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The Aihole Myth

The Aihole Myth - Jeevan Rao G S

Aihole inscription is engraved on a stone slab of the Jain temple built on the Meguti hill at Aihole in the Hunagunda taluk of the Bagalkot district in North Karnataka. The creation of which is credited to Ravikirti, a Jain poet.

The famedAihole inscription (dated to 634 CE)

Aihole inscription is considered valuable because of two main factors :

1) It describes the life of Pulakeshi II in great detail, including his clash with the Harshavardhana (618 CE).

2) Many researchers hold the opinion that, this inscription mentions time elapsed from the Mahabharatha war (V.33).

The verses under consideration are :

त्रिशत्सु त्रिसहस्रेषु भारतादाहवादितः  

सप्ताब्दशतयुक्तेषु गतेष्वब्देषु पञ्चसु ।। ३३ ।।

पञ्चाशत्सु कलौ काले षट्सु पञ्चशतासु  

समासु सेमतीतासु शकानामपि भूभुजाम् ।। ३४ ।।

Researchers have translated भारतादाहवादितः to “The Bharatha War”, in other words – Mahābhārata and thus have assigned 3102 BCE as the year for Mahābhārata War.

Note: The figure 3102 BCE deduced from the above verse has been the result of many interpretations and reinterpretations. But, as we shall find out later in the article, we are concerned more about the identification of the Event than the year deduced for that Event from this Aihole inscription.

Before analyzing the Aihole inscription, I shall give an example where scholars have taken a reference out of context which resulted in arriving (deliberately?) at a wrong inference. It is the case of “Euclid as the author of Elements” as explained by Prof C K Raju. 

Even though majority of the book Elements’ manuscripts alluded to “Theon” or “lectures of Theon” as the source for the book, the Western scholars still suppose that Euclid was the author of the book. The name “Euclides” is associated with the Elements only in post-Crusade Latin texts of the Elements. This is derived from the Arabic “uclides” which means “key to geometry”! So the Western translators, eager to appropriate the Elements for a Greek source, took the Greek sounding “uclides”  out of context to mean “Euclids” and alluded him to be the author of Elements. 

Why did I give this example? 

Because we are going to see a similar “out of context” inference in the context of Aihole inscription and Bhāratādāhavādita!!

Now, coming back to the Aihole inscription.

Bhāratādāhavādita has 3 distinct words “Bhāratat” “āhavat” “ādita” which would mean “Starting from the Bhārata’s war/challenge” and the researchers have very conveniently translated the word as “Mahabharata War”.

Let us-for a change-before reaching to a conclusion, do a quick background check of the inscription,

1) The temple at Meguti was constructed during 7th c. CE.

        पञ्चाशत्सु कलौ काले षट्सु पञ्चशतासु  

        समासु सेमतीतासु शकानामपि भूभुजाम् ।। ३४ ।।

“When fifty and six and five hundred years of the Saka kings also have gone by in Kali age (634 CE)”

2) The Aihole inscription is present inside Meguti, a Jain temple.

शौलं जिनेन्द्रभवनं भवनं महिम्नां निर्मापितं मतिमता रविकीर्तिनेदम्  ।।३५।।

This stone mansion of Jinendra, a mansion of every kind of greatness, has been caused to the built by the wise Ravikirti”

3) The Aihole inscription is written by Ravikirti, a Jain poet.

4) This inscription has the initial verse dedicated to Lord Jina’s eulogy.

           जाति भगवान्जिनेन्द्रो वीतजरोमरणजन्मनो यस्य

           ज्ञानसमुद्रान्तर्गतमाखिलं जगदन्तरीपमिव  ।।१।।

“Victorious is the holy Jinendra he who is exempt from old age, death   and birth in the sea of whose knowledge the whole world is comprised like an island”

Now with this background knowledge, few question arises :

1) Is “Mahābhārata” really the ONLY fit for “Bhāratādāhavādita” of the Aihole inscription?

2) Why would a Jain poet in a Jain temple refer to Mahābhārata?

It is true that Bhāratādāhavādita is generic enough to allude it’s meaning to the Mahabharata War. But, we should not forget that context is the King when we are trying to decipher/decode ancient evidence. 

Based on these extensive Jain context surrounding the temple, my conjecture is that the Aihole inscription is not speaking of Mahābhārata, instead it is mentioning or dating a Jain legend of Bharata.

The following will provide a different perspective of “Bhāratādāhavādita” mentioned in Aihole inscription.

“Bhārata” means “People of Bharata” and hence, in the Jain context Bhāratādāhavādita would mean, without any doubt “Starting from the fight between Bharata and his brother Bahubali“.

According to Jain legend: Bharata is the son of first Jain theerthankara Rishabhanatha and he was challenged by his brother Bahubali after his father had divided the kingdom among his sons. Three kinds of contests are depicted to have been held between Bharata and Bahubali. 

These were eye-fight (staring at each other), jala-yuddha (water-fight) and mala-yuddha (wrestling). Bahubali is said to have won all the three contests. In the last fight, Bahubali lifted Bharata up on his shoulder instead of throwing him down on the ground. He is said to have gently placed him on the ground instead, out of an affectionate regard for him. 

Humiliated and infuriated, Bharata is believed to have called for his chakra-ratna. Instead of harming Bahubali, the weapon is believed to have circled around him before coming to a rest. After this Bahubali, developed a desire for renunciation and gave up his kingdom to become a monk. 

After this, Bharata became the first Chakravartin in the present half cycle of Jain Cosmology.

Bharata-Bahubali fight

It does make more sense when an inscription in a Jain temple, written by a pious Jain poet speaks of a Jain legend. 

The reason why Ravikirti dated Bharata could only be speculated.

My speculation is that, since according to the Jains, the ancient name of India was named “Bhāratavarsha” or “Bhārata” or “Bharata-bhumi” after him (Bharata). Bharata was the first universal monarch of the current age. Moreover, the middle of 1st millennium CE could well be considered as the golden age of Shramana movement in South India. Hence, the poet might have used a key character of Jains and his dating as the sheet anchor for timing of events.

It is also interesting to note that Aihole inscription is the first inscription that mentions “Bhāratat” following a peculiar trait from Aryabhata’s “Aryabhatia”. The link between Aryabhata and Aihole does not end there. For some time in the antiquity, Aihole was also called as “Aryapura”!!

The link between Aryabhata and Aihole is a fascinating study but is out of the purview here.

Key takeaways :

1) Aihole inscription is not referring to Mahābhārata when it states “Bhāratādāhavādita” and considering this reference to be the Mahabharata, does seem a bit out of context and appears as a forced inference. 

2) The inscription actually dates Bharata (a Jain character) to 3102 BCE (provided that the calculation employed to arrive at this year, is correct!).

Sources:

  1. Aihole inscription image: Google
  2. Is Science Western in Origin- Prof C K Raju
  3. Bharata-Bahubali yuddha – Google
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