History and Rituals behind the Celebration of Mahamastakabhisheka Festival
Mahamastakabhisheka, the grand festival of Shravanabelagola is celebrated with great enthusiasm and zeal. The main reason or story behind the celebration of this festival is very interesting. According to the legends, king Rishabhadeva, the first Tirthankara (an individual who achieves immortality by enlightenment) had two children, Bahubali and Bharata. The king followed the traditions of Varnashrama Dharma due to which he had to relinquish the worldly pleasures after performing his duties. He decided to divide his property among his two sons. The cities of Ayodhya and Podanpur were divided among the elder brother Bharata and Bahubali respectively.
Bharata had a desire to conquer all the kingdoms of earth and become a chakravarti samrat (emperor). In his quest to achieve this objective he attacked many neighboring kingdoms and conquered them. He was very jealous of his brother Bahubali kingdom's wealth and prosperity. Bharata decided to conquer the kingdom of his brother. However, in order to avoid the death of many innocent soldiers, two of them decided to battle by gazing into each other's eyes, throwing water and grappling (wrestling) with each other. Bahubali won each of these three battles.
Bharata felt deeply humiliated and in a fit of rage, he threw a chariot wheel at Bahubali. However, the wheel contained the divine powers and didn't harm Bahubali. At that moment, Bahubali realized that the lust for power can make a brother enemy. So, he decided to renounce his kingdom to search for a divine peace. Bahubali decided to perform a penance (mediate) by standing on his feet in order to ask forgiveness from the God.
Despite observing penance for many years, he could gain the supreme knowledge (enlightenment or nirvana). This was because; Bahubali was not able to free himself from the thinking that he was standing on the land of his brother Bharata. He prayed at his feet that asked Bahubali to negate this thought. As soon as Bahubali stopped thinking that the land belonged to his elder brother Bharata, he achieved complete enlightenment and attained salvation. When Bharata got to know that his brother has achieved salvation, he decided to construct a large gold idol of Bahubali at Podanpura.
On this day, the gigantic idol of the Lord is smeared with 1008 jal kalashas (pots) from devotees arriving from various parts of the world. The preparation for the festival starts from 18 days (approx.) in advance. On the day of the ceremony, the devotees begin to worship the Lord early morning. The 1008 vessels or pots are kept beneath the idol. The priests chanting divine hymns ask the devotees to carry the vessels, climb around 600 stairs to reach at the top of the statue. Upon reaching the top, the devotees then pour water on the idol. The chant of the holy mantras and trumpets certainly make the environment unforgettable.
The statue is then smeared with the coconut water, milk, sugarcane juice, turmeric paste, sandalwood, rice flour and 52 types of flowers collected from various parts of the world. Precious stones, petals, gold and silver coins are offered as a mark of respect. The ceremony nearly takes 10 hours to complete. After the completion of the ceremony, the devotees walk down the stairs filled with a feeling of fulfillment and utmost devotion towards the Lord.