DISCLAIMER: I am a white American woman and I have only recently become interested in Hindu myths and symbolism. All I have to go on here is what research from books and the Internet and the blissed-out murmurings of white hippie women have informed me on the subject of Ganesha and Hinduism. If I have interpreted something completely wrong with regards to this ancient and very complex religion, please consider it an innocent error.
Here’s a link to the scene that opens the film (turn on captions for English subtitles):
The film opens with a quick recap of the last big scene in Baahubali: The Beginning, setting the events of the second film about a week or so from the end of the first film. The war is over. Prince Baahubali lost the battle but saved his subjects, while his cousin Prince Bhallaladeva killed his own people in order to win, and in doing so he lost his bid for the crown. This is why despite the whole splendid scene of MONARCHY FOREVER, LALALALA, Bhalla isn’t to be seen – he’s on the Queen Mother’s shit list and no one wants him and his mustache-twirling father around to ruin the fun.
Queen Mother Shivagami is re-introduced in the middle of a ceremony based on the real festival of dusshera, which is the burning of an effigy that represents a demon king to show the triumph of good over evil. In modern India they normally don’t have the daughter-in-law of the royal family walk around a village three times with a pot of coals on her head in order to light the bad guy on fire, but that’s how we do it in Mahishmati.
The feet are considered unclean in Hinduism – hence the crowd’s particularly disturbed response to seeing Shivagami’s bare feet torn up as she circles the town. Shivagami’s iron will and the seriousness with which this ritual is taken is expressed in her steadfastness as she endures the pain in order to continue. Also of note is that Shivagami is wearing a saffron-colored sari, a festival color and a color associated with the iconography of Durga, the mother goddess. She is a queen, she is a mother, she is a badass. So just as things are going great and the kingdom is about to be guaranteed prosperity for another 300 years, Ganesha shows up.
This is Lord Ganesha:
Ganesha is an extremely popular god who represents intellectualism, art, literature, fortune, and wisdom. I like to think of him as the god of “it builds character”, as he is known for placing literal or figurative obstacles in your path and then letting you work out the solution before he removes them. Whatever you learn from the experience, chalk it up to him and thank him. He accepts all forms of thanks, especially dessert.
This is an elephant all decked out for the party, and Ganesha has some plans for it to go start some shit.
This elephant is a representation of Ganesha – not Ganesha himself – and he’s right on time to throw himself in the literal path of Shivagami and stop her from completing the ritual, in addition to making her think quick on her busted feet so that she can save her people from getting trampled in the chaos.
Ain’t he a stinker?
Shivagami commands her loyal bodyguard Katappa to save the people from the elephant stampede while she continues on, sacrificing herself if necessary in the name of tradition. Things are getting tense. But it’s cool, because GUESS WHO BURSTS THROUGH A TEMPLE DOOR LIKE A SEXY INDIAN KOOL-AID MAN TO SAVE THE DAY?
HEY SAAAAAA…RUDRA SAAAA
If you’ve seen the first movie, you’re already familiar with the absurd swooning Greek chorus that reminds us of how strong and handsome and kind and pious and brilliant (actually he’s not that brilliant) this living and breathing avatar of Shiva, the destroyer of all evil, is. The chorus sings and chants the praises of Lord Rudra, who is the embodiment of Shiva’s fierceness: wearer of skulls, lover of Parvati, all that good stuff. Every part of Baahubali’s look in this scene, from the crescent moon on his forehead to the silver ornaments and white clothes (Shiva is sometimes called the Lord of Silver), combines with the fanfare to say HI I’M SHIVA AND I’M HERE TO KICK SOME ASS. I do hope you’re impressed. It is important to note that, like the elephant in the scene, Amarendra Baahubali invokes aspects of Shiva, but he is not actually Shiva.
