Bahubali - Gommatesvara [II]

Posted: 21.05.2012
Updated on: 30.07.2015

 

The statue of Bahubali stands on the summit of the hill possibly carved-out of a boulder capping its peak. It is surrounded by a temple, the raparts of which are as high as the lower half of the image. It is cut out of fine grained light grey granite resting on the spot. It stands all nude with arms hanging down straight. The pedestal of the image represents as open lotus. There are anthills, cut in stone, with serpents emerging from them on both the sides. The Madhavi creeper twines itself round both legs and arms. This indicates the posture of deep meditation. There is an impressive and majestic grandeur about the image. What engrosses one is its facial expression. It has been rightly observed that "the artist was skilful indeed to draw from the blank rock the wondrous contemplative expression touched with a faint smile with which Gommatesvara gazes on the struggling world for nearly one thousand years." The serene face of the image with a look of detachment coupled with childlike innocence and simplicity commands respect and reverence.

There is a legend about the existence at Paudanapura of an ancient image of Bahubali which had become inaccessible on account of a surrounding thick jungle infested with wild animals on the way. To fulfil, however, the pious wish of his mother, Kalaladevi, to pay respects to Bahubali, Camundaraya got this image constructed at Srvana Belgola, Camundaraya was a commander-in-chief of Racamalla, the Ganga king, who ruled this part of the country. The image was completed round about 984 A.D. According to the Gommatesvara, Camundaraya had another name Gommata. Naturally, the statue came, to be called after him as Gommatesvara, as was the custom in those days. The term Gommata is a Desi word, meaning fair, handsome etc., and is current in Marathi as also in Konkani. This must have been the house-hold name with which Camundaraya was then addressed. So the statue came to be named after him. Nemichandra seems to have named his famous work after him as Gommatasara, in two parts, Jivakanda and Karmakanda. There is no authentic literary or any other evidence to show that Bahubali was called Gommatesvara prior to the erection of this image by Camundaraya. It is wrong to call the image simply Gommata but it should be necessarily followed by - isvara, - jina, - deva etc. It is true that Bahubali was called Kamadeva, but the word gommata cannot be derived from the word manmatha, because the reading gammaha on which this speculation is based was obviously a misprint. One may also note in this context that grammarians record a dhatvadesa gummada for the Sanskrit root muh.

The statue of Bahubali and his career in general have inspired many authors for their composition. Boppanna (1180 A.D.) has composed (see also Shravana Belgola Inscriptions, No. 234) a tiny poem in Kannada on Bahubali, and there are later poems on him by Doddayya (c. 1550 A.D.), Pamcabana (c. 1614 A.D.), Anantakavi (c. 1780 A.D.), Devachandra (c. 1838 A.D.) and others. Many contemporary poets like Govinda Pai, Kuvempu, Gundappa,, Rajaratnam and others have been inspired by Gommatesvara and have paid glowing tributes to him. The Mahamastakabhiseka at Belgola is held at intervals of every twelve years: the available records show that this is an age-long custom. It is a great festival which attracts pilgrims from all over the country. It is a costly function and has been performed by great dignitaries like the rulers of Mysore and the heads of Jaina Mathas. This function has given spiritual satisfaction and solace to thousands of people now and then.

Karkala is a small town in South Kanara Dt. From the numerous Jaina temples found in that place today, one can imagine that it must have been once a prosperous centre of the Jainas. On the summit of the rocky hill to the south of the town stands in an enclosure the monolithic statue of Gommatesvara overlooking a picturesque panorama. It is about 41.5 feet in height. It was cut out of a local boulder, and pulled up to the spot and erected there. Indeed a great feat in those days. This image was constructed by Viraraya of the local Pandya dynasty on the advice of Acarya Lalitakirti of Panasoge in the year 1431-32 A.D. A Kannada poet, Candrama, has graphically described the event of the erection of Gommatesvara in his poem written in 1646 A.D. The contemporary Vijayanagar king Viraraya is said to have attended the consecration ceremony. Candrama gives an interesting account of the transfer of the statue to the hill top after one month's effort.

Venur is a small village at a distance of 36 km from Karkala on the bank of river Phalguni. It has also an image of Gommatesvara standing on a raised pedestal, Its height is 35 feet and was erected by king Timmana Raja of Ajila dynasty ruling at Venur in 1604 A.D. His descendants are there even to this day. Timmana Raja claims to belong to Camunda-vamsa. The consecration ceremony was carried on under the direction of the then Carukirti of Sravana Belgola. It is said that the contemporary ruler Immadi Bhairavaraya of Karkala had ordered the Ajila chief not to have the statue at Venur but send it to Karkala. The latter refused to obey him. A battle was fought on this issue; and Timmanna Ajila won victory and erected the statue with all eclat.

