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Earliest Gommateshwara sculpture

Lord Bahubali or Gommateshwara has been enjoying celebrated position like Teerthankaras in Kannada heritage and culture. This is the reason Gommateshwara’s colossal statues and bas reliefs are depicted in various ancient pilgrimages of Karnataka, Andhra and Tamilnadu. It is also considered that some imperial dynasties of southern India were ardent follower of Lord Bahubali. Being an independent ruler of Podanpur, Gommateshwara never accepted sovereignty of his elder brother Bharat; renounced the worldly possessions, kingdom and accepted recluse life as his father Rishabh. According to some scholars and historians ancient podanpur is none other than Bodhan situated in Nizamabad district of Telangana province.

The history of depicting Bahubali in iconography of Jainism is traced back to 4 century AD now. Earliest delineation of Babhubali or Gommateshwara is found at ancient Jain caves of Badami and Aihole while the first free standing colossal statue is attributed to Shravanbelagola statue. Badami and Aihole’s caves were constructed during Earlier Chalukyan period of Badami. Construction era of these cave are considered in 5 century AD according to available paleographical clues. A bronze sculpture from Karnataka region is now preserved at Prince of Wales museum situated in Mumbai. This bronze sculpture is very rare and unique in art and iconographic style. According to scholar U.P Shah and Hampa Nagarajaiah the sculpture is hailed from 7 century AD and traced back to earlier chalukyan period. The bronze sculpture of Bahubali at Prince of Wales museum was considered the earliest sculpture of Bahubali in Bronze category delineation. This notion has been proved as misconception after observation of a sculpture is hailed from northern Karnataka region now preserved at Metropolitan Museum in New York. The Metropolitan Museum in New York has a separate collection of Professor Samuel Eilenberg.

In this collection a rare sculpture of lord Bahubali is depicted which is traced back to 4 century AD. The Bahubali bronze has different iconographic and art style which is characterized by it’s tresses till his shoulder and Madhavi creepers entwine his arms and legs as shown in above figure on left figure. The Jina Bahubali is in austere penance depicted in kayotsarga posture. Jina Bahubali is standing on a fully bloom Lotus. Hair locks till Jina’s shoulder is very rare feature for Bahubali. Generally this feature is depicted for Jina Rishabh. Anthills and two female deities flanked on both side of Lord Bahubali is absent in this sculpture. The image had been unnoticed till observation by veteran scholar U.P. Shah.

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