What is it about Bodhidharma that got Murugadoss so excited? Listening to him over the many interviews he has given lately to any channels, one can see that he is nothing short of being in complete awe of the personality. But, we have never even heard of such a name, let alone know that he is a figure revered, even worshipped in many parts of the world. Search a bit about Bodhidharma on the web and you will find literally tons of information on this hitherto ‘unknown’ personality. What everyone knows by now is that Bodhidharma was a Pallava prince, some sources say the third Pallava prince, and that he became a Buddhist monk later in life. But, that is previous little information about a man who seems to have laid the foundation of one of the world’s most highly respected martial art forms.
Of course, as you would expect of a person who lived many centuries back, accounts about him and his feats area bit conflicting. But, the conflict is not about whether his accomplishments can be accounted as great. The conflict seems to be about the degree of greatness that can be accorded to him! That in itself says quite a lot about Bodhidharma.
One wonders why Bodhidharma’s legend was lost, at least t South India. Practically everyone here knows at least a little about the four great dynasties of the South, their accomplishments and their great kings. How, then, was this prince of the Pallava dynasty, who went on to attain immortal status in China and neighboring countries, forgotten in the land of his birth? One is lead to speculate whether the sheer unbelievable nature of his accomplishments pushed his legend into the realm of the fable and then subsequently into obscurity. Yes, there are things that are too good to be true, and many of them might be snuffed off as impossible for that same reason. Like Albert Einstein once said about Mahatma Gandhi; ‘generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood’; Bodhidharma and his stature seems to have grown more into fairytale rather than legend and then passed out of the knowledge of generations.
Indeed, some of his feats require a certain suspension of belief to digest. It is said, conflictingly though, that he once meditated in cave continuously for 9 years, continuously staring at the wall opposite him, creating a hole through the solid stone wall just by his stare. Some sources don’t mention the wall, but say that the meditation that he undertook was powerful enough to make the wall of barren stone reflect his image. Now, you might be able to understand the amount of faith needed in the legends to accept the stature of Bodhidharma.
Legend also has it that in order to prevent himself from falling asleep during meditation, he cut off his eyelids and threw them into the ground. It is those eyelids that sprouted as the first ever tea plants. It is also said that Buddhist monks from then on used tea in a reverent manner to keep themselves awake during long periods of meditation. Well, we do not know any of these for fact. But, what we do know is that tea is one of the world’s favorite beverages and it is one of the best stimulants(non-addictive) around. And, we have never heard of any legend about the origin of tea. Of course, one can understand the confusions that arise from the timeline inconsistencies that will arise from studying the lifetime of Bodhidharma as compared to the history of tea.
So also there are doubts that are raised about the credibility of the claims that Bodhidharma was the inventor of Shaolin kung fu and the author of the two classical texts on the subject. But, the question is, would the Shaolin monks be willing to attribute such a magnificent development of their land to someone undeserving, especially when he had arrived in their land from afar. No, they wouldn’t attribute the founding of Shaolin kung fu to someone without reason!
And, to think of it! Shaolin kung fu has been one of the most celebrated martial arts forms all over the world. It has also been the basis for the flourishing of an entire film industry. How many films have we watched based entirely on the Shaolin school and life within it. Little did we know about the man who founded the art that was being taught within it.
The legend of Bodhidharma does not stop here. There are feats that make us even more awed, like the legend of him crossing the Yangze river on a reed. Or the legend of him disappearing after 9 long years of meditation, the only thing that remained in his place were the two classical texts of kungfu. Now, you might understand why perhaps the stories of Bodhidharma might have turned into fables and got lost down the centuries. It takes faith to accept such tales of superhuman accomplishments.
And, there is faith, now in China and Japan, where Bodhidharma is revered as a God; statues erected in his honor, worshipped as the founder of many kung fu techniques. History remembers him in many ways, many of them are spiritual, some of them are accounts of superhuman achievements, and there are also sources that show him as an ill tempered monk, referred to in places as the ‘Blue eyed barbarian’. Whichever way, one thing is clear; he was a man who ought not to have been forgotten in his place of birth.
Now, we get to see a bit of him through a reconstruction of history. Though it will only be a small capsule, as Murugadoss has stated, it will definitely be an unprecedented effort in bringing out a pieceof history that was forgotten. Most period films deal with personalities and incidents that we have read or know about. Seldom is an unknown slice of history brought up on celluloid. 7 Aum Arivu holds that unknown. While the movie might not tell us the whole story, it will introduce us to Bodhidharma. The prince who became a monk.