The Karkala and Venur images have been fashioned after the one at Sravana Belgola. These two were carved elsewhere and shifted to their respective present spots unlike that at Sravana Belgola which was cut out of one big boulder standing on the summit of the hill. Naturally the latter, in course of time required some support for stabilization which was supplied by Gangaraja, the chieftain under the Hoysalas (1116 A.D.), who built the surrounding temple etc. When one contemplates on the faces of these three statues one received quite different impressions. The detached serenity of the Belgola image is a triumph: not only does it enthral the mind but also captures our heart. The Karkala image exhibits extra meditational gravity, while that of Venur, juvenile smile. The imitation might not have been perfectly successful; but to the fortune of posterity and to the monolithic art of India, these three statues are precious and' proud contributions which, lately, have become once again the source of inspiration for this type of Indian art. The granite of Belgola statue is superior; like its face undisturbed by attachment and aversion, the image stands almost unaffected by the sun and rains and looks as bright, fresh and clean as if cut out only the other day.

It is obvious that the image of Gommatesvara at Belgola is remarkable achievement, a symbolic outcome of religious zeal and piety. It is but natural that other Jaina dignitaries quietly emulated in their own way the example of Camundaraya; and there is hardly any Jaina temple especially in Karnataka which does not possess a statue of Gommateswara out in stone or of bronze imitating the one at Belgola. It is quite natural, those who go on a pilgrimage to Belgola and pay homage to Bahubali should feel that they too should have an image of Bahubali in the local temple for the benefit of those who can-not go frequently to Belgola.

Generally, in Jaina temples, the Mulanayaka or the chief idol is that of one or the other Tirthankara. But the popularity of Bahubali's statue has been so great that there are some temples in which Gommatesvara is consecrated as mulanayaka in places like Humch Bahubali (7 feet) Sammadasikhara etc. Thus Bahubali has won almost the unique reverance of a Tirthankara.

We may incidentally describe some other statues of Gommatesvara which are striking on account of their size, location, environmental dignity.

To the south-west of Mysore, at a distance of 20 km, there stands a lone hillock of smooth granite. On the top of it stands the statue of Gommatesvara surrounded by walls of a building. It was found in a neglected state some years back, and the statue was inaccessible because of a split in the rock due to a stroke of lightning and thick growth of wild vegetation. The statue faces east and is 18 feet in height. It imitates the Belgola image, but has certain special features. The facial expression is of comparatively young age; there are no ant-hills; and the hands are resting on the hoods of serpents. The creepers are twining the arms and legs, and the mood of contemplation is writ large on the face of the image. Who erected the image and when it was erected are shrouded in mystery. May be it goes back to the 13th or 14th century A.D. Though it is called Gommatagiri now, the earlier name, current among the people round about, is Sramana Gudda. It was neglected for a long time. Now it has been renovated by the Gommatagiri Tirthaksetra Committee, Mysore, in the activities of which some of the prominent Sravakas of Mysore, such as Sarvashri C. B. M. Chandriah, Shantaraj, Nagakumar, Mahavira Prasad and others are taking active interest. Every year, there is a Mastakabhiseka; and Gommatagiri, as a Ksetra, is on the way to prosperity with growing hopes of wider popularity both among Jainas and non-Jainas (Photo Nos. 10, 10a).

 

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In the Mandya Dt. (Karnataka), there is a place called Basti-Hoskote where we have an image of Gommatesvara more or less of the same size as that of Gommatagiri. A clumsy construction has been raised around it. In front of it there is a Manastambha, to be assigned to c. 1145 A.D. The statue too must have been made and erected near about the same period. It is quite likely that Somayya or Punisamayya got it made and erected it. Near-about there are some dilapidated temples belonging to the period of Visnuvardhana under whom Somayya was serving. The back waters of Krishnaraja Sagara have led to the neglect of this locality.

Another image of Gommatesvara is found on a hill near Basti Tippur (Mandya Dt.); and it is about 10 feet in height. It may be assigned to ll-12th century A.D. The locality has close resemblance with S.-Belgola with its Cikka- and Dodda Bettas. The former, called Kanakagiri, has relics of temples and statues; and on the top of the latter there stands the image of Gommatesvara.

In Shravana Belgola itself are a couple of images of Bahubali in the vicinity of the colossus: one in the Suttalaya, about 5 ft. in height: the creeper is climbing on the body, and there are ladies on both the sides holding the same in their hands. Another image, measuring about 5.5 feet in height, is near the gate, cut out of boulder. The creepers and the ladies are represented as in the first.

The Jainas as a community are scattered all over India. Shravana Belgola, Karkala, Venur and Moodbidri etc., in the South have been places of pilgrimage for them since long. The Mahamastakabhiseka, as noted above, is held after every twelve years (the first one so far known was held in 1398 A.D.) and attracts pilgrims from far and wide. The episode of Bharata and Bahubali has a positive lesson for mankind; and the colossus of Gommatesvara, if once seen, leaves an indelible impression on any one's mind; it is more so on a pious and religious mind. Naturally affluent Shravakas have tried to erect small and big statues, in white marble, in places both on the border of and outside Karnataka.

