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The Bahubali of Shravanabelagola

The Bahubali of Shravanabelagola


you know what

I expected to see

after all this is the largest

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’ hat

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 reported 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 dishonered,

stripped of their endorsements and several of their homes were torched.

  Below 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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