Man’s craving for power has been the cause of much suffering in this world-and still is. Thus, understandably, mythologies, that is, accounts of how it may have. begun with mankind, usually begin with the description of a merciless fight between good and evil. The need to kill and to be killed is thereby not questioned and consoquently rejected but accepted as an unavoidable fact of life.
The mythology of the Jainas takes off on a different note. Here, man is neither pictured as a helpless victim of sinister forces nor as a slave to his bodily needs and whims Right from the beginning-vividly told in a story of a father and two of his sons-emphasis is laid on man’s innate ability to master his own destiny. No one and nothing but our mental blindness is to be blamed for our faults and misfortunes. Not by chance, we may assume, has the open eye become a characteristic sign in Jaina art. The ‘keep-your-eyes-open-to-the-world” is to the Jaina the first step towards understanding the world.
In the annals of history few instances are recorded of ruling monarchs who at the height of their success voluntarily relinquished their powers and privileges Jaina literature, in contrast, abounds in stories of princes and kings who gladly exchanged their pursuit of might and riches for the pursuit of knowledge. To forgo one’s power is not interpreted as a sign of weakness but of moral strength. A striking testimonial of this ethical ideal is the colossal image of Bahubali (also known as Gommata or Gommateshvara) at Shravanabelagola. With its height of almost eighteen metres it is the world’s tallest and in the view of many far-travelled men and women the most impressive monolithic statue. To merely name it an image of a Jaina saint, as writers of guide books tend to do, ignores the lofty message this monument stands for man’s definite NO to violence in thought, speech and deed.
A war is averted
Some millions of years ago, at a time when human beings used to grow to a height of five hundred bows, there lived in the city of Ayodhya a wise ruler named Rishabha. He had two wives, the first was to be the mother of his first-born son Bharata as well as of ninety-eight further male offsprings; his second wife bore him a son who came to be called Bahubali, the ‘Strong-Armed.
King Rishabha saw to it that his sons and with them the men of his kingdom were instructed in the various trades and handicrafts and in cultivating the land; to his daughters he imparted the arts such as writing, dancing, making music and many more such skills (old Jaina manuscripts list sixty-four ladies’ arts). One day, whilst watching a dance performance, as he liked to do. Rishabha witnessed the sudden death of Nilanjana, his favourite female dancer. Feeling deeply shaken by this unexplainable event, it dawned upon him that the day had come to abandon his hitherto carefree mode of living and turn his mind to that which is of a more lasting nature than one’s mortal body. In fact but this he did not know-it was Indra, the king of the gods and also known as Shakra, who had staged the dancer’s sudden death, by doing this he meant to open Rishabha’s eyes, not primarily to the ever present threat of death, but to the need of reviving the religion of the Jinas and to accepting the task of becoming the first Tirthankara in the second half of the current cosmic cycle.
Awakened to the heavenly call, Rishabha renounced his kingly rights and went on to divide his empire into two: the northern half with Ayodhya as capital he gave to his eldest son Bharata, the southern half with the royal city Podanapura was given to Bahubali. This settled, he disposed of all his belongings, including his clothing, and took to the life of an ascetic in search of enlightenment.
At first all went well in the divided empire. But then a discus of the kind used in warfare was detected in Bharata’s armoury, a disc of stone which possessed the quality of never missing a target, Bharata was delighted with the pundits” explanation that this occurrence must surely be interpreted as a sign from heaven that he, Bharata, had been chosen by the gods to be the universal monarch (chakravartin) over all the known kingdoms.
The news of his having an invincible weapon spared Bharata the trouble of waging long wars. One prince after another saw no choice but to beg for submission under his supremacy. But then one day, having just returned from another victorious display of military power, the magic discus stopped short at the city’s gate. All attempts to move it failed. The king’s astrologers who were summoned to the scene saw in it a sign that there was work left to be done by the discus, for none of his many younger brothers had as yet acknowledged his authority over them, nor had his half-brother Bahubali. Thus being reminded of this omission, Bharata, the proud and young chakravartin, had ambassadors sent to all his brothers with the message that they had no choice but either to kneel down to him or to join their father in the forest. All of them, except Bahubali, chose to follow the example of their father Rishabha. “O Lord,” these were the words they spoke to him in the forest, “O Lord, let us attain to a path like yours by which we may overcome the fear of loss of honour caused by subjection in existence after existence. For ascetics thrive happily in the forest along with lions, and have overcome the fear of humiliation which arises in the loss of honour.”
Bahubali, however, was not to yield to Bharata’s boisterous demand. When the ambasador to Podanapura arrived back in Ayodhya with Bahubali’s sharply phrased reply. Bharata fell into a fit of anger and hastily he ordered his army to march towards the capital of his brother .
When Babubali was informed of the approaching forces, he reacted by putting his army on the alert . A fierce battle seemed inevitable, a battle in which many lives would be sacrificed for the selfish ends of a mere few. But then, as the soldiers of the two brothers were about to attack each other, the ministers of both parties joined hands and voices in a last attempt to stop the two pig-headed youngsters of royal descent, “Leave off this fighting,” they called out after they had been give permission to speak, “leave off this fighting, for it is without cause, yet causes the destruction of human life. In a battle like this there is much unrighteousness ad a great loss of fame. A test of supremacy is possible in a completely different way And in that contest between you, you must both bear defeat without anger of victory without pride. This is the correct way between brothers.
