Article: Bāhubali

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Key episodes in Bāhubali's life

Bāhubali’s life is closely connected with those of his father and his half-brother Bharata. Tales of their lives therefore contain information about him.

Bharata and Bāhubali

The small golden idol of Bāhubali or Gommaṭeśvara – ‘Lord of Gommaṭa’ – is found at the bottom of the 18-metre-tall original at Shravana Belgola. The details of the anthills and creepers that have grown up round the meditating monk are clear

Small idol of Bāhubali
Image by Ashok 666 – Ashok Prabhakaran © CC BY-SA 2.0

When King Ṛṣabha renounced worldly life he appointed his eldest son Bharata as his successor, and shared the kingdom among all his other sons. Each of the men thus had his own realm.

Bharata received the special weapon of a universal emperor – cakravartin. To be true to his name, a universal emperor has to conquer all the parts of the entire world. He does this systematically in a progressive process known as dig-vijaya – 'conquest of the cardinal points'. This entails making war on and overcoming various kingdoms in turn. In Bharata’s case, this meant conquering the kingdoms where his brothers reigned.

One by one, the sons of Ṛṣabha renounced the world and thus ceded their territories to Bharata. But Bāhubali was different from the others and very powerful. After Bharata had gained all the other territories and was recognised as the universal emperor, Bāhubali refused to submit to his authority because Bharata had not conquered him.

There are two main scenarios outlined in different versions of the story.

First scenario

All negotiations failed so preparations for war began. Both kings and armies marched towards each other to wage war, which is described at length in many versions. Before fighting, each of them is said to have paid homage to Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, their father.

The next step is the duel between Bharata and Bāhubali. There are different versions of this episode.

In the first, before striking the fatal blow, Bāhubali realised that wealth and kingship were meaningless if his brother were no more. He stayed the hand holding his weapon.

In the second version Bāhubali and his half-brother fought on. Bāhubali struck Bharata but, seeing that this blow could be fatal, he helped him regain consciousness. The fight, however, continued with more intensity, as Bharata struck again. But Bāhubali suddenly froze as his hand was raised to strike again, when he realised that a fight against one’s brother for a mere kingdom is pointless.

Now the embodiment of tranquility, Bāhubali decides to become a wandering mendicant. Bharata is so awed by this behaviour that he also decides to renounce worldly life.

This scenario is the one described in Johnson’s translation of Hemacandra's epic.

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