The consecration and the first Mahamastakabhisheka of the statue of Lord Gomateshwara – Bahubali happened on 13th March, 981 CE. In the year 1981, the 1000th year of the installation was celebrated with much grandeur at Shravanabelagola, with a Mahamastakabhisheka.
Bahubali is one of the revered personages in the Jain tradition. Bahu means arms, and Bali, Bal refers to strength. Bahubali was the one who possessed great strength in his arms. This name Bali is similar in context to the story of Mahabali Chakravarthi, the all-powerful king and also to the story of Bali and Sugreeva, the two Vanara brothers of the Ramayana, of whom Bali possessed greater strength.
This name, Bahubali is a pointer to the fact that Bahubali was powerful and had conquered the whole world.
Son of Rishabhadeva,
Bahubali is the son of Adi Nath, the first Jain Tithankara, known as Rishabh Dev.
Sugar, Ikshvaku, Rishabh Dev
The Samskrt word for sugarcane is Ikshu.
One of the oldest dynasties of India, the Surya Vamsa, solar dynasty, which gave rise to luminaries such as Rama, Dasaratha, Aja, Raghu, Dilipa, Bhagiratha, Sagara, Harishchandra, Prthu and many more, was called the Ikshvaku dynasty after one its very early kings, Ikshvaku.
More on the Ikshvaku dynasty in our book, Historical Rama.
In the Jain tradition too, the first Tirthankara, Lord Rishabhdev, known as Adi Natha is also referred to as Ikshvaku. Rishabhdev earned the name Ikshvaku as he could extract sugar from sugarcane. He also broke a year long fast with sugarcane juice.
As Jain records go, Bhagavan Rishabh Dev went on a fast to show His disciples, how to lead an ascetic’s life by eating only what is given in alms. Unfortunately, wherever He went seeking alms, He only received jewels and other non-edible items. This went on for close to 400 days. He finally landed up in a sugarcane farm belonging to His great grandson Shreyans, near Hastinapura, the famed kingdom, which was much much later ruled by the Pandava during the Mahabharata period, in 3100 BCE.
It was in Hastinapur that he was received with sugarcane juice and He thus ended His fast after more than a year.
This legend thus speaks of sugarcane cultivation and extraction of sugarcane juice during Bhagavan Rishabh Dev’s times.
More on the Ikshvaku and the sugarcane connect in our book, Brand Bharat – Vol-1 – Made in India.
8th Avatar of Vishnu
In the Bhagavata Purana, Rishabha is listed as the 8th Avatar of Lord Vishnu, among His 24 Avatar. The story of Rishabh Dev appears in the 5th Skanda of Bhagavata Purana.
Bahubali was the son of such an illustrious father.
Jada Bharata was the other son of Rishabh Dev.
Jada Bharata was one of the early great kings. The story of Jada Bharata is also narrated in the 5th Skanda of the Bhagavata Purana. His rule was able and prosperous, when the glory of this land reached its pinnacle. Thus the name Bharat was attributed to this land, after Jada Bharata.
Fight between Bahubali & Jada Bharata and departure of Jada Bharata
After Rishabh Dev renounced his kingdom, the mantle of ruling fell into the hands of his two sons, Bahubali and Jada Bharata. With time, there ensued some differences between the two brothers, and there was a fight between them.
During the course of the battle, Bahubali had a realization that he was fighting his own brother. He decided to give up the fight. Bharata too realized his great blunder of fighting his brother. He also gave up, and both the brothers patched up.
They both eventually renounced their kingdoms and took up sanyasa.
Detachment to kingdom and attachment
Bharata retired to the forests to take up sanyana, and practice Tapa, for attaining Jnana.
While in the forest, he became attached to a deer, as even a great renouncer like Jada Bharata was not free from attachment to the mortal coil. The one who gave up a kingdom, became attached to a mere fawn. Attachment and detachment are facets of human life.
Jada Bharata eventually attained Moksha, after undergoing a birth as a deer, in a subsequent life.
Just like his brother, after attaining many victories, Bahubali too renounced the world. It is interesting the way this renunciation actually took place.
After having conquered the whole world, Bahubali asked his soldiers to go on top of the tall mountain and inscribe his name as the first king to conquer all. His soldiers go up there, to inscribe his name, but what they find is that the rock is already inscribed by the names of earlier kings, and there is no space left for Bahubali’s name.
