Thursday 25 October 2012

The King who walked out as a naked saint

Today there is an article in Bangalore Mirror about Digambara Jains wanting police protection for their saints. The article says there have been several instances in Bangalore when people have tried to cover the bare body of the Digambara munis.
The article says some people opposed to munis waking bare bodied on roads. This is surprising as Bangalore has always been known for its tolerance and cosmopolitan outlook.
Morever, Jainsim was born in India and it is one of the oldest religions. Karnataka has a large number of  Jain monuments and some of its greatest kings like Vishnuvardhana of the Hoysalas, Amoghavarsha of the Rashtrakutas are Jains.
Almost all the dynasties that ruled Karnataka-the Gangas, Kadambas, Chalukyas, Hoysalas, Kalachuris, Rashtrakutas, Vijayanagars and  Wodeyars, patronized Jainism along with Hinduism.
Karnataka has several centres of Jain learning and pilgrimage such as Shravanabelogala, Moodabidari, Venur, Karkala and even Hampi. Early and mediaeval Kannada literature owes a lot of Jainism as many of  the greatest posts and writers such as Pampa, Ranna, Ponna, Nagachandra, Amoghavarsha, Chavundaraya were Jains.
When this is the case it is surprising to note that the Jain munis faced harassment in and around Bangalore. Jains and Jainism are not alien to people of Karnataka and the people are familiar with both sects of Jains-Digambars and the Swethambars.
Digambar munis renounce everything, including clothes. They do not cover themselves. They practice a life of severe austerity. They do not cook food and nor do they get any food cooked. They go to Jain houses and take food in their palms and eat.
The Digambar sect is not of recent origin. Both the Digambara and Swethambara sects are almost of the same time and  south India, India, particularly is familiar with both of them.
In fact, Digambaras have been visiting Karnataka from several; centuries. One of the most illustrious disciples of the Digambara sect is Chandragupta Maurya.
Chandragupta was the founder of India’s first unified kingdom. He battled the armies of Alexander (By then Alexander had died and he had nominated Selucus Nikator as Governor of northern provinces of Punjab and Afghanisthan. A part of  Alexander’s army had remained here) and won a decisive war against the Greeks.
Selucus was not only forced to cede Punjab to Chandragupta but also give his daughter in marriage o Chandragupta. A Greek ambassador, Megesthenes, was sent to the court of Chandragupta in 302 BC.
Megesthenses records that the palace of Chandragupta was more beautiful and magnificent than all other palaces he had seen. He also speaks about the towering pillars and the pillared hall. (The ruins of the pillars have been found in Kumrahar near Pataliputra or Patna in Bihar. )
In his book called Indika,  Megesthenes gives a vivid account of the pomp of the Maurayas and the regal manner in which Chandragupta conducted himself. He wore robes of the finest silk and muslin and he was suitably covered with gold ornaments. He  was always watched and guarded by women warriors.
The Maurya palace, Megesthenes said, consisted of  gilded pillars clasped all around with a vine embossed in gold and decorated with silver images of birds. He says the royal palace was filled with wonders which neither Memnonian Susa in all its glory nor the magnificence of Ekbatana can hope to vie; indeed, only the well-known vanity of the Persians could imagine such a comparison."
Chandragupta rarely appeared in public and when he did so it was with full paraphernalia of royal attire, weapons and guards. All this changed in 298 BC when he gave up the throne and accepted the Digambara form of Jainsim.  
Chandragupta installed his son Bimbisara on the throne and in what can only be described as an astonishing act, gave up everything including his kingdom and accepted Bhadrabahu as his Guru.
Chandragupta and his Guru then walked all the way from Pataliputra in Bihar to Shravanabelogala in Karnataka. Please imagine the contrast in the lifestyles. A king giving up everything he had  and going out in the world without taking anything.
Chandragupta walked bare bodied all the way to Shravanabelogala along with Guru and 12,000 disciples. When the large group reached Shravanabelogala, Bhadrabahu decided to stay back here along with Chandragupta. He knew his end was here and he wanted to prepare himself for it. The Guru only wanted Chandragupta by his side. Chandragupta was christened as Acharya Prabhachandra.
A large body of ascetics under Acharya Vishaknanda went further south.  Both Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta retied to the Chandragiri hills. (The idol of Gomateshwara is on the other hill called Vindhyagiri or Gomatagiri). Bhadrabahu began fasting without eating food in a cave which today is known as Bhadrabahu cave. This tradition of  giving up one’s body is called Sallekhana.
Meanwhile, Chandragupta was asked to stay in a small place a little away and today it is better known as Chandragupta basadi. This basadi was rebuilt by Ashoka, the grandson of  Chandragupta.
The basadi has carvings or rather inscriptions which detail Chandragupta’s  migration from Pataliputra to Shravanabelogala. It also gibes information about Chandragupta and his association with Bhadrabahu.
Chandragupta survived Bhadrabahu by 12 years and he died in 298 or 297 BC. He too took the Jain path of  complete renunciation  by going in for Sallekhana.
Thus both Guru and Shishya died following Sallekhana at the same place. Even today, the footprints of both Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta can be seen on the Chandragiri hill.
Historical records show that nearly 110 Jains have performed Sallekhana at Sharavanabelogala between the 6th century and 19th century. Of them,  64 are by monks, 11 are  nuns, 23 male disciples, and eight  female disciples. The list also has  two warriors, two local officials and  two merchants. Jain texts and locals say more than 700  Jain munis and women saints have performed Sallekhana.
When a king can come down from the position of lording over others to going without clothes and food, what ails the people from accepting such a kind of life. Digambara munis renounce everything including clothes. Can those who tried to clothe them do so?   

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