Bahubali (Dr. Kolhapur) is the name of a hill (with its surroundings) so called on account of a Digambara saint who breathed his last there, or on account of a broken image of Bahubali (7 feet in height) there. It is at a distance of 4 to 5 km to the north of Railway Station, Hatakanagale, on the Miraj-Kolhapur line. With the presence of Acharya Samantabhadra Maharaj there, it has grown into a big educational centre and ah Atisaya Ksetra with a number of temples evidencing modern pieces of art and architecture. On a side of the hill there, a marble statue of Gommatesvara is erected facing the east. It was brought from Rajasthan and measures 28 feet in height. It was consecrated in 1963 with grand religious and cultural festivities. The statue stands on a lotus. To the right and left of the image there are statues of Camundaraya and Gommatidevi. The surrounding space of the statue is decked with many Tirthaksetras in miniature. The entire area is sanctified in a way, and the overall appearance evokes reverence and devotion. (Photo No. 11).

Kunthalgiri (Dt. Osmanabad) is an Atisaya-Ksetra, and it is all the more sanctified by the recent Sallekhana, in 1953, of Acharya Shri Shantisagara Maharaj oi revered memory. There is a statue of Gommatesvara here. It is cut out of marble, and its height is 18 feet. It has added remarkable dignity to that locality already studded with temples and statues. It was erected by the Trustees in respectful response to the pious wish of Acharyaji. They even tried to shift the neglected statue of Basti Hoskote, but were not successful in their efforts. This was erected in 1972, through the generosity of Bhaichand Gautamachand and Talakchand of Natepute (Photo No. 12).

Similar statues are found in many centres in the North such as Arrah (about 15 ft. in height) in Bihar, Papaura (in M.P.), Mumbra (near Kalyan in Maharashtra), Siddhavara Kuta (M.P.) Sammedashikhar or Madhubani (Bihar), Madhia near Jabalpur (M.P.), Shedbal (Dt. Belgaum, about 11 ft in height) and other places. The outstanding characteristics of Bahubali are that he is standing nude in meditation, creepers are entwining his legs and that his hands are found hanging down straight in all these images. Three statues of Vrsabha, Bharata and Bahubali all cut out of white marble, have been erected at a place called Paudanapura, near Borivali Bombay.

The life of Bahubali has a noble lesson to the struggling humanity for all the time to come. Bahubali was proud of his power and position, and equally vigilant about his rights. He had taint of conceit lurking in him, and he would not, therefore, like to submit to other on any account: this is conventionally termed as mana-kasaya. He refused to submit to his elder brother and accept his lordship. His elder brother had been elated by his victorious campaign as a Cakravartin. Bahubali's refusal to submit to him irritated him, and there ensued the battle. The wise ministers told them that they would gain nothing by killing on the battle field thousands of men on both the sides for whose welfare they were ruling over their kingdoms. Both Bharata and Bahubali appreciated the situation and got down into the arena for the three fold duel to decide the issue between them. It was triumph for Ahimsa; all issue should be decided in a non-violent way because all life is sacred and most invaluable. In all the three duels Bharata was defeated, almost humiliated. Bahubali won the applause of all. It was not an unmixed success: success of one meant the defeat of the other. What a vanity of success and defeat! Spiritual values flashed across the mind of Bahubali. He rose above the greed for kingdom and possessions. He bade good bye to the transient vanities of this world and its attractions. He accepted renunciation, plunged himself in meditation, and attained omniscience, in due course, when all taints including that of conceit disappeared.

Today as we look around and across the oceans, the flesh attracts the human mind more than the spirit; moral values are at a discount; and religion is more a matter of preaching than of practice: hypocracy is the fashion of the day. What is professed publicly is rarely put into practice. Ethical standards are being easily smashed with no substitutes in their place. The scientist and the technologist have achieved marvels which are being misused by the politician, the capitalist and the fanatical nationalist. Due to speed, the world has shrunk in its size; but the human minds have moved apart. Competition and exploitation backed by brutal force are the current coins in the so-called international affairs; and mutual good will and sympathy are only a matter of show. Property is considered more valuable than human life. Love, liberty and justice are popular subjects for platform speeches, but they have ceased to be principles in the governance of countries. Motives are conveniently concealed, and lying has become an art of successful diplomacy. Most barbarous and carnivorous crimes are committed against humanity under the decent garb of nationalism and civilization. In short, materialistic forces nurtured by abnormal possessive instincts are shaking today the very foundations of human society.

The life of Bahubali is a lesson on Ahimsa, compassion and renunciation. It is an eternal message to express the futility of bloodshed or use of modern weapons of warfare like the atomic or hydrogen bomb. He has it proclaimed that Ahimsa should guide all human relations: that alone is the highest ethical principle and moral standard. Ahimsa alone can save humanity from the scourge of destruction let loose by its own achievements in the fields of science and technology.

Gommatesvara has been watching struggling humanity for more than a thousand years. Empires shot up and sank into the abyss of time; and rulers rose to power and came to be consigned to the oblivion of past history. Gommatesvara smiles as it were that his renunciation has taught no lesson to the greedy empire builders. His smile has a dignity and message to those who are thoughtful: of what avail are the accumulations of power and wealth to man, if he loses his self while doing so? May the images of Bahubali inspire us to higher values of life, lift us above the needs of the flesh, and open to us the most beautiful vistas of the realm of the Spirit.

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