What this tells us is that even before most of the ancient kings who thought they were the earliest, there were many kings of greater antiquity, who had had conquered the land and had inscribed their names. Satapatha Brahmana and Aitareya Brahmana mention 16 kings or Chakravartin who ruled India from sea to sea. Yet scholars claim the idea of empire in India started only with the Mauryas.
Such an illustrious land this is of such antiquity.
One of the so called earliest kings by name Bahubali is infact a much later king, in the illustrious lineage of great kings.
This incident created a dawning of realization in Bahubali, the mighty king, who then decided to renounce worldly pleasures and take up spirituality.
He attained Kevala Jnana.
Kevala Jnana is a term used in Jainism to indicate absolute knowledge or wisdom. As per this concept, every individual soul has Kevala Jnana as its inherent quality. This Jnana is however covered by Karma, the deep impressions of previous thoughts and actions. Once this veil of Karma is removed through wisdom, then the state of Kevala Jnana naturally shines forth.
Such a state was attained by Bahubali, who is today revered and worshipped as Gomateshwara.
Bahubali’s statue today stands tall at Shravanabelagola, one of the most revered pilgrimage sites for the Jains, in the state of Karnataka, where He is worshipped as Gomateshwara. This statue of Gomateshwara is one of the 7 wonders of India.
How did this place attain the name Shravanabelagola?
King Chamunda Raya, had this idol installed, with great effort. The story goes that the king soon after establishing the worship of this statue became proud, as he felt that he had installed the deity through his mighty strength. In the coming days, when the king performed the Panchamritabhisheka of this idol, i.e. bathing, abhisheka the idol with 5 liquids, it was found that even though huge qualities of liquid were poured, the liquid did not descend lower than the navel. This miracle was enacted by the Divinity to dispel the vanity that had possessed the king. The king was frustrated and filled with grief as he was unable to bathe the idol of Lord Gomateshwara completely with the ablution. In this situation, on the orders of the Divinity, a celestial apsara named Padmavati, disguised herself as a poor old lady, and appeared before the king, with the five liquid held in a small silver pot, “Beliya Gola”, with the intention of bathing the statue. The king mocked at Padmavati stating that how she could accomplish this as he himself had failed in this endeavor. However on further insistence on her part, the king allowed her to perform the abhisheka, out of curiosity. Padmavati brought the liquid and was successful in performing a complete ablution of the statue. The king realized his arrogance, and giving up his vain pride performed ablution with great respect. From then on this place took on the name of Beliya Gola, meaning a Silver pot.
The great king Chandragupta Maurya was the founder of the Mauryan Empire, who ruled from Pataliputra. After establishing the Mauryan Empire, he decided to follow spirituality. He came all the way from Pataliputra and settled down at Shravanabelagola.
Chanakya and Bhadrabahu
Chanakya as a Guru to Chandragupta Maurya, taught him the various arts of administration, warfare and social welfare. He was also Chandragupta’s political advisor and helped him strategize the plan for expanding his kingdom. Later on in his life, after he renounced his kingdom, Chandragupta took up Jainism. At that stage in life, Bhadrabahu, the Jain monk was his spiritual Guru.
The knowledge of the basic tenets of Jainism was passed on to Chandragupta Maurya by his Guru Bhadrabahu, at the Bhadrabahu Cave, in the Chandragiri hills, near Shravanbelagola.
Two sects of Jainism
There are two sects in Jainism namely, Swethambara and Digambara.
Swethambara are those who dress themselves in white, Swetha, while Digambara are those with sky as their covering.
Bahubali belonged to the sect of Digambara, as can be understood from his statue in Shravanabelagola.
Unfortunately, this noble ideal of Digambara has been misunderstood by the materialistic society of today.
Mahamastakabhisheka is a prominent festival dedicated to Lord Gomateshwara, held at Sharavanbelagola, based on the conjunctions of planetary bodies at an interval of 12 to 15 years.
History of Mahamastakabhisheka
This festival involves the bathing and anointing of the statue of Lord Gomateshwara, with milk, sugarcane juice, saffron paste and sprinkled with powders of sandalwood, turmeric and vermilion.
A festival that sees a congregation of thousands, who want to witness the Abhisheka of their Divinity.