GRAND FESTIVAL OF SRAVANA-BELAGOLA
The great general Chamunda-Raya not only installed the colossal image of Gommatesvara on the top of the Vindhyagiri hill at Sravana-Belagola but also performed the “Pratishthpana Mahotsava” i.e., the great ceremony of consecration of the image, on Sunday, the 13th of March, 981 A.D, in accordance with the detailed rituals prescribed in jaina scriptures for the purpose and on a very grand scale befitting both the huge size of the image and the extermely high status of the “Yajamana” i.e., the host. As a part of the sacred ritual the cremony of “Panchamritabhisheka” i.e., bathing of the image with five liquids, viz milk, curds, ghee or orcharified butter, saffron and water, which is also known as “Mastakabhisheka”, i.e., the head-anointing ceremony, was performed with grandeur, dignity and solemnity in keeping with the extra-ordinary nature of the occaison. Later on this festival of performing “Mastakabhisheka” was continued and it came to be termed as Mahamastakabhishekaï¿½, i.e., the great head-anointing ceremony, since it came to be performed only at certain conjunctions of the heavenly bodies at intervals of several years usually 10 to 15 years, and at a great cost. The huge proportions of the graceful colossus, whose head is anointed on the particular day after an interval of 10 to 15 years by thousands of priests and pilgrims, gives to the ritual an impressive character. Hence the “Mahamastakabhisheka” ceremony is popularly known as the “Grand Festival of Sravana-Belagola”.
This festival beings about a fortnight earlier and terminates after a fortnight of the “Mahamastakabhisheka”. Between these two dates there are various festivals and ï¿½pujas, i.e., worships. Generally more than two-hundred-thousand pilgrims of Jain religion and thousands of tourists of other religions gather at the village of Sravana-Belagola to participate and to withness the “Mahamastakabhisheka” ceremony. Since all the participants and the spectators are in the festive religious mood and in their holiday attire, the entire festival becomes a colourful spectacle.
On the morning of the “Mahamastakabhisheka” day, the court-yard before the colossus is strewn with layers of fresh paddy. On this green carpet, one thousand-and-eight coloured “Kalasas”, i.e., pots filled with sacred water are arranged in rows, sticking out from the mouth of each, a coconut with cremonial dressing of mango leaves fastened with coloured sacred twine. Out of these 1008 pots, 900 pots are used for the first anointing, 103 pots for the second, and only 5 pots for the third and last anointing.
When ceremony is due to start, a number of Jaina priests take up their positions on the high scaffoldings specially prepared out of strong wooden pillars for the purpose. Each priest holds in his hands one “Kalasa” i.e., a pot brimming over with milk, and one pot with ghee. At a signal of the officiating dignitory, they start the anointing or bath by pouring potfuls of milk over the image. Then ghee follows.
After these preliminary baths or anointings, Gommatesvara is worshipped till noon by the Jaina priests. At the stroke of 1 o’clock, the great “Mahamastakabhisheka” begins. The former Maharajas of Mysore state had always been the greatest patrons of this colossal image of Gommatesvara, since its installation at Sravana-Belagola a part of their Kingdom, and it is they who had the hereditary privilege of performing the first “puja” or worship of the image on this auspicious occasion.
As the appointed hour draws near, the thousand priests climb to their places on the scaffolding with pots of water. Suitable music is played by temple musicians while the priests chant hymns and prayers from Jaina sacred texts. Meanwhile the vast assembly of the pilgrims shout orations in praise of Gommatesvara. Then at the bidding of the Master of the Ceremony, the thousand pots of water are emptied over the image.
Following these baths 15 other offerings are showered on Gommatesvara image in the following order :
- 1. Water
13. Gold Flowers
14. Silver Flowers
15. Silver coins.
This kind of “Mahamastakabhisheka” ceremony was performed on the occasion of the Consecration of the Image on Sunday, the 13th of March, 981 A.D. by General Chamunda-Raya, who was the “Yajamana”, i.e., the host, of the grand ceremony as he had caused that image to be installed at great cost. In connection with this first “Mahamastakabhisheka” ceremony performed on a very grand scale by Chamunda-Raya, there is a legend which describes how the pride of Chamunda-Raya, for installing such a huge image was humbled by a devoted old lady named “Gullakayaji”, The story is as follows :
Chamunda-Raya, after having established the worship of this image, became proud and elated, at placing this God by his own authority at so vast an expense of money and labour. Soon after this, when he performed in honour of the God the ceremony of “Panchmritabhisheka”, i.e., bathing the image with five liquids, vast quantities of these things were expended in many hundred pots; but, through the wonderful power of the God, the liquid descended not lower than the navel, to check the pride and vanity of the worshipper, Chamunda-Raya, not knowing the cause, was filled with grief that his intention was frustrated of bathing the image completely with this ablution. While he was in this situation, the celestal nymph “Padmavati” by order of the God, having transformed herself into the likeness of an aged poor woman, appeared, holding in her hand the five “amritas”, i.e., liquids, in a “Beliya Gola” (or small silver pot) for bothing the statue; and signified her intention to Chamunda-Raya, who laughed at the at the absurdity of this proposal, of accomplishing what had not been in his power to effect. Out of curiosity, however, he permitted her to attempt it, when, to the great surprise of the beholders, she bathed the image with the liquid brought in the little silver vase. Chamunda-Raya, repenting his sinful arrogance, performed a second time, with profound respect, his ablution, on which they formely wasted so much valuable liquids, and bathed completely the body of the image. From that time this place is named after the “Beliya Gola” i.e., the silver vase, which was held in Padmavati’s hand. (vide “Asiatic Researches”, vol. IX, page 266).
2. CEREMONIES TO THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY
Written records are available to establish the “Mahamastakabhisheka” ceremonies having taken place in the following years upto the end of the 19th century :
1. In 1398 A.D. : The earliest reference to “Mahamastakabhisheka” is found in inscription No. 254 dated 1398 A.D. Which also states that one Panditarya did perform seven “Mahamastakabhisheka” like this prior to it.
2. In 1612 A.D. : The poet Panchabana refers to an anointment caused to be performed by one Santi Varni in the year 1612 A.D.
3. In 1659 A.D. : Performed by His Highness Shri Maharaja Dodda Devaraja Wodeyar Bahadur of Mysore.
4. In 1677 A.D. : Poet Anantakavei refers to the anointment ceremony conducted at the expense of Visalaksha-Pandita, the Jaina minister of the Mysore King Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar in 1677 A.D.
5. In 1800 A.D. : Performed By His Highness the Maharaja Mummadi Krishna-Raja Wodeyar (III) Bahadur of Mysore.
6. In 1825 A.D. : Mentioned by Pandita Santi-Raja of its being performed by Mysore King Krishna-Raja Wodeyar (III) in about 1825 A.D.
7. In 1827 A.D. : In inscription No. 223, a specific reference has been made to a similar ceremony performed in 1827 A.D.
8. In 1871 A.D. : Capt. J.S.F. Mackenzie of Mysore Commission mentions that ï¿½Once in twenty years the great ceremony of washing the god is performed. The last occasion was in the early part of June, 1871. (vide “Indian Antiquary”, Vol. II, May, 1873, page. 129).
9. In 1887 A.D. : Sri Laxmi-Sena Bhattaraka Swami of Kolhapur Matha performed the “Mahamastakabhisheka” on the 14th of March 1887 A.D. It is said that this Laxmi-Sena Bhattaraka spent Rs. 30,000 for this purpose. The following account of the ceremony is taken from the May 1887 issue of the journal “Harvest Field” :