Photos by Suhas Mehra, text by Beloo and Suhas Mehra
Continued from Part 2
Having spent some time exploring the Badami rock-cut cave temples 1, 2 and 3 in our earlier posts we now move to the last and the smallest of the four caves. Cave 1 is dedicated to Lord Shiva, caves 2 and 3 to Lord Vishnu, and cave 4 is dedicated to Jain Tirthankars.
Located east of cave 3 and about 10 feet lower, this cave temple is believed to have been excavated after the completion of the other three, sometime in the 7th-century. Some experts suggest that this cave was excavated during the 8th century while others are of the view that this was carved out much later, perhaps in the 11th or 12th century.
This cave also has a similar layout as the other three caves, with a beautifully carved entrance veranda or mukhamandapam, sabhamandapam, and antarala leading to the garbhagriha. The five-bayed entrance veranda is 31 feet long by 6.5 feet wide and extends to 16 feet deep. Each of the four square columns of this mukhamandapam has brackets and capitals. The mandapam behind this verandah has two stand-alone and two joined pillars. From this hall, we see steps leading to the garbhagriha, which is 25.5 feet wide and extends to a depth of 6 feet.
“The physical world is the world of form and the perfection of form is beauty.” (The Mother, CWM 12: 232)
On a boulder at the right side of the cave we see some carvings which are believed to be the signature of Kolimanchi believed to be the principal architect of Badami fort where similar carvings are seen. It is said that he gradually extended his work to the excavation of the cave temples.
The sculptural style of the icons and other decorative motifs seen in cave 4 at Badami closely resemble those found in the nearby Jain caves at Aihole, and also at Ellora Jain caves much farther in northern Maharashtra.
Entering the mukhamandapam we see a larger-than-life murti depicting Bahubali’s great penance. Bahubali, one with strong arms, is a highly revered figure among Jains. He was one of the hundred sons of king Rishabhanatha, the first Tirthankara of Jainism. A Tirthankara, a word which literally means ‘ford-maker,’ is one who founds a tirtha, a passage across the sea of the cycles of birth-and-death, in other words who guides the aspirant on the path to liberation or mukti from samsāra.
When Rishabhanatha decided to take up the life of a renunciate, he divided his kingdom among his 100 sons. After some time, his 98 sons also adopted the ascetic path and gave up their share of the kingdom to Bharata, the first born son of their father, who had been consolidating and expanding his kingdom to become a chakravarti king. Bahubali who is also known by the name of Gomateshwara, challenged and defeated his eldest brother Bharata.
But soon, a sense of disgust filled Bahubali’s being, and he too felt the pull of renunciation. Abandoning his kingdom and all his wealth, he became a monk. It is said that he meditated absolutely motionless in a standing posture (kāyotsarga) for a year, during which time vines grew around his legs and his body was covered with ants and dust. But unmindful of all that he continued steadfastly in his resolve and eventually attained supreme wisdom.
The expression of Bahubali in this panel shows the deep inner peace and jñāna he had gained as a result of his unwavering penance. He is surrounded by four vidyadharis, beings with mystical powers, with two of them busy removing the creepers off Bahubali’s limbs. This particular image is his earliest known sculptural representations in India. Later several colossal images of Bahubali were created in places such as Shravanabelagola, Karkala and Venur, thus making him a popular theme in the Jain artistic tradition in Karnataka.
“The original Vedic society had no place for any Church or religious community or ecclesiastical order, for in its system the body of the people formed a single socio-religious whole with no separation into religious and secular, layman and cleric, and in spite of later developments the Hindu religion has held, in the whole or at least as the basis, to this principle. On the other hand an increasing ascetic tendency that came in time to distinguish the religious from the mundane life and tended to create the separate religious community, was confirmed by the rise of the creeds and disciplines of the Buddhists and the Jains.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 20: 421)
Facing Bahubali on the opposite wall we see another larger-than-life image of Bhagwān Parshvanatha depicted with a serpent hood of five heads, his most popular iconographic form. Parshvanatha was the 23rd of 24 Jain Tirthankaras, and was the earliest exponent of Karma philosophy. He is said to have been born in Varanasi, 273 years before Bhagwān Mahavira, the last Tirthankar of the present time-cycle.
The Digambara Jains do not find any difference between the teachings of Parshvanatha and Mahavira. But according to the Śvētāmbaras, Mahavira expanded Parshvanatha’s teaching of fourfold restraint of ahimsa (non-violence), aparigraha (non-possession), asteya (non-stealing) and satya (non-lying) by adding the fifth monastic vow of brahmacharya (celibacy), and further propounding on the practice of ahimsa.
In this image Bhagawān Parshavanatha is depicted as a Digambara in kāyotsarga or standing meditative posture. On top of his head is a five-headed naga, a feature that identifies him. Legend has it that Parshavantha had once saved two snakes who would have died under a burning log being used by Kamatha, an ascetic who was doing severe penance with five fires. Dharnendra and Padmavati, Jainism’s snake god and goddess are also shown in the panel.
Both images of Bahubali and Parshavantha have a common theme — severe concentration required of a person aspiring for the supreme wisdom or what Jains call as kevalajñāna.
“The Jain philosophy is concerned with individual perfection… The Jain realisation of an individual godhead is all right so far as it goes—its defect is that it is too individual and isolated.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 29: 427)
This relief features Jakkave, a pious Jain nun who conquered her passions and ultimately attained mukti, sitting in service of Bhagawān Mahavira. Her Lord is seated in lotus posture with upward facing palms, right plam on top of left. He is depicted with a prabhamandala or halo around his head, above which we see a chhatra. The throne is carved with three lions.
On the left sidewall of the antarala we see a life-sized relief of Adinatha, again as a Digambara and in a standing posture. Born in a royal family in Ayodhya, he is also known as Rishabhanatha and was the first of the 24 Tirthnkaras. He was the father of Bahubali, and as per the Jain tradition he was the first king to establish his capital at Vinitanagara (Ayodhya by another name).
In this panel, he is surrounded by 12 Tirthankaras on each side. The long flowing hair on his shoulder is one of the ways to identify Adinatha or Rishabhanatha.
The Tirthankara seated in the garbhagriha is Lord Mahavira. Leaving home in pursuit of spiritual awakening, Mahavira became an ascetic at the age of about 30. Leading a life of intense meditation and severe austerities, he eventually attained kevalajñāna and mukti.
In this image Mahavira is sitting under a chaityavriksha in the lotus pose, and with a halo around the head and a chhatra on top. On each of his sides is a chamaradhara (yaksha bearing fly-whisks), and above him we see celestial couples offering flowers.
“A nation tends to throw out its most vivid types in that line of action which is most congenial to its temperament and expressive of its leading idea, and it is the great saints and religious personalities that stand at the head in India and present the most striking and continuous roll-call of greatness, just as Rome lived most in her warriors and statesmen and rulers. The Rishi in ancient India was the outstanding figure with the hero just behind, while in later times the most striking feature is the long uninterrupted chain from Buddha and Mahavira to Ramanuja, Chaitanya, Nanak, Ramdas and Tukaram and beyond them to Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and Dayananda.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 20: 246)
Like cave 3, here also we see exquisite carvings on the pillars. The walls too are carved with images of various Tirthankars.
Before we bid farewell to the Badami cave temples, let us take a moment to admire the rich beauty and texture of these exquisite sandstone caves that have been the perfect material for the highly gifted architects, sculptors and artisans who lived and worked in that region around 1500 years ago.
“Beauty is the joyous offering of Nature.” (The Mother, CWM 12: 233)