Article: Anointing of Bāhubali

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Records of past celebrations

Nowadays, the interval of 12 years between two 'great head-anointing' ceremonies has become more or less regular. However, this was not always the case as there are written records praising monks or kings who take part in the lustration of the Shravana Belgola Bāhubali, from the end of the 14th century onwards (Sangave 1981: 97–99 and Jain 2005: 15–16 provide a full list of years). Monks perform the ritual, while kings sponsor and eventually perform it.

Such records are irregular up to the 19th century, but since then regular descriptions of ceremonies have made them a valuable source. For instance, an inscription from Shravana Belgola records that a 'head of the body-guard police, who was a descendant of Cāmuṇḍarāya, died on the day of the head-anointing festival of Gommaṭeśvarasvāmī' in 1827. As a result, his son gave an endowment for the annual conduct of worship and other services for Gommaṭeśvara by the Maṭha there (Epigraphia Carnatica Number 324/223: 459). A 'great head-anointing' ceremony took place in 1871 while press reports indicate that Lakṣmīsena Bhaṭṭāraka of the Kolhapur Maṭha in Maharashtra performed the ritual on 14 March 1887. This particular event attracted 200,000 pilgrims from all parts of India.

Celebrations in the 20th century

Throughout the 20th century the Great Head-Anointing ceremony at Shravana Belgola tended to follow more regular intervals. Each celebration was the occasion for some novelty or special event to promote Jainism.

Prominent examples include the rituals that took place in 1910, 1925, 1940, 1953 and 1967.

The ceremony on 30 March 1910 saw a special session of the All-India Digambara Jaina Mahāsabhā, which agreed to work towards the promotion of education of Jain children.

A committee set up to publicise the festival beyond Karnataka invited people from all over to undertake a pilgrimage to Shravana Belgola for the ceremony of 1925. The ritualtook place on 15 March. The Maharajah of Mysore participated in the festival and delivered a speech highlighting the contribution of the Jains to the culture of Karnataka. The Jains regard this speech as memorable (Sangave 2001: 101–102).

The 26 February 1940 ceremony inaugurated a change, still valid today, in the management of the festival. The All-India Digambara Jain Tirthakshetra Committee handed over organisation to the Mysore city government. Today the State Government of Karnataka is responsible for organising the festival.

On that occasion the 1008 pots were divided into four categories:

  • gold kalaśas – 51
  • silver kalaśas – 300
  • German silver kalaśas – 300
  • brass kalaśas – 357.

An auction system was established, in which the person who bids the most earns the right to pour liquids from a given pot. The money raised is used for the protection and upkeep of the Bāhubali image. This system is still used today.

The ceremony on 5 March 1953 was jointly organised by a religious committee and a general committee. That time half of the 1008 pots were made of gold while silver was used for the rest. About 300,000 pilgrims participated in the festival, which was an occasion for many Jain associations to hold special meetings.

The ceremony on 30 March 1967 saw the presence of a large number of Jain monks and nuns. The chief minister of Mysore replaced the maharajah. An innovation that many considered spectacular was the Indian Air Force helicopter that showered multi-coloured flowers on Bāhubali from the sky, greatly exciting the spectators and participants. For the first time, the government of India filmed the entire celebration, as some foreign television channels also did. Parallel to the rituals, Jain meetings and sessions were held, in which resolutions were passed to encourage the academic study of Jainism in universities.

Recent celebrations

Pilgrims attending the ‘great head-anointing ceremony’ – mahāmastakābhiṣeka – of the Bāhubali statue at Shravana Belgola in 2006 are seen clearly from the platform above the image. The 1008 pots of different consecrated substances can also be viewed.

View from above Bāhubali statue
Image by Mehool Sanghrajka © Mehool Sanghrajka

Over the course of the 20th century, the celebrations surrounding the Great Head-Anointing became increasingly spectacular. The 1981 and 2006 occasions have demonstrated even greater sensory stimulation and passionate emotions. Media coverage has grown in tandem with the size and grandeur of each new celebration. Media interest peaked in 2006, with international news organisations covering the biggest festival so far.

The current bhaṭṭāraka of the Jain maṭh, the most prominent temple in the town of Shravana Belgola, is Karmayogi Swasti Shri Charukirti Bhattarakaji. His leadership has been one of the chief forces behind the development of Shravana Belgola as one of the principal Jain pilgrimage sites and general tourist attractions in the last 40 years. He personally supervised the organisation of three rituals, those in 1981, 1993 and 2006.

The date of 22 February 1981 marked the millennial anniversary of the installation of the colossal statue on the hill of Vindhya-giri and thus was especially prestigious. Preparations for the festival were made on an unprecedentedly grand scale. The government of Karnataka provided 50 million rupees to fund the celebrations. Improvements in the infrastructure and development of Shravana Belgola were made. The Digambara monk Muni Vidānanda Mahārāj supervised the ceremony. For the first time the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, attended the celebrations, together with other ministers of the central government and the chief ministers of the Indian states. The 1008 pots were divided into eight groups set at different auction rates, thus bringing in unmatched amounts of money. The novelty was the scheme known as Jana-Mangala Mahā-Kalaśa Pravartana. This involved placing an eight-foot-high holy urn made of copper on a decorated chariot to accompany Jain pilgrims. Officially setting off from Delhi, the urn went with the pilgrims on their five-month journey through 110 towns, “spreading the message of humanity, love and peace of Lord Bāhubali, who was the symbol of Indian culture which believed in tolerance, non-violence and national integration'.

The last celebration of the 20th century took place on 19 December 1993.

The latest Great Head-Anointing ritual took place on 9 February 2006 and was given special prestige as being the first of the 21st century. The ten-hour ceremony of 2006 showed some innovations in the substances poured over the statue, as some descriptions show:

Coconut milk, sugar cane juice and milk were poured over the figure. At first resembling smoke, rice flour was released from above and drifted in large white clouds over statue and onlookers alike. This was followed by yellow turmeric paste and other herbal liquids, interspersed by the contents of large silver kalaśas, filled with sanctified water. Visually particularly striking were a variety of sandal wood mixtures in shades ranging from light brown, via purple to deep red, which coloured the grey stone of the sculpture. Towards the finish of the anointing ritual, at the end of the afternoon, a shower of strongly scented flower buds and petals of diverse colours were released from baskets, and a garland was ceremoniously raised to decorate the monumental image. A mixture of holy substances, known as indra, concluded the anointing ceremony, followed by the performance of āratī, the rotating of a flame in front of the image

Hegewald, 2007, page 17

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