2018 Mahamastakabhisheka: Bahubali-1000 year legend towers on

Vindhyagiri Hill was a lofty rock more than a 1,000 years ago until the majestic statue of Bahubali was chiselled out of the hill which has braved all weather conditions to exist as fresh, beautiful and bright as ever at Shravanabelagola in Hassan where the popular Jain pilgrim centre is celebrating the 88th Mahamastakabhisheka (head anointing) Mahatosav-2018. 

Carving the monolithic statue of Bahubali, a full 58.8 feet high, is in fact, akin to making a dream come true. The story of Bahubali happened on the soil of Ayodhya  in North India but the legend continues to inspire and draw the attention of the world through his gigantic statue at Shravanabelagola.

The carving and consecration of the Bahubali statue at Shravanabelagola is attributed to Ganga dynasty Commander-in-Chief, Chavundaraya in the 10th century. Chavundaraya’s mother Kalala Devi was excited to hear the tale of Bahubali who renounced the world and stood in penance. Her wish to her son Chavundaraya was to have darshan of the golden statue of Bahubali at Poundanapura, a principality ruled by Bahubali before he renounced the world. The golden statue of Bahubali is said to have been installed at Poundanapura by Bahubali’s elder brother Bharatha.

To realise his mother’s wish, Chavundaraya along with mother Kalala Devi and Acharya Ajitsen set out to reach Poudanapura. The team reached Shravanabelagola and stayed there overnight before they could embark on their lengthy journey. That night Chavundaraya had a dream with a voice telling him,  “you will not be able to reach Poudanapura where the golden statue has become invisible. But, here on a larger hill, is a true image of Bahubali which is covered up with stones.”

The voice in the dream asked Chavundaraya to climb the smaller hill (Chandragiri), shoot a golden arrow to the South and before the sound dies, the image of Bahubali would rise and appear before his eyes. 

The next morning, Chavundaraya woke up and shot his golden arrow with the first shaft of the rising sun from the top of Chandragiri hill to the top of Vindhyagiri Hill and to his astonishment, the voice in his dream came true and an image of Bahubali could be readily seen. 

Once the image on the rocky hill was visible, Chavundaraya entrusted the task of chiselling the statue to the most adept sculptors under the guidance of Arishtanemi by agreeing to pay wages to the sculptor in the form of gold of the same weight as the stone dust that fell from the chiselling of the statue of Bahubali.

But, recent excavations by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at Arthipura in Mandya throw light on a different story. Here, an image of Bahubali exists on Shravanappa Betta which has made the ASI believe that the remains at Arthipura date back to the Ganga period and is amuch older monument than that at Shravanabelagola.

The features of Arthipura and Shravanabelagola are similar with both places having hillocks facing each other. The ASI believes that Arthipura had a statue of Bahubali similar to that at Vindyagiri Hill at Shravanabelagola. Probably, the Ganga rulers might have modelled the Bahubali statue at Shravanabelagola on the lines of the ancient statue at Arthipura. The basadis at Arthipura are now merely relics.

Whatever the legend behind Bahubali may be,  the statue is nothing less than unique in its size. Bahubali stands in ‘Kayotsarga’ pose looking an image of total  self-control and confidence with his arms dangling on either side reaching to the knees and his thumbs turned inwards. The head is carved in a round shape  facing north, with a sublime composure. The eyes of the statue are half-closed and the lips have a benign and serene smile on them.

Such is the spiritual inspiration of the statue that many have stood in mute reverence on seeing the imposing  Bahubali who is the perfect picture of  worldly renunciation. The great General Sir Arthur Wellesley who commanded the British troops at Srirangapatna, came across the statue and went up to see it. On entering the crest of Vindhyagiri Hill, Wellesley took off his hat and exclaimed “O, My God!”.

