shoot an arrow from the hill where they are residing to the other hill in front, and he would find a huge statue of Bahubali where his arrow would fall.

The next day Chamundaraya decides to follow the advice of the patron deity. He stands on a boulder and shoots an arrow towards the higher hill. The rock from where he shot the arrow is henceforth known as “the Chamundaraya rock”. When the search party trace the arrow they are surprised to see a massive boulder at the place where the arrow hit the hill.

Taking a clue from the divine message and looking at the boulder Chamundaraya visualizes the statue of his saintly hero and decides to build a colossus at this very spot.

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral – Antoine De Saint-Exupery (author and an aviator)

The task of sculpting is given to skilled sculptors under the guidance of Mahashilpi Arishtanemi. Arishtanemi agrees for the task with a demand that he should be paid daily in golden-dust equivalent to the stone-dust produced during chiselling. An outrageous demand! However, wealthy and devoted Chamundaraya agrees to it. Arishtanemi orders the team to chisel from the top, working down on the boulder. On the first day, after receiving the payment, Arishtnemi reaches his home and dips his hands in the golden dust enjoying the enormous wealth and the contract he has just made.

As the initial excitement is over, Arishtanemi decides to quickly finish his dinner and then plan for the next day. As he takes his hand out of the dust, he realizes that the golden-dust has stuck to his hand. He tries hard and all possible means to get rid of it but he is unable to detach it. He is terrified at the development. In this agony, he realizes that probably it has something to do with his greed and ego. He decides to rectify his mistake by demanding only what he deserves and tears of repentance start to flow over his cheeks. Immediately the golden dust start to fall from his hand. He realizes how ascetic Bahubali could have allowed him to carve his statue with this insatiable greed! From that day onwards, he considers carving the granite boulder as a religious service and not as a money minting business. He is now transformed into a man on a mission and realizes that some supernatural power has started guiding his hands and imagination.

March 981 AD, the statue is ready to be consecrated after twelve years of hard work. As the statue is unveiled for mastakabhisheka(head-anointment ceremony), all present are impressed by the artistic excellence of the craftsmanship under Arishtnemi. The work inspires poets to write poems – showering praise on the grandeur of the statue, artistry of the mahashilpi and the meritorious undertaking of its patron, Chamundaraya. Pilgrims are coming in from far and wide; they believe that the lord of their admiration and worship will help them cut asunder the snares of karma and will liberate them from never-ending cycle of life and death.

The upper portion of Bahubali's statue @ Shravanabelagola

The upper portion of Bahubali’s statue @ Shravanabelagola

Today the subject of the discussions is Bahubali and his statue. A group is talking about the beauty of the statue.

A devotee comments, “What a glorious form, broad shoulders, long dangling arms! Bahubali, the mightiest of all, deserves this, after-all he willingly gifted away the kingdom that was his.”

Another one says, “I am not able to take my eyes away from his round face, long-lobed ears, head decorated with curls, sublime face, half-closed contemplative eyes with gaze turned towards the tip of the sharp nose and the well-shaped lips bearing a serene smile.”

“I am also awestruck at that guileless smile that dances around his lips” comments someone else in the group.

Another one adds, “I think he is smiling on us for our indulgence in this material world.”

Someone is pointing out, “I have not seen a single bird, sitting over the colossus. The statue is revered even by these winged creatures.”

Strange index finger on left hand

Strange index finger on left hand

People are praising the workmanship for its flawless execution. Suddenly someone notices the left hand of the statue. “Look at Bahubali’s left hand. The index finger is unusually shorter!”

“I heard that Arishtnemi has done it to protect the statue from evil eyes”.

“No, I think he wants to gives us the message that no-one is flawless.”

“In my opinion, he has done so it becomes evident that this statue is conceptualized and chiseled by human being and is not a divine creation.”

“The short index finger reflects the wisdom”, comments another onlooker with an interest in astrology.

Chamundarai is busy in inspecting the statue and looking after all the preparations done for the Mastakabhisheka. He is filled with great satisfaction and admiration. The awe-filled gaze of everyone around has elated his pride. He notices a woman in the crowd of devotees who has brought milk in egg-plant for mastakabhisheka. He looks at hundreds of milk pots that he has kept ready for the purpose and smiles at the naivety of the woman.

Statue of Gullikayi Ajji, woman with milk in egg-plant

Statue of Gullikayi Ajji, woman with milk in egg-plant

At the auspicious time of the mastakabhisheka, large pots of milk are taken over the statue and are poured over. There is a loud chanting of “Navkar-Mantra” all around. There is an atmosphere of immense celebrations and festivities. However, suddenly there is a concern among all as they notice that the milk is not coming down below the thighs. Chamundaraya orders more milk to be poured over but the result is the same. The milk is not reaching the feet and touching them.

Chamundaraya is convinced there is a defect in the workmanship. He is lost in these thoughts suddenly a feeble voice reaches him, “May I try?” He looks around and notices the woman with milk in eggplant is addressing him. The lady irritates him. “Does she think that when pots and pots of milks are not reaching the feet, the small quantity she brought will reach the feet? A country bumpkin. Let her try and appear a fool!”

As the woman reaches the top for the mastakabhisheka the onlookers are dismayed at her audacious attempt. She pours milk with shaking hands and a miracle happens! The milk streams down and washes the feet of Bahubali. For a couple of minutes there is a stunning silence and then everyone around breaks into applause and celebrations.

Thrilled at witnessing the miracle, Chamundaraya sits down and contemplates. His eyes are filled with tears of joy. He has learnt his lesson. It is believed that the woman was Yakshini Padmavati herself who decided to humble Chamundaraya’s inflated pride. How she could have allowed him to carry the burden of his elephantine ego. He moves forth and touches the feet of the woman. He announces a statue of her to be carved facing the colossus, reminding the devotees of leaving their ego before entering the statue-complex. Chamundaraya has learnt that only the devotees who come with clear conscience and innocent devotion can really achieve Him.

Gullikayi Ajji Mantapa, Shravanabelagola

Gullikayi Ajji Mantapa, Shravanabelagola

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2 Comments

  1. One version of short forefinger is that sage Ramanujacharya intentionally disfigured the statue when he converted Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana from Jainism back to Hinduism.

    I am not sure about the behaviour of the ancient rulers, however, I still find this theory less possible.

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