The Mahamastakabhisheka is the largest gathering of Jains in the world. Over 5 million devotees are expected to attend the consecration ceremonies which will be held from 17-25 February 2018. The Mahamastakabhisheka begins by devotees carrying 1,008 specially prepared vessels (kalashes). The statue is then bathed and anointed with libations such as water, milk, sugarcane juice, and saffron paste, and sprinkled with powders of sandalwood, turmeric, and vermilion.
Shravanabelagola, is nestled by the Vindhyagiri and Chandragiri Hills, protected by the monolith Bhagwan Bahubali, and home to over 2,300 years of Jain heritage, is a veritable picture postcard of our history and heritage spanning the centuries. In the town of Shravanabelagola, stands a colossal rock-cut statue of Lord Gommateshwara Shri Bahubali. This 57 feet tall statue is the most magnificent among all Jain works of art. It was built in around 982 AD. The Bahubali statue is described as one of the mightiest achievements of ancient Karnataka in the realm of sculptural art. The statue stands upright in the posture of meditation known as kayotsarga, reaching a height of nearly 57 feet atop the Vindyagiri Hills – accessible through a flight of 500 steps.
The verdant natural beauty of Shravanabelagola, with its influential coconut trees and natural bodies of water, bears testimony to the legendary mental strength of Tyaga (renunciation) and the tender message of Ahimsa (Non-Violence) that embodies the Jain Way of Life.
Bhagwan Bahubali, the son of the first of our twenty four Jain Tirthankaras, is worshipped for living with exceptional qualities that he displayed during all stages of his life from conception, birth, renunciation, enlightenment and salvation. Beautiful and serene is his external appearance.
The image of Gommateshwara has curly hair ringlets and large ears. The eyes are open as if he were viewing the world with detachment. His facial features are perfectly chiselled with a faint touch of a smile at the corner of the lips that embody a calm inner peace and vitality. His shoulders are broad, the arms stretch straight down and the figure has no support from the thigh upwards.
There is an anthill in the background which signifies his incessant penance. From this anthill, emerge a snake and a creeper which twine around both the legs and arms culminating as a cluster of flowers and berries at the upper portion of the arms. The entire figure stands on an open lotus signifying the totality attained in installing this unique statue.
On either side of Gommateshwara stand two tall and majestic chauri bearers in the service of the Lord. One of them is a yaksh and the other one is a yakshi. These richly ornamented and beautifully carved figures complement the main figure. Carved on the rear side of the anthill is also a trough for collecting water and other ritual ingredients used for the sacred bath of the image.
Around the statue is an enclosure comprised of a pillared hall where one can find 43 images of Tirthankaras in different cloisters. There is also a figure of a woman called Gullikayajji sculpted with a good built and wearing exquisite ornamentation, typical of the sculptures of the Ganga period. The Akandabagilu or the massive door, carved out of a single rock with an elaborately carved Gajalakshmi in her typical posture flanked by two elephants, is another meritorious work of Jain craftsmanship. This also said to have been created under the guidance and inspiration of Chaundaraya, the illustrious minister who served under the successive rulers of the Ganges namely Marasimha II, Rachamalla IV and Rachamalla V.
Shravanabelagola is a small township located 51 km (32 miles) southeast of Hassan District in the state of Karnataka, which sits at an altitude of about 3,350 feet above sea level. There are excellent roads to Shravanabelagola from both Bangalore and Mysore. The nearest airport is in Bangalore, at a distance of 157 km (98 miles) and the nearest railway station is in Shravanabelagola.
Bahubali: depicting the ultimate Penance The famous Kannada poet Bopanna, in his celebrated work ‘Gommata Stuti’ describes that the creation of Gommata is apt and nothing surpass. The tall magnificent monolithic statue of Gommateshwara Bhagawan Bahubali stands in Kayotsarga (standing) posture is estimated to weigh approximately 80 tons; depict his deep meditation, which had lasted continuously for one year. Ant-hills grew by the side of his legs and serpents made these ant hills as their abode and were moving around. Creepers grew up entwining his legs and arms up to his shoulders. He attained the kevaljnan- the perfect and complete knowledge. Thus, he was called as Bahubali-Kevali. With its everlasting smile and benign looks, he proclaims ‘Ahimsa; and ‘Vairagya’ as panacea for all the ills of this world.
