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Jain Stories

Bharat and Bahubali

Lord Rishabhadev or Ädinäth was known as king Rishabhadev before his renunciation of worldly life. He had two wives, Sumangalä and Sunandä. By Sumangalä, he had 99 sons, of whom Bharat was the eldest and the best known, and one daughter named Brähmi. By the second wife, Sunandä, he had one son named Bähubali and a daughter named Sundari. All of them were given proper training in different arts and crafts. Bharat became a great warrior and a politician. He was tall, well built, and strong and hence was called Bähubali. In Sanskrit, Bähu means arm and Bali means mighty. Brähmi attained a very high level of literary proficiency. She developed the first known script known as Brähmi script. Sundari was very proficient in mathematics. After Lord Rishabhadev attained omniscience, both girls renounced their worldly lives and became his disciples.

As a king, Rishabhadev had the responsibility of a large kingdom. At the time of his renunciation, he handed over the city of Vinitä, also known as Ayodhyä, to Bharat; and the city of Taxshilä (Potanpur according to Digambar scriptures) to Bähubali. To the remaining 98 sons he gave different parts of his vast kingdom.

Bharat quickly established control over Vinita. He was an ambitious ruler and intended to become emperor of the entire nation. For this purpose, he organized a strong army and started developing different types of fighting equipment. He also possessed a miraculous wheel called Chakraratna (Chakra means wheel and Ratna means precious jewel) that would never miss its target. Then he embarked upon his journey of conquest. In those days, there was hardly anyone who could withstand his well-equipped army. He easily conquered all the regions around Vinitä. Then he turned his attention towards his 98 brothers and asked them to acknowledge his superiority. They all turned to Lord Rishabhadev to ask for advice. Bhagawän explained about conquering their inner enemies (passions) and not external enemies. He also advised them on attaining liberation, a “True Kingdom”. They all realized the futility of fighting with their elder brother; so they surrendered their territories to him, renounced worldly life and became disciples of Lord Rishabhadev.

Now only Bähubali remained and he would not surrender. He had a different vision. He was conscious of his right to rule the kingdom handed over to him by his father. Moreover he had the will and capacity to fight any invader. Therefore, when he received Bharat’s request to accept a subordinate status, he refused and began preparations to fight. Both brothers were strong and war between the two was sure to result in large-scale bloodshed. Therefore, counselors on both sides tried to dissuade their masters from resorting to war but neither of them would give up his ground. War seemed inevitable and both the brothers brought their armies face to face on the battlefield. Everyone shuddered at the prospect of the heavy casualties that would result from the imminent war.

The counselors made one last effort. They explained to their masters that the main point of contention was to determine which brother was superior. Instead of assembling a large-scale war for that purpose, a fight between the two brothers would just as easily settle the issue and would avert unnecessary bloodshed. Both brothers thought this was an excellent idea and immediately agreed. The plan was to engage in a straight duel and the victor of the duel would be acknowledged the leader.

Bharat and Bähubali both agreed to the rules. The day of the duel arrived. Bharat tried to beat Bähubali by using his various permissible weapons. All his attempts to defeat Bähubali failed. Bharat contemplated how unbearable and shameful his defeat would be. His ambition to rule the entire world was also at stake if he did not defeat his brother. He grew desperate and ignored the rules of the duel by unleashing his miracle wheel, the Chakraratna, at Bähubali. Bharat forgot one important characteristic of the miracle weapon that it would not harm any blood relatives of the bearer. Therefore the wheel returned to Bharat and Bähubali remained unharmed. Bähubali became enraged by Bharat’s violation of the rules of the duel. He thought of smashing the elder brother with his mighty fist. As he raised his hand for that purpose, the onlookers trembled at the thought of Bharat’s imminent death.

Incidences in the life of King Bharat and King Bähubali

Just as he was about to unleash his wrath, a flash of insight came to him. “What am I doing?” thought Bähubali. “Have I gone mad? Am I going to kill my elder brother for the sake of some worldly possessions that my revered father willingly abandoned and which my other brothers have given up?” He shuddered at the prospect of the imminent death of Bharat. At that moment he changed his mind. He saw the evil in killing a brother he respected. Instead of lowering his hand to hit his brother, he used it to pull out his hair (as the monks do during Dikshä - renunciation ceremony) as a symbol of giving up everything and of renouncing the worldly life.

But Bähubali had not lost his pride and ego. He realized that if he went to his father and stated his intention of renouncing the world he would be required to bow down and be subservient to his 98 younger brothers who were senior to him in monkhood. This was unacceptable to him. Instead, Bähubali decided to seek enlightenment on his own and started meditating on the very spot that he stood. He became so immersed in his meditation that he lost track of time and could not remember how long he had stood there. He stood in that very spot for so long that creepers began to grow around his feet. A year passed with Bähubali standing in that posture of meditation. Yet, he did not gain enlightenment. How could he gain it without shedding his ego? At last, Lord Rishabhadev sent Brähmi and Sundari to bring him to the right path. They came to the place where Bähubali was meditating. Seeing their mighty brother standing like a rock, they calmly told him, “You cannot get enlightenment while sitting on an elephant. You need to get off the elephant.” As their familiar voices reached Bähubali’s ears, he opened his eyes in amazement and looked around but did not find himself on an elephant. He then realized that the elephant they were referring to was his ego. He immediately dissolved his ego and decided to go to Lord Rishabhadev and was ready to bow to his 98 brothers.

During his long penance, he had overcome all other defiling passions except ego which still remained between him and enlightenment. Now his ego was dissolved and humbleness prevailed in its place. Therefore, as he took the first step towards the Lord he achieved full enlightenment and became omniscient. Bähubali became the first person who attained liberation in this era as per Digambar sect. However, Shvetämbar tradition indicates that Rishabhadev’s mother Marudevi attained liberation first in this era.

Idol of Bähubali at Shravanbelgola
In memory of this event, a gigantic 57-foot upright statue of Bähubali stands on the hill of Vindhyagiri at Shravanbelgola, near Bangalore in southern India. It is made out of a single rock of granite and was erected about 1000 years ago. Pilgrims and visitors marvel that the statue, even under the open sky, stands spotless today.

Meanwhile, Bharat had become the undisputed emperor or Chakravarti of the world. He was the first Chakravarti of the current time cycle of Avasarpini Ärä. He ruled equitably and in the interest of all. People were happy during his administration. India was recognized as Bhäratvarsha. He himself was happy in every respect and ruled for a very long time.

One day a ring slipped off his finger while he was in his dressing room. He noticed that the finger looked rather odd without the ring. His curiosity overtook him and he removed all his rings and saw that his fingers were no longer beautiful. Then he took off his crown and other ornaments that used to decorate his body and looked in the mirror. He noticed that he did not look as handsome as he used to look.

This set off a train of thoughts. ‘I consider myself handsome and strong but this entire look is merely due to the ornaments which do not belong to the body. The body itself is made up of blood and bones. Then why am I so attached to my body?’ He thought further. ‘My body will not last forever and will decompose sooner or later. At that stage, I will have to leave everything behind. The only everlasting entity is the soul.’ He thus realized that nothing in the world, including his body, really belonged to him. He came to a major decision. “Why not do away with my attachment of all the temporary things and instead focus on something that lasts forever like my father did?” Thus, he developed an acute detachment for the worldly life. As per Shvetämbar tradition, this reflection led to the rise of true enlightenment from within and as a result he attained omniscience or Keval-jnän in that very room as a lay person. Digambar tradition indicates that after an acute detachment of worldly life, he renounced that life and became a monk. Immediately after becoming monk, he attained Keval-jnän. At the end of his life he attained liberation.