Jain Siddha Bahubali, Entwined with Forest Vines

Period: Chalukyan period

Date: late 6th–7th century

Culture: India (Karnataka)

Medium: Copper alloy

Dimensions: H. 4 3/8 in. (11.1 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Samuel Eilenberg Collection, Gift of Samuel Eilenberg, 1987

Accession Number: 1987.142.339

Description

The oldest Jain image in the Metropolitan Museum's collection also happens to be the earliest known representation of the subject in Jain art, that of Bahubali, a prince who attained the stature of a perfected being (siddha). Although never admitted to the pantheon of twenty-four tirthankaras, he nonetheless attained jina-like status. The legend of Bahubali tells of a prince who renounces violence after coming close to slaying his brother Bharata in a battle of succession and then renounces pride and its expression—violence to other living creatures. Embracing ahimsa (nonviolence), he meditates in the "body-abandonment" posture in a forest, where he is entwined by vines and hosts birds that nest in his hair until he attains moksha.

This diminutive icon is part of a tradition that inspired the largest rock-cut icon in the Indian subcontinent, the Bahubali at Shravana Belgola, in Karnataka, a sixty-foot-high image sculpted from living rock in the tenth century. This icon has been ritually lustrated in the mahamastakabhisheka festival since that date on a twelve-year cycle, most recently celebrated in 2006.

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