One of the largest temples in the area is the Chaundaraya Basadi dedicated to Neminatha, the 22nd Tirthankara depicted under a seven hooded canopy and flanked by male chauri bearers. This temple is unique in its style. It belongs to the era of the western Ganges and has evolved out of the Chalukyan styles at Badami and Aihole. On the same hill can be seen, the Chandraprabha Basadi dedicated to the 8th Tirthankara of the same name. It is one of the oldest Basadi on the hill and can be assigned to the early 9th century under the reign of Sivamara, a Ganga king.
While at Shravanabelagola one can also gain insights into Jain mythology through some of the finest paintings depicted on the walls of the Shri Jain Matha. Rich in colors and harmonious in composition, these paintings of the 18th century depict royal processions and festivities, monks, women in brightly colored saris, forest scenes of wild animals and other subjects that shed light on the domestic, religious and social life of the people.
Another concrete expression of the intensity of Jain art is the sthambha, the free standing pillar in front of every Basadi. Stylishly carved out of granite, these are classified as Brahmadeva Sthambha and Manasthambha. While the former portrays the figures of Brahmanical gods, the latter is depictive of Jain faith. Manasthambha pillars can be found elsewhere in the country but the Brahmadeva pillars are restricted to the South, a fine specimen of which can be found in front of the gigantic statue of Gommateshwara at Shravanabelagola. Extremely attractive is the Manasthambha at Mudabidri with a small shrine at the apex surrounded by four bells and topped with a gold finial. Similar pillars at Karkala and Humcha are equally eye-catching.
All these pillars, irrespective of their connotations, are exquisite pieces of art, elegance and decoration. Another pillar of immense interest is the Tyagada Brahmadeva Kamba at Shravanabelagola where Chaundaraya has inscribed his genealogy and his life time achievements. Only segments of the inscription are readable.
Harmony between Dharma and Science is Inevitable: Swami Bhattarak
Swami Charukirti Bhattarak of Gommatshwar Bhagavan Bahubali Math believes in carrying science along with Dharma. He says that modern youths are enthusiastic and scholars. They cannot be limited only to temple-based Dharma and traditional mindset. Swami Charukirti Bhattarak elaborated widely on Dharma, faith and the preparation of Mahamastakabhishek. Excerpts:
Millions of people will be gathered in Mahamastakabhishek of Bhagwan Bahubali. You have few days left. How will you complete all these preparations in these limited days?
In the previous Maham.astakabhishek, 2.5 million people participated. This time 3-4 million people might come and we are preparing according to our estimate. Management committee is cooperating with all government agencies to expedite the work. Preparation has been going on for last 6-7 months. There are some works which still remain to completed. However, it will be completed before Mahamastakabhishek.
What are the initiatives you are taking for the accommodation of Digambar monks, food and to deal with a stampede-like situation?
We are building a separate Tyagi Nagar for the Digambar monks according to their daily life. For the accommodation of devotees, we are creating 11 temporary places where almost 30,000 people could stay. 17 food canteens are being built, where 30,000 people would be able to have food every day. Five-seven thousand police personnel will always be in protection of these people. For controlling the crowd, devotees in a definite number will be allowed for Mahamastakabhishek.
Why is Mahamastakabhishek often organized after 12 years?
This tradition of Mahamastakabhishek is being followed from the era of commander-in-chief Chamundraay, who constructed this sculpture of Bhagvan Bahubali. At that time, religious gurus and ministers created this routine seeing the condition of planets. From that time, this 12-year tradition is followed.
What is the religious importance of Mahamastakabhishek? Charanabhishek is performed daily, however, erosion is reported in the sculpture of Bhagw an Bahubali.
Bhagwan Bahubali was the son of King Rishbhdev. His brother Bharat Chakravarti wanted to be the emperor. Owing to this rivalry, a war was occurred between them. Bhagwan Bahubali got victory over his brother yet he decided to renounce. He always talked of peace and non-violence. For those who follow Jainism, Shrawanbelgola is like holy Kashi. We follow Bhagwan Bahubali and always spread his message of peace and non-violence.
