May 11, 2008

The Worship Of Images In Jainism

Priyatosh Banerjee



It is difficult to say when first the Jainas took to the practice of worshipping images. Stevenson states that an image of Mahavira was installed in Upakeshapattana during the leadership of the Jaina leader Prabhava (4th century B.C.). That image-worship was in prevalence among the Jainas about the same time is supported by archaeological evidence. The Hathigumpha inscription of Jaina king Kharavela records that he took back from Patliputra the Jina idol which was carried off by one of the Nandarajas from Kalinga. This shows that the Nandas who ruled in 4th century BC. were followers of Jainaism, Kalinga was an ancient center of Jaina faith, and Tirthankara images were made for worship as early as the days of the Nandas.

It may be noted here that among the Patna Museum exhibits there are two nude mutilated statues found in Lohanipur, Patna Town. One of them possesses polish characteristic of Maurya age and can be attributed to 3rd century BC. and the other can be attributed on stylistic grounds to 2nd century BC. It is quite possible that they represent Tirthankara images of 3rd century BC. and 2nd century B.C. respectively. The author of Arthashastra seems to refer to the Jaina gods in Jayanta, Vaijayanta and Sarvarthasiddhi: Most of the important caves, viz. Ananta, Rana and Ganesha Gumphas in Orissa were excavated in 2nd century BC. The Ananta Gumpha contains symbols like Trishula and Svastika on its back wall. Moreover, the courtyard of the cave possesses images of many Jaina deities and saints. The Ranigumpha is elaborately decorated with scenes of human activities some of which may represent Jaina religious festivals. These facts would show that image worship was popular among the Jainas several centuries earlier than Christen era.

Mathura was a very important seat of the Jainas during the period under review. The archaeological excavations there have laid bare the remains of a Jaina stupa, temples and sculptures ranging from 2nd century BC to 3rd century AD. mostly. The Mathura sculptures have placed at our disposal immense and varied materials with regard to the study of jaina deities. They represent most of the Tirthankaras including Rishabha, the earliest one that shows that the belief of the Jainas in all the 24 Tirthankaras was an established fact during the period under review. The Tirthankara images are purely Indian conceptions and do not betray any foreign influence. One of the striking features of the Jaina figures is their nudity, which distinguished them from Buddha and Buddhist images. Nudity however is true only of the Digambara images, whereas the shvetambaras clothe their figures. The Jinas bear symbols not only on the palms and soles but also in the centre of their breasts. The hair is usually arranged in short curls in the shape of spirals turned towards the right, as is also the case with the most Buddha images. But in the earlier specimens we find sometimes a different treatment. The hair assumes the appearance of a per wig or it hangs down on the shoulders in strange locks. In contradistinction with Buddha the earlier Tirthankars have neither Ushnishes nor Urna but those of the latter part of the middle ages have a distinct excrescence on the top of the head".
A very interesting type of the Tirtharikara images of our period in Mathura is that of the Jina quadruple which is known in Jaina inscriptions and literature as Sarvato-bhadrika pratima. 'They consist of a block square in section' with a Tirthankara carved on each of the four faces. There is no injunction however as to the particular Tirthankaras to be figured there, but generally the most important ones are chosen. A quadruple image of an 'unnamed Jina perfectly nude' is represented on an inscribed sculptured panel found in Kankali mound in Mathura. The epigraph records that it was the gift of Kumaramita, the first wife of shreshthin called Veni. The gift was made at the request of the venerable Vasula, a female pupil of venerable Sanghamika who is in turn a female pupil of venerable monk Jayabhuti. The inscription has been assigned to the Kushana Period on paleographical grounds. From the same site, that is Kankali mound in Mathura, we have another very interesting representation of an inscribed Sarvatobhadrika Pratima of our period. The Jina shown there is parshvanatha with trace of his snake canopy. The inscription states that this fourfold image was dedicated by one Sthira for the welfare and the happiness of all creatures. This inscription also belongs to the Kushana period.

