By Swami Harshananda
Gommateśvara literally means ‘lord of Cupid’, ‘lord of beauty’.
Origin of Gommateśvara
Establishing the images of great persons in public places is a natural trait of human beings in almost all the cultures and civilizations of the world. People give precedence to religion over all other aspects of life. The images of gods and saints are seen carved out or put up everywhere, especially in places of pilgrimage. One of the images of Jain tradition prominently found in the Karnataka state is that of Gommateśvara.
Tale of Gommateśvara
Gommaṭeśvara’s earlier name was Bāhubali. He was the last son of Vṛṣabhanātha, the first Tīrthaṅkara. After distributing his kingdom among his children, Vṛṣabhanātha retired for tapas. Bharata, the eldest son, started an invasion tour and conquered all the kings except his own brothers.
When challenged by him, they also renounced the world and retired for tapas, abdicating their kingdoms in his favor. However, Bāhubali, the youngest of the brothers, refused to oblige. When Bharata fought a duel with him, he was defeated. But Bāhubali, even though he was the victor, refused to be the emperor and started performing severe tapas standing in the same place. He attained enlightenment very soon. Bharata established his image in Paudanapura
Images of Gommateśvara
- There are few images of Gommateśvara or Bāhubali in India, most of them being in the Karnataka State.
- The relief figure, about 2 1/4 meters (7 1/2 ft.) high found in a Jaina cave of Bādāmī (in Karnataka) is the earliest among these (7th cent. A. D.).
- There is another in the Meṇada-basadi of Aihole (Bijapur district of Karnataka) probably belonging to the period A. D. 750.
- Some Gommateśvara icons are found in the Jaina caves of Ellora (in Maharashtra) also.
- The biggest and the most well-known of all these images is the one on the hillock in Śravaṇabelagola It has been sculptured out of a single stone on a small hillock.
- Cāmuṇḍarāya, the prime minister of the king Rācamalla of the Gañga dynasty is said to have got it made during the period A. D. 978-983. It is 17.4 meters (58 ft.) high. There is a beautiful, but almost imperceptible, smile on his face. The body is naked and covered with wild creepers here and there.
- Other images of Gommateśvara are at Kārkala (12.5 metres or 41.5 ft.), Veṇur (10.5 metres or 35 ft.), Dharmasthala (11.7 metres or 39 ft.), Gomatagiri (5.4 metres or 18 ft.) and Bastihalli (5.4 metres or 18 ft.). All these are in the Karnataka State only.
- The image at Kārkala was established by Vrapāṇḍya in A. D. 1432 and the one at Veṇur by Timmaṇṇa Ajila in A. D. 1604.
- The Dharmasthala image was installed very recently, in 1973.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore