Article: Bāhubali

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Second scenario

After listening to advice persuading them not to cause large-scale bloodshed, the two kings engage in a duel. This takes place in three stages:

  • 'encounter of sight' – dṛṣṭi-yuddha
  • 'encounter in water' – jala-yuddha
  • 'wrestlers’ encounter' – malla-yuddha.

In the first duel Bāhubali’s face remains motionless and undisturbed, whereas Bharata is disturbed for a moment. Bāhubali is declared victorious.

In the second part, Bāhubali moves at ease in the pond where the fight takes place while Bharata cannot face water splashes and has to turn his face aside.

In the final stage, the brothers have a classical wrestling match, which Bāhubali wins easily.

As universal emperor, Bharata has the special weapon of the disc – cakra. When he launches this at Bāhubali the disc neither reaches nor strikes him.

After his victory, Bāhubali announces his decision to give up worldly life.

This scenario is the one followed by, for instance, Settar 1981 (page 49) and Strohl 1990 (234).

Rejection of worldly life and the body

Having thus renounced battle and worldly life, Bāhubali stands in kāyotsarga, the ascetic posture of meditation meaning ‘rejection of the body’, with arms hanging down.

Devoted to meditation[,] his eyes fixed on the end of his nose, motionless, the muni appeared like a sign-post. Like a forest-tree his body endured the wind in the hot season spreading hot grains of sand like grains of fire. Plunged in the nectar of good meditation, he was unconscious of the sun in the middle of the hot season, like a fire-pit, over his head. Covered from head to foot with mud made from dust and perspiration caused by the heat, he looked like a boar that had come out of mud. In the rainy-season he was no more disturbed by streams of water than a mountain by trees shaken by wind and rain. He was not shaken from kāyotsarga nor from meditation by the flashes of lightning nor by the mountain-peaks shaken by thunder-storms. Both of his feet were covered with moss caused by dripping water, like the steps of a deserted village-tank [= reservoir]. In the winter season in which elephant-deep streams were frozen, he remained comfortable from the fire of meditation active in burning the fuel of karma. On winter nights when trees were frozen by cold, Bāhubali’s pious meditation bloomed especially, like jasmines. Forest-buffaloes scratched themselves on him just as [though he were] the trunk of a huge tree. […] He was surrounded completely by creepers with a hundred branches shooting up, like a drum by leather thongs. Dense clusters of reeds grew up and around him […]. Abundant darbha-grass filled with moving centipedes grew up around his feet[,] buried in the mud of the rainy season. Hawks, sparrows, etc. […] made nests on his body [which was] covered with creepers. Thousands of serpents hid in the thickets of [the] creepers, terrified by the call of forest peacocks. Bāhubali looked as if he had a thousand arms [created] from [the many] hanging serpents fastened to his body. His feet were surrounded by serpents, like anklets, that had left the ant-hill near his feet.

Johnson’s translation of Hemacandra’s account
pages 324 to 325

This is just one instance of the graphic depiction of the posture that has become associated for ever with Bāhubali.

Omniscience, Brāhmī and Sundarī

Buchanan's sketch of Bāhubali

Buchanan's sketch of Bāhubali
Image by  © Heidelberg University Library

Bāhubali’s meditation lasted one year. It resulted in the destruction of many karmas. The next stage to reaching liberation was to overcome his passions, especially pride. Bāhubali’s main characteristic, his pride prevented him from reaching omniscience.

His half-sister Brāhmī and Sundarī, his full sister, had become disciples of their father Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. They were sent to Bāhubali to give him a helpful hint: "Kevala[-jñāna] cannot arise in those seated on an elephant’s shoulder."

After some time Bāhubali understood this statement, enigmatic though it was. He was proud because he did not show respect to his younger brothers, even though they had become mendicants earlier than he and were therefore worthy of his homage. Realising this, he made a spiritual step and reached omniscience.

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