Thousands witness Bahubali's consecration in Karnataka

Bangalore: The millennium's first mahamastak abhisheka mahotsav or head-anointing ceremony of Lord Bahubali began Wednesday atop the Vindhyagiri hill at Shravanabelagola in Karnataka as hundreds of thousands of Jains thronged the pilgrimage centre.

The ritual, which takes place once every 12 years, took off on a sunny day with the first abhishek or offering by Ashok Kumar Patni, a marble manufacturer from Rajasthan, who quoted the highest bid of Rs.10.8 million ($244,000) for pouring sacred water over the 57-feet high statue of Bahubali from a copper vessel.

Hundreds of Jain priests and devotees climbed the specially erected scaffolding to bathe the monolithic idol with 108 vessels of water, milk, ghee or butter oil, sugarcane juice and a concoction of herbal leaves and twigs.

Amidst the chanting of hymns and rendering of devotional songs in praise of Bahubali, also known as lord Gomateshwara, hundreds of nude Jain pontiffs and nuns clad in white saris gathered around the imposing statue to perform worship.

About 300,000 people had climbed the 618 stone steps of the picturesque Vindhyagiri hill till late afternoon to participate in the function, organisers told IANS on phone from Shravanabelagola, about 150 km from here.

Slogans like "Bhagwan Bahubali ki jai" rent the air, transforming the entire region with a religious fervour.

After the ritual bathing lasting about two hours, the statue was propitiated with sandal paste, turmeric powder and rice flakes, and decorated with gold and silver coins as well as precious stones amidst showering of flowers.

Jain pontiff Charukeerti Bhattaraka led the anointment in the presence of Vardhaman Sagar Munimaharaj, Acharya Gunanandhi Munimaharaj and Acharya Vardath Sagar Munimahraj.

To regulate the movement of devotees and avoid crowding the main venue, thousands of people who drove into the town later in the day were directed to climb the opposite Chandragiri hill, where giant screens and closed circuit television sets were installed to enable them watch the consecration live.

About 10,000 police and security personnel were deployed in and around the pilgrim town to maintain order and supervise the vehicular traffic.

Considered to be the world's largest batholithic structure, the towering statue of Bahubali was carved out of a single rock on the hilltop and installed in 981 A.D., during the reign of the Ganga dynasty of south India 4-13th century.

Nestling between the twin hillocks, about 50 km from Hassan, Shravanabelagola is situated at 3288 feet above the sea level, with the grey statue overlooking several ponds and about 50 temples and Jain shrines.

According to the Jain literature and historical records, though Bahubali is not counted among the pantheon of 24 Teerthankaras or enlightened spiritual heads of Jainism, he is worshipped as Lord Gomateshwara, the enlightened soul in nude form, for renouncing his vast kingdom at Poudanapura, now in Peshawar of Pakistan, to attain enlightenment.