On the eve of Mahamastakabhisheka, a statue of Bahubali has been discovered that dates back to the fourth century
RARE This image matches none of the earlier ones
The Mahamastakabhisheka of Gommata, the 58.8 feet monolithic colossus Bahubali, at Shravanabelagola will take place of February 8. Being the first major celebration of the 21st century, the event has generated a lot of curiosity. The history of the images of Bahubali is a fascinating one. So far, the earliest known sculptures of Bahubali, have come from two Jain caves at Aihole and Badami respectively, Bagalkote District, Karnataka. The two sculptures of Bahubali, one each from Aihole and Badami Jain caves are in relief and not free standing images. The images can be dated to the late sixth century, the period of the Badami Chalukyas.
The earliest freestanding image of Bahubali is in Shravanabelagola. The magnificent bronze image dates to the late seventh century, the age of the Chalukyas of Badami. This rare image is preserved in the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai.
However, another image that has come to light in recent times, which is far earlier than the bronze image in the Prince of Wales Museum and the relief sculptures at Aihole and Badami. Veteran art-historian Umakant P. Shah stumbled upon a metal image of Bahubali in the collection of Professor Samuel Eilenberg.
Going by the characteristics of this brilliant metal image, it may be placed in the late fourth century and thus belongs to the Kushan epoch and is the earliest image of Bahubali. The figurine was discovered in the region around north Karnataka but is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Representations of Bahubali as a rebel prince who renounced earthly pleasures to become a recluse in art, architecture and literature evolved in Karnataka. Bahubali is depicted in the nude, standing upright and meditating. The robust philosopher prince is portrayed standing on a lotus in full bloom while Madhavi creepers entwine his arms and legs.
This image with locks all over his shoulders, matches none of the earlier images. None of the other images of Bahubali depict tresses falling on the shoulders as neatly as this newly discovered image.
Like the bronze image in the Prince of Wales Museum, this metal image does not depict anthills, serpents and the two ladies in the flanks. Going by the date of this sculpture one can safely conclude that this would have set the template, which inspired artists through the ages. However, it is curious that this majestic image had remained largely unnoticed except for a handful of scholars.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu