Jain Art

Jain Architecture

Jainism has played an important influence on the development of architectural styles in India.

Learning Objectives

Describe the popular themes and characteristics of Jain architecture

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Jainism is a transtheistic religion prescribing non-violence toward all living beings; it originated in the Indian subcontinent in the 6th century BCE.
  • Jainism has influenced and contributed to many artistic spheres in India, such as painting, sculpture, and architecture.
  • Modern and medievial Jains built many temples, especially in western India. The earliest Jain monuments were temples based on the Brahmanical Hindu temple plan and monasteries for Jain monks.
  • Among the earliest Jain monuments are the Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves in Orissa, carved out as residential blocks for Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela of Kalinga (193–170 BCE).
  • Built under Chalukya rule in Rajasthan between the 11th and 13th centuries CE, the Dilwara Temple complex consists of five ornately carved marble temples, each dedicated to a different Tirthankara .

Key Terms

  • iconography: The branch of art history that studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images.
  • Tirthankara: A Jain term for a person who achieves enlightenment through asceticism and who then becomes a role model teacher for those seeking spiritual guidance.

Jainism

Jainism is a transtheistic religion prescribing non-violence toward all living beings. It originated in the Indian subcontinent in the 6th century BCE. Its founder Mahavira (c. 540–468 BCE) was born into a royal family but renounced worldly life to become an ascetic and establish the central tenets of Jainism.

Jainism found favor with the merchant classes and also with several powerful rulers. Chandragupta Maurya (born c. 340 BCE, ruled c. 320–298 BCE), the founder of the great Maurya Empire, had succeeded in conquering almost the entire Indian subcontinent; however he abdicated his throne at the age of 42 to become a Jain monk. Samprati, also an emperor of the Maurya dynasty and the grandson of Ashoka the Great (304–232 BCE) also became a Jain. Both Chandragupta and Samprati were responsible for spreading Jainism in southern and eastern India.

Jain Architecture

Modern and medieval Jains built many temples, especially in western India. The earliest Jain monuments were temples based on the Brahmanical Hindu temple plan and monasteries for Jain monks. For the most part, artists in ancient India belonged to non-denominational guilds who were prepared to lend their services to any patron , whether Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain. Many of the styles they used were a function of the time and place rather than the particular religion. Therefore, Jain art from this period is stylistically similar to Hindu or Buddhist art, although its themes and iconography are specifically Jain. With some minor variations, the western style of Indian art endured throughout the 16th century and into the 17th century. The rise in Islam contributed to the decline of Jain art but did not result in its total elimination.

Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves

Among the earliest Jain monuments are the Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, located near the city of Bhubaneshwar in Orissa, India. These caves are partly natural and partly manmade and were carved out as residential blocks for Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela of Kalinga (193–170 BCE). The caves bear inscriptions and sculptural friezes depicting Tirthankaras, elephants, women, and geese.

The Dilwara Temples

Built under Chalukya rule in Rajasthan between the 11th and 13th centuries CE, the Dilwara Temple complex consists of five ornately carved marble temples, each dedicated to a different Tirthankara. The largest temple in the complex, the Vimal Vasahi Temple, was built in 1021 and is dedicated to the Tirthankara Rishabha. Among its most remarkable features are the rang manda, a grand hall supported by 12 pillars and surmounted by a breathtaking central dome , and the navchowki, a collection of nine rectangular ceilings, also richly carved. The pillars in the main hall are carved into the likenesses of women playing musical instruments and the 16 vidyadevis, or goddesses of knowledge; each holds a symbol representing her individual branch of learning.

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Domed ceiling detail: This image shows the interior of a richly carved marble dome in the Dilwara Temple complex representing Jain Tirthankaras.

Jain Sculpture

Jain sculpture is characterized most often by nude representations of saviors or deities in meditative postures.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the motifs underlying Jain sculpture

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Jain art is stylistically similar to Hindu or Buddhist art, although its themes and iconography are specifically Jain.
  • Common themes in Jain painting and sculpture are the Tirthankaras , or saviors; the yakshas and yakshinis, or supernatural guardian deities, and symbols such as the lotus and the swastika, which represent peace and well-being.
  • Ayagapata is a type of votive slab or tablet associated with worship in Jainism; the slabs are decorated with objects and designs central to Jain worship such as the stupa , dharmacakra, and triratna.
  • The colossal monolithic statue of Bahubali, carved in 981 CE out of a single block of granite and standing 57 feet high, is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Jain worshipers.

Key Terms

  • Tirthankara: A Jain term for a person who achieves enlightenment through asceticism and who then becomes a role model teacher for those seeking spiritual guidance.
  • iconography: The branch of art history that studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images.

Themes within Jain Sculpture

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The Two Jain Tirthankaras, British Museum: This sculpture represents two Tirthankaras, or founders of Jainism. On the left is Rishabha, who was the first of the 24 tirthankaras. On the right is Mahavira, the last of those 24, who consolidated and reformed the religious and philosophical system.

For the most part, artists in ancient India belonged to non-denominational guilds who were prepared to lend their services to any patron , whether Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain. Many of the styles they used were a function of the time and place rather than the particular religion. Therefore, Jain art from this period is stylistically similar to Hindu or Buddhist art, although its themes and iconography are specifically Jain. With some minor variations, the western style of Indian art endured throughout the 16th century and into the 17th century. The rise in Islam contributed to the decline of Jain art but did not result in its total elimination.

