The Bahubali of Shravanabelagola

The Bahubali of Shravanabelagola

you know what
I expected to see
after all this is the largestindia-utah-07-358
naked man in the world
and I had already seen
many times as a child
the back side of Vulcan
I was born under Vulcan’s gaze
in Birmingham, Alabama
which was as much a forge
as a city in 1950
towering over
up on Red Mountain
Vulcan boasts the biggest
bare buttocks in the world
cast iron from the ore
mined under his feet

so when I climb in my stocking feet
all those steps cut into the rock face
under the blazing sun
with only my ‘Cricket India’ hatindia-utah-07-344
to protect me
you know what pushed me past
a heart attack
you know what I had expected
to see . . .
but my gaze kept going back
to his magnificent hands
and long strong arms
perfect and white
held close to his sides
by tendrils of an ancient vine
so long has he stood still
long enough for life
to wend its way up
though in a thousand years
on the top of the rock
he has changed
very little

Franklin Abbott
Summer Solstice 2007
Stone Mountain


Birmingham’s statue of Vulcan, Roman god of the forge, was cast over a hundred years ago from ore mined from the mountain where he stands.  The city fathers of Birmingham ordered him raised to the height of 56 feet because a “pagan Buddha” in Japan was india-utah-07-340reported to be 53 feet tall.  Obviously they knew nothing of Bahabuli who at 57 feet is the tallest statue of a human form in the world.  Bahabuli was the second tirthankar (revered Jain teacher). He had been in mortal conflict with his brother over their father’s empire when knowing the strength in his arms he resisted striking a deadly blow. Instead he renounced the material world and stood motionless in meditation, long enough for vines to grow up his body.  His statue is one of the holiest sites of the Jain religion, an exceptionally peaceful religion that came into being at the same time as Buddhism.  The digambara sect of Jains are skyclad like Bahubali and carry fans to disperse insects before sitting.  They literally will not hurt a fly.  The Bahubali statue is over a thousand years old and carved from a single boulder of white granite.  You have to take off your shoes and climb over 600 steps cut into the rock face of the hill where it stands to see it. My ‘Cricket India” hat was bought cheap at the base.  India’s cricket team had done so poorly in the world cup matches that its members were dishonored, stripped of their endorsements and several of their homes were torched.

Above is a photo I took of the statue.  Every dozen years he is bathed in milk, ghee and vermillion.  At the last festival a helicopter circled over head dispersing gold leaf.



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