Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Lord of Nothingness

The final day of the Mahamastakabhisheka at Shravanabelagola.
Like the turmeric and coconut water and sandalwood paste and milk and all the kashayas and churanas that have cascaded down in ecstatic torrents, so much has been said and written - and so eloquently - these last few weeks about it. And where words have failed, hundreds of breathtaking images have completed the task. Which makes this a very difficult piece to write. Because write about it I must. (Not only am I a Jain but my mother was christened Sunanda, after Lord Bahubali’s mother and my parents were married in the year of Mahamastakabhisheka!)
But what shall I write? My head whirls, tossed about in the swirling torrents and confused, I ask – what shall I say about you, Bahubali? What shall I say that has not been already said about you a millions times over? What shall I say that is not about the wondrous spectacle that made a world that virtually ignores you for the rest of the time sit up and gasp and take notice, but goes beyond that?
Shall I tell them that when, more than a thousand years ago, the sculptors scooped your likeness, head downward, from that massive rock called Indragiri hill, it was as if you there inside all the time, waiting for the right moment to rise out of the rock. According to one version of the story of how Chamundaraya, the great Jain minister and general of the Ganga kings came to commission the statue, Chamundaraya’s mother who was a great bhakt of Bahubali wanted to go to a place called Paudanapura where apparently a Bahubali statue, some 525 bow lengths tall, stood. Mother and son set off but as they slept one night on the smaller Chandragiri hill next to Indragiri, the goddess Padmavati appeared in a dream to both of them and said, “Here on the larger hill, is a stone image of Gommata Jina which was worshipped by Lord Rama, even Ravana and seen by Mandodari. It is covered with stone. Purify yourselves, and …shoot an arrow to the south… Before the sounds dies away, the image will appear.”
And when it did, it was so beautiful, Bahubali, so breathtakingly perfect that some say that Chamundaraya asked for the forefinger of your left hand to be made unnaturally short so that the imperfection would ward off the evil eye!
Shall I tell them the eternally still pose that your statue stands in is called “kaayotsarga”, literally meaning to abandon the body (kaaya). In yoga, there is a similar pose called tadasana. Shorn to the basics, it is just standing absolutely still - the seemingly simplest and yet the most difficult thing in the world to do. Because to do so, first the body’s weight has to be perfectly balanced on both feet, the spine erect and perfectly aligned, but at ease and every part of the body completely relaxed and still. When that is done, the mind forgets the body and abandons it. (Or the body releases the mind, depending on whether you’re starting with the chicken or the egg.) And then, the mind lifts away in search of other things - stillness, peace….
In the last two weeks, we have ooh-ed and aah-ed as hundreds of litres and kilos of all other kinds of wondrous things have poured down you in glorious floods, drenching everything – you, your ecstatic devotees dancing at your feet, even the hill on which you stand. But, the very first abhishek to consecrate your statue was quite a different story, wasn’t it, Bahubali? When the grand ceremony began and Chamundaraya poured the same prodigious quantities of milk on your head, for some strange reason, it would not go beyond the navel. Again and again, the distraught Chamundaraya, tried but in vain. Till a poor old woman turned up. In her hand was a small gulla kayi (a special variety of round green brinjal) whose insides had been scooped out to make a bowl. In it was a little milk. She asked to be allowed to pour that milk on your head. Chamundaraya laughed in derision at the temerity of a poor old nobody who thought she could achieve what even he, the great minister and general, couldn’t. But he allowed her to pour her pathetic little cache of milk anyway.
What happened next was amazing. Not only did the milk go beyond the navel, not only did it drench your staute from head to toe much the way it has these past few days, it is said that it flowed down the hill and became a beautiful white pond. It was then that Chamundaraya realized that the obstacle to the abhisheka was his own arrogance and ahankara at his achievement of having made this magnificent statue possible. And who was the old woman? Some say she was the Goddess Padmavati, others that she was the celestial nymph Kushmandini. Whoever she was, exactly opposite and facing the statue, stands to this very day, the figure of an old woman holding a gulla-kayi in her hands, a befitting reminder that, beyond all the hype, beyond the stunning extravaganza, beyond the superlatives, your message, my Bahubali, is actually something very simple.
So, yes, Bahubali, it is true that you are considered the first Kewala Gyani who attained Moksha etc., etc. But, for many of us, those are just fancy words – kewala gyani, moksha, enlightenment – that we pay lip service to or then relegate to dusty libraries and theological debates. But, if we simplified that – and what could be simpler that you who wears nothing but the sky - yours is the story of the surrender of the human ego, that boasts, “I am”. Therefore everything must be mine.
You were once the dazzling Prince Bahubali, mighty warrior, learned scholar, patron of art and music, son of King Rishabhanatha of Ayodhya whose court was so magnificent that Lord Indra himself descended from Indraloka to grace this fabulous court with his presence and his famed Apsaras. Prince Bahubali - so handsome that they called you Manmatha, the Conqueror of Hearts, so manly and strong that they looked at your mighty arms and shoulders and called you Bhujabali.
And nobody could have loved his elder brother more than you, Bahubali. And the mighty Bharata, Emperor of the World and Conqueror of all the six continents loved you, his younger brother, no less. Yet that love was too small to accommodate your egos. Bharata said I am the Emperor of the six continents, I am your lord and so you must give me Paudanapura.’
And you said, I am Bahubali. I love and respect you as my elder brother but I am the king of Paudanapura.”
And each ego feared that that the other would swallow it up. And that fear begat many children - jealousy, anger, arrogance, revenge, lust for power - who became the armies that waged the war between you two brothers. A war that raged in your hearts. And when, at last you were on the brink of what seemed like victory, your brother helpless and high above your head waiting to be tossed to oblivion by your mighty arms, you realized that “I am” was actually an incomplete sentence.
But the complete sentence evaded you for thirty longs years, as you stood, having abandoned everything, even your body. Everything except a last shred of “I am”. “ I am standing on two feet of land that is my brother’s, not mine……” It was only when Bharata fell at your feet and said, “This land is neither mine nor yours…..” that the sentence got completed.
“I am nothing”.
So, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I tell them about you, Bahubali. None of the history, the facts, the myths, the legends. None of the explanations of significance of all the rituals that took place over these last 10 days, the debates about moksha and ahimsa and Jainism. It doesn’t even matter whether they know that the statue that atop that hill is your statue, Bahubali
What matters is this.
The moment the water hit the top of 58 feet of granite and transformed into a million little diamonds that swallowed the sunlight and flew off into a peerless blue sky, the granite, the towering granite surrendered humbly. To milk that rushed down, shooting ripples of white lightning into it and turning it into marble. To the sugarcane juice whose sticky sweet embrace turned it into translucent green like a lemon lollipop. To rice flour and the churnas that wrapped it from head to toe in gigantic clouds of delicate white mist which then settled as softest white down on the granite so that suddenly it was not stone at all, but living flesh that you wanted to reach out and caress. To turmeric and saffron who fought to turn it into gold. To the blood-crimson sandalwood that melted it into such indescribable fragrance that drenched the air, every conscious thought. And then finally to the flowers – millions of them, frantically trying to kiss this thing which was till now that must have been inscrutable, unyielding granite but now was….nothing.
And through it all, you stood, my Bahubali, unmoved, unaffected, smiling your sweet, gentle, mysterious smile as if to say, “All this is nothing. Because I am nothing.”
Sources : Homage to Belagola by Saryu Doshi, Jainism the World of Conquerors by Natubhai Shah