Jain iconography mostly has a sage in sitting or standing meditative posture without any clothes. Popular themes and icons in Jain art include the Tirthankaras (Jain saviors, or human beings who achieved the ultimate spiritual salvation and served as role models for society), yakshas and yakshinis (supernatural male and female guardian deities), and holy symbols such as the lotus and the swastika, which symbolized peace and well-being.

Figures on various seals from the Indus Valley Civilization are similar to Jain images: nude and in a meditative posture. The earliest known Jain image is in the Patna museum, dated approximately to the 3rd century BCE. Bronze images of the 23rd Tirthankara, Pārśva, can be seen in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, and in the Patna museum; these are dated to the 2nd century BCE. A sandalwood sculpture of Mahāvīra was carved during his lifetime, according to tradition. Later the practice of making images of wood was abandoned, with other materials being substituted.

Ayagapata

Ayagapata is a type of votive slab or tablet associated with worship in Jainism. Many of these stone tablets, some dating back to the 1st century CE, were discovered during excavations at ancient Jain sites such as Kankali Tila near Mathura , India. These slabs are decorated with objects and designs central to Jain worship such as the stupa, dharmacakra, and triratna, and were often used as offerings or for worship.

The Statue of Bahubali

A colossal monolithic statue of Bahubali at Shravanbelagola, the Jain siddha (one who has attained spiritual salvation), is located in Karnataka in southern India. This statue is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Jain worshipers. The statue was carved in 981 CE out of a single block of granite; it stands 57 feet high and is completely nude, as is customary in the Jain tradition.

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The statue of Gommateshwara Bahubali: The 57 foot high Gommateshwara statue at Shravanabelagola, Karnataka, was built in 981 CE.

Jain Illustrated Manuscripts

Jain illustrated manuscripts, originally painted on palm leaf, were characterized by sharp outlines and depictions of Jain saviors.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the characteristics of illustrated manuscripts produced by the Jain

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Jain illustrated manuscripts were painted on palm leaf and relied on sharp outlines for effect, becoming progressively more angular and wiry until barely a trace of naturalism was left.
  • The figures are shown in profile, as the full-face view was reserved for the Jain Tirthankaras . Only a few colors are used, including yellow, green, blue, black, and red.
  • Common themes in Jain painting and sculpture are the Tirthankaras, or saviors; the yakshas and yakshinis, or supernatural guardian deities, and symbols such as the lotus and the swastika, which represent peace and well-being.
  • The earliest illustrations were simple icons in small panels, but they gradually became more elaborate, depicting scenes from the lives of various Tirthankaras in detail.
  • From the 14th century onward, the increased availability of paper allowed the production of larger and more elaborate Jain illustrated manuscripts.

Key Terms

  • Tirthankara: A Jain term for a person who achieves enlightenment through asceticism and who then becomes a role model teacher for those seeking spiritual guidance.
  • palm leaf: A material used for writing and the creation of manuscripts in South Asia and Southeast Asia dating back to the 5th century BCE, and possibly much earlier.

Illustrated Manuscripts in the Jain Tradition

A large number of illustrated manuscripts commissioned by members of the Jain community have survived from between the 1oth and 14th centuries, representing the Western Indian style of art. Painted on palm leaf, these illustrations relied on sharp outlines for effect, becoming progressively more angular and wiry until barely a trace of naturalism is left. The figures are shown in profile, as the full-face view was reserved for the Jain Tirthankaras. A common feature of this style is the projection of an eye beyond the face shown in profile, meant to indicate the second eye, which would not be visible in this position. Only a few colors are used, including yellow, green, blue, black, and red. The earliest illustrations were simple icons in small panels, but they gradually became more elaborate, depicting scenes from the lives of various Tirthankaras in detail.

Common themes in Jain painting and illustrated manuscript, similar to other forms of Jain art, include the Tirthankaras (Jain saviors, or human beings who achieved the ultimate spiritual salvation and served as role models for society), yakshas and yakshinis (supernatural male and female guardian deities), and holy symbols such as the lotus and the swastika, which symbolized peace and well-being.

The Tirthankaras

Most of the Jain paintings and illustrations depict historical events, known as Panch Kalyanaka, from the life of the Tirthankaras. Rishabha, the first Tirthankara, is usually depicted in either the lotus position or kayotsarga, the standing position. He is distinguished from other Tirthankara by the long locks of hair falling to his shoulders. Incidents of his life, such as his marriage and Indra marking his forehead, are often depicted in paintings; other paintings show him presenting a pottery bowl to his followers, painting a house, weaving, and being visited by his mother Marudevi. Each of the 24 Tirthankara is associated with distinctive emblems, which are listed in texts such as Tiloyapannati, Kahavaali, and Pravacanasaarodhara.

Advances Over Time

The increased availability of paper from the late 14th century enabled artists to paint more elaborate illustrations. A 15th century manuscript of Kalpasutra, a Jain text containing the biographies of the Tirthankaras, is particularly opulent. The text is written in gold and the margins are illuminated with figural patterns. Paintings in lavish blue, gold, and red, testifying to the wealth of the patron , often take up an entire page.

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Jain Kalpasutra manuscript: This illustration is from a Jain Kalpasutra manuscript, 1470—1500 CE. It uses opaque watercolor and gold on paper.