Article: Bāhubali

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Two goddesses

Carrying royal regalia, a statue of a goddess stands by the colossus of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola. The nearly 18-metre-high statue of Bāhubali or Gommaṭeśvara – 'Lord of Gommaṭa' – has twin figures of goddesses either side

Goddess with Bāhubali
Image by ~rajooda – Rajeev Vuttharahalli © CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

In the Digambara tradition, Brāhmī and Sundarī are not credited with any role in Bāhubali’s enlightenment.

Yet two female characters play a part. They are goddesses or, according to some sources, vidyā-dharīs – goddesses who believe Jain teaching and thus have various magical powers. They intervene to remove the creepers that climb all over Bāhubali’s body.

Final liberation

According to Digambaras, Bāhubali was the first person to attain final liberation in our era.

However, the Śvetāmbaras say that Marudevī, mother of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, and thus Bāhubali's grandmother, was the first to be liberated. She achieved this while riding an elephant to hear Ṛṣabha preach to the universal gathering.

Images of Bāhubali

Soaring over 17 metres, the Bāhubali image at Shravana Belgola is the tallest freestanding statue in the world. Also known as Gommaṭa or Gommaṭeśvara, the statue shows a man who has meditated so long that plants have grown up his body.

Bāhubali statue at Shravana Belgola
Image by Takeo Kamiya © Takeo Kamiya

The strong presence in art of Bāhubali can be detected as early as the sixth century. Stone sculptures of him are found all over south India and Deccan, in the modern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra. Examples include:

  • Cave IV at Bādāmi
  • the Meena Basti at Aihole
  • ninth-century images at the Ellora caves.

As might be expected, Bāhubali is always shown in art in the characteristic posture of kāyotsarga. Usually naked, he is depicted either alone or flanked by two female characters. Depending on whether the monument is Śvetāmbara or Digambara, these women are identified as either his two sisters or two goddesses.

Many Bāhubali idols are carved from stone but metal images are frequently seen. Created in varying sizes, they are often found in Digambara temples, along with brass images of Jinas and Jain deities.

The battle between Bāhubali and Bharata is the subject of many paintings, such as those in illustrated manuscripts of the Digambara epics, Ādi-purāṇa and Mahāpurāṇa (Doshi 1981, 1985). Less frequently, the battle scene is found in Śvetāmbara Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts.

A unique depiction of Bāhubali is a painted wooden manuscript cover featuring the battle between the half-brothers, as well as Bāhubali’s austerities (see Jain in Doshi 1981: colour plate 1).

Bāhubali’s near-equivalent status to the Jinas is occasionally illustrated by the following signs in art, when the image:

  • is underneath the triple parasol, which is a royal insignia
  • has god-like figures on each side, similar to the yakṣa and yakṣī flanking the Jinas
  • sometimes appears in triple images known as tri-tīrthika, where he is shown along with two Jinas – for example, in Ellora Bāhubali stands near Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, the 23rd Jina.
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