As far as your concern regarding erosion of sculpture is concerned, there is no damage done to it because of Mahamastakabhishek and Charanabhishek. This erosion is happening due to that hailstorm coming from west side. When India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Neharu came here with Indira Gandhi, he too was anxious about its conservation. This is the reason we never use curd and ghee in abhishek. We offer flowers, coconut, milk, saffron etc. We never perform abhishek after 11 am and because of this routine, erosion in sculpture is avoided.
There is a tradition of bidding for kalash and abhishek. Is it right?
Of course, but we use that money for the welfare of society. It is used in schools, colleges and hospitals. In previous Mahamastakabhishek, whatever money we got, it was used in a children’s hospital.
What is the contribution of the central and state governments to Mahamastakabhishek?
Mahamastakabhishek is organised on a gigantic scale. This time, we are expecting to spend Rs. 300 crore on this event. Given this huge expenditure, both central and state governments help in their own capacity. In the previous Mahamastakabhishek, Rs 90 crore were contributed by the central government. The state government also contributed. Former President Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam was also present here. This time on February 7, President Ram Nath Kovind is coming. This time, the Karnatak government has allocated Rs 190 crore for Mahamastakabhishek. Union Minister Anant Kumar came here and assured of every possible help from the Centre.
The carving and dedication of the Bahubali statue in Shravanabelagola is credited to the great Chamunda Raja who was the commander-in-chief as well as the Prime Minister of the Ganga King Rachamalla during the later period of 10th century A.D.
The story goes that Kalala Devi, mother of Chavundaraya, wished to have a darshan of the golden statue at Poudanapura. The obedient son, seeing the intense spiritual fervor of his mother, set out on a long pilgrimage to see the golden statue along with his mother and Guru Acharya Ajithasena, and spent a night at Shravanabelagola en-route to Poudanapura. In identical dreams, the Kushmandini Yakshi ordered Chavundaraya to erect a statue. The next morning, as directed in the dream, Chavundaraya flung his golden arrow with the first shaft of the rising sun from the top of Chandragiri hill to the top of the bigger hill opposite. Immediately the prophecy came true and the image of Bahubali was discerned. Chavundaraya then entrusted the task of chiseling the statue out of a huge block of granite to the most skillful sculptors of the land under the guidance of Arishtanemi. In later years, Chavundaraya, filled with the pride of achievement and arrogance, set out to perform the Mahamastakabhishek. But, the anointing liquids – coconut, milk and the five nectars would not descend down the navel. At that moment, legend goes, Gullikayajji, an old woman presented herself with a little milk in the shell of a white Gullikai fruit. Many derided her but Acharya Nemichandra advised Chavundaraya to invite her. As the humble devotee of Bahubali poured the milk in the shell, it instantly ran down the image, reaching the feet of the statue and covered the hill around.
An Architectural Marvel
The figure of Gommeteshwara Bhagawan Bahubali is a picture of serenity. The sculpture is finished in the round from the head, down to the region of shoulders. Removal of unwanted rock from behind, front and sides is an architectural marvel. Below the thighs, the knees and the feet are cut in high relief with parent rock mass still left on the flanks, and the rear to support it. The hair is short spherical ringlets all over the head, while the ears are long and large. The shoulders are very broad and the arms hang straight down the sides, with the thumbs turned outwards. The wide shoulders of sturdy appearance and the lack of well-modulated elbow and knee-joints, the narrow hip and rounded gluteal bugles that seem to balance the erect stance, the incurved and channelled midline of the back, the firmly planted pair of the feet, all in good proportion make the image majestic, where the sense of proportion has never failed to intrigue visitors.; irrespective of its gigantic size. The proportion of height to width and the immaculate manner in which the master artisans chiselled away the granite result in a masterpiece of the Indian art and the architecture.
A chastened Chavundaraya then made it mandatory that Mahamastakabhishek to be performed every 12 years for Lord Bahubali. The Mahamastakabhishek of 1981 coincided with 1,000 years of the consecration of the statue while the Mahamastakabhishek of 1993 was the last of the previous millennium.
(Uday India Bureau)