Even, late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during his visit to Shravanabelagola on September 7, 1951,  stood stunned on getting a full view of Bahubali statue. Nehru looked at the statue for several minutes with great concentration. It could be for this reason that  none of the invaders have ever dared to mutilate it.

FIRST HEAD ANOINTING WAS ON MARCH 13, 981 AD
Having got the gigantic statue of Bahubali chiseled out of Vindhyagiri Hill, Chavundaraya, the Commander-in-Chief of Ganga dynasty, held the first consecration ceremony on March 13th, 981 AD on Sunday from 3:12 am to 5:06 pm, according to the Indian calendar. The consecration rituals were conducted according to the rules prescribed in the Jain texts by Chavundaraya. The event was a grand spectacle. 

A legend associated with the first head anointing ceremony is an interesting tale. Among the many rituals in the ceremony, there is abhisheka or sacred bath and the legend says when Chavundaraya attempted to perform panchamrita abhisheka or bathing of the statue with five liquids, milk, tender coconut, sugar, nectar and water collected in hundreds of pots.

But to the annoyance of Chavundaraya, when these liquids were poured from a great scaffolding over the head of the statue they could not flow below the navel of the statue. Chavundaraya tried again and again to complete the abhisheka from head to foot but was frustrated. He asked all the priests present at the enclosure to perform anointing but still the liquid could not go beyond the navel. By then, celestial nymph Kushmandini appeared disguised as an poor old woman holding milk in the shell of half of a white Gullikayi fruit and declared that she would accomplish what Chavundaraya could not.

At first Chavundaraya turned down the old woman’s request but after Acharya Nemichandra’s advice, Chavundaraya invited Gullikayajji and permitted her to make an attempt. When the old woman poured the liquid using her small pots, they flowed down at once and completely bathed the statue. Gullikayajji with her devotion could achieve a miracle which the mighty minister Chavundaraya could not. Chavundaraya accepted his defeat falling at the feet of Gullikayajji, and repented for having succumbed to the emotions of  pride and arrogance after getting such a magnificent statue sculpted.

Later, a humble Chavundaraya performed panchamritha abhisheka and the statue was covered from head to toe in the liquids. To commemoorate the  completion of the head anointing ritual, Chavundaraya installed an image of Gullikayajji just opposite the entrance of the door of the Bahubali statue enclosure. As a rule, the abhisheka is a daily event for any statue but the colossal size of Bahubali makes it impossible to do this. Thus only the feet of Bahubali are bathed daily in what is known as ‘Pada Puja.’

Dizzy height of the statue always kept researchers intrigued
The sight of the colossal image of Bahubali captivates the mind of any viewer and so fascinated were some researchers that they tried to  measure it to decide its exact height and that of various parts of the body. The measurements by many individuals in history have never been convincing enough with no two measurements the same.

Each of the researchers including even some from foreign countries who measured the gigantic statue at Vindhyagiri Hill at Shravanabelagola, have come out varied measurements. Among several measurements made, the measurements taken by the Institute of Indian Art History, Karnatak University, Dharwad, using the Theodilite Instrument,  is the accepted measurement so far. 

The measurement taken by the Theodilite Instrument on behalf of the Institute of Indian Art History in 1980, reveals that the total height of the statue is 58.8 feet. 
Various records throw light on various persons embarking upon measurements on the monolithic statue and some prominent measurements on the statue which have been documented include one by Buchanan who in his measurement estimated that the Bahubali statue stands at 70’ 3.” Sir Arthur Wellesly (The Duke of Wellington) said that statue measures 60’3” and the then Commissioner of Mysore, Browning estimated that the statue to be 57’ feet.

According to Workman, the author of Through Towns and Jungles, the statue stood at 58 feet high. In 1871, the then Public Works Department officials measured the gigantic statue and reported it to be about 56 feet tall. R Narasimhachar, editor of Sravana Belagola Inscriptions’, 1923, thought the statue to be 57 feet height. The Archaeological Department reported the Bahubali statue to be 58 feet high.

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