Initially I thought that this enormous wooden cart had no other significance than “Massive thing on wheels that Baahu nimbly throws at the elephant because he is actually He-Man”. Oh, I was so wrong. This cart is traditionally used to carry the huge idols of a particular form of Krishna named Jagganath. When the wagon gets enough momentum built up, it becomes a crushing unstoppable force, from whence comes the anglicized word juggernaut. So, Amarendra Baahubali is not just He-Man. He’s The Juggernaut (bitch). If you can come up with a more baller way to introduce your hero than “He’s pulling an unstoppable three-ton wagon meant to carry a god and he’s about to throw it into a rampaging elephant to save his mother”, I’d like to hear it.
Point is: obstacle placed:
Obstacle resolved. Her path cleared, Shivagami simply walks underneath the juggernaut and keeps going like it ain’t no thing. And the crowd goes wild!
Katappa needs a minute.
She did it! And look how stoked the elephant is! Have you ever seen a more adorable deity? He’s not mad at all that the prince just rolled a three-ton wooden wagon into him! The elephant appears to be joyously reporting Shivagami’s passing of the test to the Ganesha idol himself. Yay Shivagami! Yay Baahubali! Jai Mahishmati! Baahubali honors the elephant by dousing him with turmeric and turning him into a golden idol, which is a common motif during Ganesha’s own festival.
Find a man who looks at you the way Amarendra Baahubali looks at an elephant.
And then this happens, and it’s awesome. That’s one chipper elephant. Fun fact: aside from some wires for safety, the elephant actually did lift up Prabhas with its trunk and was happy for him to pose most magnificently on its back. The music swells again, featuring the vocals of who else but Daler Mehndi, known around the world as the “Tunak Tunak Tun” guy. Now the song praises Baahubali himself, because he has accomplished a new feat of heroism.
The three of them work together to burn the effigy in the dopest way possible – by launching a gigantic flaming arrow at it. More Rudra imagery and referencing here, who is associated with archery and shoots divine arrows of destruction. Baahubali’s skill in archery will continue as a theme throughout the movie.
Something that sets the Baahubali films apart from the typical Bollywood or Tollywood film is that while it follows the conventions of musical numbers and complicated flashbacks, it either tweaks the formula or just plain does a better job at it than any other Indian film I’ve ever seen. If you aren’t familiar with the formula, the song that’s about to start is what I call the “I AM AWESOME” song. It’s very different from the usual opening song of, say, a Disney movie, where the heroine goes on about what she wants to fix in her life. The “I Am Awesome Song” is a song, often sung by the main character but occasionally provided by an outside chorus or narrator, where the main character dances around like a goon and says who he is and what he’s here for and informs you that his life is, in fact, fucking awesome. This movie doesn’t have the main character do much singing, which is a great benefit to the overall integrity of the film because getting a detached chorus singing for the common people to narrate his I AM AWESOME song for him adds far more to the mythology of the character.
What follows is basically a montage of how awesome Baahu is, to get you pumped up for the promise of Baahubali being crowned the king of Mahishmati. And how could you not love this guy?
He loves his mom!
He’s good at killing people in battle!
His hair billows in the wind while he does fancy sword moves!
He was stung by a radioactive scorpion as a teenager and thus gained the powers of the Sensational Scorpion-King!*
*This is a lie. It just hurt a lot.
He looks good on a horse!
He’s great with kids!
Baahu’s pre-coronation shindig ends with the crowd’s fevered chants of praise to his name, as he settles into a pose that resembles common imagery of both Shiva and Ganesha: left leg tucked in, right knee up in the rajilala asana or “relaxed king” pose. With his hand on the lioness, he is connected with the mount of Durga, the mother goddess, reinforcing his connection to Shivagami. The lion is also a motif associated with Bhallaladeva through the film, who we know from the first film is angling for the throne as well. The presence of the horse statues in this shot, which are Baahubali’s own visual motif, suggest a symbolic family portrait and the strain behind the lavish pageantry.
So, everything’s set! Mahishmati’s in great hands! The gods are on their side! What could possibly go wrong…and why is there still two hours and 30 minutes left in this movie…