Many of us have heard of the Gomateshwara statue at Shravanabelagola, Karnataka. The person in the statue is the Jain saint – Baahubali. The story of Baahubali illustrates the highest order of virtues like love, brotherhood and compassion.
Baahubali was the youngest of the hundred sons of the first Jain tirthankara of the Kali Yuga – King Rishabha. Rishabha adopted Sanyasa after he divided his kingdoms into portions and gave it to his sons to rule. Bharat was one of Rishabha’s sons who got his share of the kigdom. After a few years of peaceful ruling, Bharat decided to become Chakravarti (supreme emperor of the world). He was a great tantric and he had designed and invented several astras (weapons of warfare). He also had a magic wheel. He instructed the wheel to go to king after king in Bharatavarsha and demand them accept the supremacy of Bharat. If the demand was not met, then it was decided that war would be declared. Ninety eight of Bharat’s brothers accepted defeat and adopted sanyasa after giving away their kingdoms to Bharat. Baahubali was a righteous ruler who thought that this demand was unfair. He tried to reason with his brother “Our father gave us each a portion of his kingdom. Why don’t we just rule our portion righteously instead of annexing more territory in an unfair manner?” Bharat was unhappy and declared war. The commanders-in-chief of both the armies got ready for war, but they were worried that both the armies were equally strong and so were their rulers. They negotiated that to prevent destruction of the armies pointlessly, the rulers should fight a duel instead, and whoever wins would be the Chakravarti.
Several rounds of the duel were designed carefully to measure the strength of the winner appropriately. In every round, Baahubali turned out to be the winner. However, there was the final wrestling round. Baahubali had exceptionally strong arms. It was believed that whoever he struck with his arms would meet with instant death. To give Bharat a fair advantage, Bharat was allowed the first strike. Bharat summoned all his strength and struck Baahubali, but there was no effect. Baahubali was extremely angered and raised his arms with a wild roar. At that instant however, there was an inner transformation within Baahubali. He suddenly turned compassionate and said “O Bharat, you are my brother. How fallen am I to kill you over something as small as a kingdom. I will renounce my kingdom and you can be Chakravarti. I am becoming a Sanyasi now”. But when a true Kshatriya raises his hand to hit something, by dharma, he has to finish that action. But Baahubali decided to not hurt his brother, so the only option was to hurt himself. Hence, with the arms that were raised to hit Bharat, Baahubali instead plucked out all his hair from his scalp. It was at this juncture that Bharat realized how truly noble his brother Baahubali was. He repented for his actions and henceforth ruled the earth with non-aggression and righteousness.
Baahubali spent so many years in deep meditation and penance that anthills were formed around his legs and creepers began to grow on his thighs. But somehow, he was not achieving true realization. He identified and felt that he was standing on his brother’s land and meditating, so he still owed his brother that piece of land. This feeling was giving him no peace. When Bharat came to realize this, he rushed to see his brother, fell at his feet and said “O Baahubali, you have taught me such a huge lesson. Please remove the ill-feelings of owing from your heart. The universe belongs to you, and you belong to the entire universe. You are that Brahman!” When Baahubali heard this, his mind was at peace, and he was subsequently able to attain Nirvana – the ultimate realization.
Around the year 981 C.E, King Rachamalla II of the Ganga dynasty ruled over Karnataka. His Prime Minister Chamunda Raya, a sincere devotee of Baahubali and a talented sculptor decided to carve out a statue of Bhagavan Baahubali. This colossal statue stands at a height of 60 feet, carved out a single boulder that is the hill top of the Vindhyagiri hill at Shravanabelagola. The statue has coiled snakes, creepers and anthills as part of it. Besides, the statue is also unclad. Chamunda Raya wanted to portray an important characteristic of Baahubali here. Baahubali was a realized soul and one with the entire universe. He held no recognition with his body. Therefore, not only did he renounce clothes, but he also did not care about the creepers that grew around his body, and the anthills that covered his legs or worry about the snakes that crawled around his feet. Bhagavan Baahubali had truly risen beyond bodily consciousness. He is revered for being a true yogi, and this message is conveyed by the statue. Every 12 years, millions of Jain bhaktas gather at Shravanabelagola for the Mahamastakabhisheka festival where the statue is bathed with milk, curd and saffron all dispensed from a helicopter hovering above the statue in the sky.
In Sanskrit “Go” also means senses, hence Lord Krishna is called Govinda “the controller of the senses”. If we extend a similar analogy to Bhagavan Baahubali, the Gomateshwara could mean “lord of the senses” or “someone who has mastered his senses”. (Disclaimer – author’s personal analysis.)
Rishabha Deva belonged to the Ikshvaku dynasty – the same dynasty as Rama avatara of Vishnu.