Bharata and Bahubali, thus being spoken to in the presence of their respective vassals, saw the point and accepted the proposal by their ministers to settle their dispute by a triple combat between themselves (1) a battle of glances the first to blink would be the loser), (2) a water-fight (the first to duck away from the splashes of the other lost), and thirdly, a fight of the arm (wrestling). Blood was not meant to be shed, this would have been against the religion which was about to be revived once again
With a show of great pomp the two kingly combatants entered the cleared arena between the confronting armies. The sign to fight was given; whereupon combat followed combat. In all three Bahubali was declared the winner. With a mighty shout be proclaimed victory. For the humiliated Bharata this was too much to bear, over- taken by the urge of revenge he aimed his magic discus at his brother, but instead of hitting him it flew thrice round his head, as if to honour the victor of the triple combat.
Feeling ashamed of his ill-tempered outburst. Bharata knelt down to Bahubali and offered him his kingdom. At this very moment. Bahubali became aware of his own self-centred behaviour, he reposed and clearly in his mind he saw the futility of man’s craving for power and fame. No more of this for him! “Keep your kingdom,” he told Bharata “and take mine as well.”
For one full year, the narrator of the legend continues, Bahubali remained standing, naked and without food and drink. Creepers wound their way up his limbs. His eyes are opened to the north from where the Himalayan peaks beckoned the awakened pilgrim. Outwardly he appeared calm, but inwardly he was fighting a battle with his proud ego. Only after another visit by Bharata and his two sisters in the course of which the former assured him once more of his devotion, whereas his
This humane message of Shravanabelagola, the teaching of non-violence and universal pace should be spred all over the globe, because the world today still requires education and training in Ahimsa. It is absolutly necessary to bring home to the people of the world that non voilence is not merely a theoretical principle but also a practical way of life which can solve various problems clamouring for solution in the world and thus help in establishing universal peace and goodwill among the nations.
Vilas A. Sangave
two sisters dared to hint that it was about time for him to ‘dismount his elephant ‘. an Indian way of saying ‘discard your pried ‘, he shed the last fetters of self-love and attained enlightenment .
Bharata who had turned into a just and peaceable monarch, was one of Bahuball’s many admirers. To honour him, he had a golden statue built at Podanapura which portrayed Bahubali in all his glory and in full size, that is, 525 bow-length tall,
A dream shows the way
What has been described this far took place during the third phase of the descending half of the present cosmic cycle of time. Some millions of years later – the natural size of man had by then shrunk to six feet and his allotted span of life to eighty years-there lived under king Rajmalla of Talakad (a district near today’s Mysore) an able and rich minister by the name of Chamundaraya. The time was nearing the end
of the first Christian millennium.
Chamundaraya and his family, especially his adored mother Kalaladevi, followed the religion of the Jinas. Then one day a Jaina monk by the name of Jinasena related
8 (opposite). Lord Bahubali of Shravanbelagola, also known as Gommata or Gommateshvara. At a height of almost eighteen metres it is the tallest free-standing monolithic image in the world. It symbolises the Jaina ideal of detachment and non-violence. Tenth century, last quarter.
to the minister’s mother the tale of the two half-brothers Bharata and Bahubali whereby he mentioned the golden statue at Podanapura which no living human had ever been allowed up behold. Greatly moved by the story, Kalaladevi beseeched her son to outfit a caravan and accompany her and Muni Jinasena to Podanapura so that she could pay homage at the feet of the golden statue Chamundarya consented, and soon they were on the way in search of the fabulous image of bhaubali of which no one knew where it might be found.
After some days travelling they reached Shravanabelagola which at that time was already a holy place for Jaina pilgrims. On Chandragiri, the smaller the town’s two hills, they put up camp. During the night. Chamundaraya bad dream in which goddess Padmavati told him that it was not possible for mortal humans to go and see the statue as it was guarded by winged monsters, but he could rest assured that Bahubali would reveal himself in due course. The minister’s mother dreamed a similar dream
Next morning, having observed the various religious rites. Chamundaraya took his bow, as he was told to do in his dream, and dispatched an arrow in the direction of Indragiri, the bigger of the two hills. At the very moment the arrow struck the tall upright rock on the summit of Indragiri, Chamundaraya had a vision: he saw, hidden in the protruding crag, the exquisitely sculptured image of Bahubali, He was overwhelmed by its beauty, and realised that they had reached the destination of their pilgrimage.
Chamundaraya succeeded- and this is no longer the account of a mythical legend but recorded history as found engraved on a stele of granite- in conveying his vision to a master sculptor who in turn knew how to guide and oversee his team of stone- masons in their allotted task of transforming the visualised picture of a saintly hero into a work of sculptural art.
When at last the stone-masons put aside their hammers and chisels – it was the year 980 or thereabouts – the tale of a prince who conquered his ego and valued the pursuit of knowledge higher than swaying the sceptre of worldly power was successfully transplanted from the storehouse of the storytellers to the treasure-house of sacred art. Once more man has convinced himself of the truth he has known all along but which he desires and needs to be reminded of again and again, of the truth that man does not live on bread alone but that there are resources within him that make him create works of art of which he is unable to say if he himself or some supernatural power guided his hands and imagination.