Article: Bāhubali

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Colossal statues

Milk is poured over the Bāhubali statue at Shravana Belgola in 2006 during the ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – mahāmastakābhiṣeka. During the rite, over a thousand pots of different consecrated substances are tipped over the idol's head.

Milk poured over the Bāhubali statue
Image by Dhiraj Chawda © Dhiraj Chawda

The most significant and unique kind of representation that underlines the importance of Bāhubali as a figure at the centre of Jain worship is the freestanding colossal image. Such statues are found in Karnataka, their homeland, but have also started to flourish in the adjacent state of Maharashtra in modern times. In recent years, this practice has extended to northern India, with similar statues erected at Ferozabad in Uttar Pradesh and at Hastinapur.

The earliest, highest and most famous one is the figure erected in 981 CE on Vindhya-giri at Shravana Belgola, in Karnataka. Carved out of a single stone, it is 57 feet or over 17 metres tall. Known as 'the sentinel of Shravana Belgola', this colossus has spawned numerous imitations.

Major examples of Bāhubali colossi

Venue

Date of completion

Approximate height

Other information

Kārkala in Karnataka

1432

41 feet / 12.5 metres

 

Venur, Karnataka

1604

35 feet / 10.7 metres

Bāhubali hill, Kolhapur District, Maharashtra

consecrated on 8 October 1963

28 feet / 8.5 metres

It is made of white marble and not of granite like other similar statues.

Dharmasthala

Consecrated 3 February 1982

39 feet / 12 metres

210 tons in weight

Gommaṭagiri, 25 kms north-west of Mysore

14th century

18 feet / 5.5 metres

Newspapers have reported in recent years that the site is neglected and under threat due to quarrying in the neighbourhood

Tippūr, Chennapatna Taluk

 

14 feet / 4.27 metres

 

Battihaḷḷi, near Kannambāḍi

 

14 feet / 4.27 metres

 Annual great head-anointing ceremony

Kaḷasāpura

 

14 feet / 4.27 metres

 Annual great head-anointing ceremony

Mulgunda, Karnataka

 

14 feet / 4.27 metres

 Annual great head-anointing ceremony

Worship of Bāhubali

A temple attendant performs the daily ritual bath – mastakābhiṣeka – on the small metal idol at the bottom of the statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belgola. The five substances used in the ceremony are trickled on to the feet of the stone colossus

Ritual bath of Bāhubali idol
Image by procsilas – Procsilas Moscas © CC BY 2.0

Artistic depiction indicates presence in worship aswell. A particularly spectacular worship ceremony has developed around the colossal images of Bāhubali.

The biggest and best known is the one at Shravana Belgola, in which the huge statue has its head ritually anointedmahā-mastakābhiṣeka – every 12 years. Other colossi are also the centrepiece of similar anointing rites, which draw religious visitors and sightseers. The other colossi in Kārkala and Venur also attract pilgrims for worship.

Bāhubali and Jain values

Bāhubali was a king and warrior proud of his power and strength. When they do battle, Bharata and Bāhubali represent the tussle of oversized egos. Yet Bāhubali’s life story illustrates the triumph of spiritual values and moral virtues over worldly values and violence.

Hence Jains today often see him as an inspiration and a defender of peace, and interpret his story as a message relevant in the modern world.

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