Bahubali and Yoga.
According to ancient Jain scriptures, yoga and meditation are considered as essential part of the Jain way of life, for both ascetics and lay people. Even later day Jain scholars and monks have written detailed expositions on yoga and mediation. For example, Subhachandra (10th century AD) has elaborated on meditation, including specifying the poses for it. Padmasana, ardhapadmasana, vajrasana, viraasana, sukhasana, kamalasana. And the pose in which the statue of Bahubali stands – kaayotasarga.
Like many other meditative poses, this meditative pose is now being used in alternative therapies to treat hypertension, heart disease etc.

Bahubali and a Natyarani

She was a dancer so accomplished they called her “Natya Saraswathi”. A raconteur so gifted that they called her Vichitra Suthradhare. In the fabulous Chennakeshava temple at Belur, just 86kms from Shravanabelagola, a stunning statue of her stands in front of the main shrine and the walls around are decorated with 42 gorgeous, voluptuous Madanikas or celestial nymphs, all inspired her legendary beauty. Singer, musician, poetess and a woman of extraordinary charm, wit and intelligence - in fact, the perfect candidate to become the chief consort or “Pattamahadevi” of the great Hoysala king, Vishnuvardhana. Which she did. But along with her worldly accomplishments, queen Shantala was a devout Jain and probably worshipped regularly at the statue of Bahubali. Because not only did her husband’s general build the stunning suttalaya around the statue, but she alos built a Jain temple on the adjacent hill in 1123 A.D, around 40 years after the statue came up….

The divine brinjal
For the looks of it, just a brinjal, but in fact, this gulla-kayi is no ordinary vegetable. According to popular legend, it was instrumental in humbling the great Chamundaraya and was the container for the milk that inaugurated the first abhisheka in Sharvanabelagola! It also has another divine connection.
The great the 17th century philosopher, poet, reformer and head of one of the 8 Udipi Mattas, Sri Vadiraja Tirtha, created the paryĆ¢ya system by which the Sri Krishna Udipi Temple is managed in rotation by each of the eight Udupi Matha heads for a period of 16 months. As the story goes, he gifted the seeds of the gulla to the people of Mattu in Udipi district and it became famous as "Mattu gulla'', growing mainly in this area. Ever since, during the Paryaya festival, when the charge of Udipi Sri Krishna Temple changes hands, it has been a tradition for the people of Mattu village to send cconsignments of gulla for the festival. This paryaya festival in January, 20 gunny bags of gulla did the honours!

Bahubali and Marathi
How do we know that Chamundaraya was responsible for Bahubali’s magnificent statue at Shravanabelagola? By the inscription at the feet the statue that reads, 'Chamundaraye karaviyale’. But the other unique thing about inscription is that it is in Marathi and is the earliest known inscription in this language to be discovered!

1 comment:

Kunal Lodha said...


Even though being a Jain myself, I was not aware of most of the things that you've mentioned here. great information. Thanks