Bahubali ruled over Podanapura in South India. His elder brother, Bharata, ruled over Ayodhya in the North. The other brothers had their own kingdoms given to them by their father, Rishabhanatha.
Bharata wanted to be known as the King of Kings. He was blessed with a dazzling, divine wheel called Chakra Ratna — its very presence assured victory to Bharata’s army.
Bharata marched all over the earth with the divine wheel at the head of his army. He conquered every kingdom and finally turned back home. Bharata expected a hero’s welcome when he entered Ayodhya. But to his dismay, the divine wheel stopped at the gates of the city. “Haven’t I established my rule all over the world?” Bharata wondered. “The divine wheel has stopped at the gates of Ayodhya. That means some rulers have still not accepted me as their emperor.”
A senior minister pointed out that his own brothers hadn’t accepted Bharata as their Lord. So, Bharata sent letters to his brothers asking them to formally accept him as their Lord and send tributes to him.
His brothers readily surrendered their kingdoms to Bharata and left for the forest to do penance. Only one brother stood his ground — Bahubali, the Lord of Podanapura.
“I respect Bharata as my elder brother, but not as my Lord,” Bahubali announced.
This irritated Bharata. “If he chooses to defy me, I must show him his place,” he said.
Bharata arrived at the gate of Podanapura with his massive army and, of course, the divine Chakra Ratna.
Bahubali met him at the gates of his city. “If you have come as my brother, I bow to you. If you are here as a king and a conqueror, I will oppose you.”
Thus, war between brothers became unavoidable.
Ministers on either side were worried. “If the two armies clash, thousands of soldiers on either side will die,” they said. Hearing this, both Bharata and Bahubali agreed that they would leave the armies out of the conflict.
Instead they held a contest with three rounds. The first round was the contest of staring. Both had to stare at each other without batting an eyelid. The one who blinked first would lose. Hours passed. Bahubali held his stare. Bharata was the first to lower his eyes. He lost the first round.
The second round was a water-fight. Both brothers jumped into a pond. It was a contest of hitting each other with water. In this contest too, Bahubali won.
The final round was wrestling. The two wrestled for hours. Finally, in a swift move, Bahubali lifted his brother high in the air. Onlookers held their breath as Bahubali was about to throw Bharata down.
One moment, Bahubali was holding up Bharata, his eyes blazing with anger; the next moment, he lowered him gently to the ground. Then he bowed to him. “In my anger, I forgot myself. I would have killed my own brother, had I not come to my senses,” said Bahubali. “I want to conquer this anger.”
Bahubali left for forest.
In the forest, Bahubali stood under the sky with nothing covering his body. He stood day and night without moving. Creepers wound around his legs. Bahubali stood like a rock. He was full of peace. He was full of loving compassion. Not a trace of anger, jealousy or pride could be found in him. He became liberated.
Bahubali Swami is venerated by all especially the Jains, who consider Bahubali’s father Rishabhanatha, the first Thirthankara.
A thousand years ago, a Jain statesman, Chavundaraya, installed a monolith statue of Gommateshwara on the sacred hills at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. Bahubali Swami is worshipped as Gommateshwara. A head anointing ceremony of Gommateshwara is held every 12 years. Devotees give a ceremonial head-bath to the 57-foot tall Gommateshwara. This ceremony is known as Mahamastakabhisheka. The first Mahamastakabhisheka was held in 981 A.D. This year, the 88th Mahamastakabhisheka of Gommateshwara will be held on February 17, 2018.