We may refer now to a few early specimens of other types of sculptured representation of Jaina Tirthankaras in Mathura. An elaborate sculpture containing the figure of seated Jaina was found in Kankali mound in February 1890. Unfortunately the head of the figure is missing. The Jina is shown with numerous attendant deities. On the pedestal are two lions and two bulls. From the presence of the bull it is evident that the Jina depicted here is Adinatha or Rishabhadatta. The inscription (defaced) at the base seems to be in early scripts. Another specimen of Adinatha figure (belonging to Kushana period) is to be seen on the Mathura Museum panel No. B4. The figure was set up in a Jaina monastery as the inscription states by alady in the year 84 of the reign of Shahi Vasudeva, the Kushana king. The relief in front of the pedestal contains a Dharma Chakra on a Pillar being worshipped by human devotees including the male and female as well. A mutilated figure of Aranatha is found represented on a sculptured panel which was got in Kankali mound in the year 1890-91. It belongs to the Kushana period. The Jina is shown standing by the side of a wheel placed on Trishula with a piece of cloth in his left hand. Naminatha and Neminatha, the 21st and 22nd Jaina Tirthankaras seem to have been represented along with Parshvanatha and Mahavira on a broken sculptured panel which might have formed part of the decoration of a Torana Pillar of a Jaina monastery in Mathura during our period.

There is a fine specimen of Neminatha figurer in Mathura Museum which Vogel has described in his catalogue of the Mathura Museum antiquities. Neminatha is seated 'cross-legged in the attitude of meditation' on the throne. The throne rests on two pillars and a pair of lions. Behind the pillars are two figures with hands joined in adoration. From the throne an ornamental cloth hangs down between the two lions. Below it there seems to be a wheel. There is conch-shell (symbol of Neminatha) on the plain rim of the pedestal. The Jaina legends introduce very often the story of Krishna Vasudeva and his family. In the Antaga·a Dasao we are told that some members of Krishna's family joined the Jaina church at the instance of Arishtanemi, and Krishna also, as the legend goes, was proclaimed by him, that is Arishtanemi, to be the 12th among the Tirthankaras who would arise in the Dushama Sushama age. There is a sculptured panel of Mathura which represents an ascetic receiving homage from the female devotees. The inscription records that the panel was a gift of the wife of a person called Dhanahastin. It bears the year 95 of Kushana King Vasudeva's reign probably. The word Kanha shramana occurs in bold types between the head of the ascetic and that of the lady devotee to the proper right. This Kanha may be the Krishna Vasudeva of the Jaina legend. Whether the Jaina viewpoint, regarding Krishna Vasudeva and his family is accepted or not, this much is true that Jainism and Vaishnavism came to a close contact with each other during the time of Arishtanemi who was a cousin of Krishna and Baladeva. Because of the family relationship between Arishtanemi and Krishna Vasudeva, Jainism was co-existent with Vaishnavism since Arishtanemi's time in places like Dvaraka, central India, and Yamuna valley, the sphere of Yadava influence. Arishtanemi's emblem is a conch which may be reminiscent of his relationship with the Vaishnavite family of Krishna and Balarama. Parshvanatha occurs very frequently in Mathura art of our period. We have already referred to his representation as sarvato-bhadrika Pratima.

We shall consider now one or two other specimens of his figure preserved in the Mathura Museum. The mathura Mesuem panel B.70 represents a stele (1' 101/2' in height) with nude Jina figures standing, one each on the four sides. Three fourth figures have been provided with haloes, the fourth one is represented with a sevenhead Naga hood. This fourth figure represented with no doubt parshvanatha. The Mathura Museum panel B 71 also contains a representation of parsvanatha with similar Naga hood. Both these figures belong perhaps to our period. Vardhamana Mahavira is the most popular of all the Tirthankars. There are innumerable sculptured representations of his figure in Mathurg and other centres of Jaina faith. We shall, however, for our present purpose refer only to two Vardhamana images found in kankali mound in Mathura which belongs perhaps to early centuries of the Christion era. In one panel he is shown seated under his sacred tree with several attendant figures, one of whom is a Naga with a canopy of cobra hoods. There is a defaced inscription on the pedestals of his image which begins with 'Namo' in early scripts. The other image in question is seated under a small canopy with two attendants, one on either side. Both the Vardhamana a figures are seated in dhyanasana posture, and have, besides the attendants, two lions on the pedestal and angels or Gandharvas, hovering in the air and offering garlands. The Jainas were primarily founder worshippers, but their mythology includes besides the 24 Tirthankaras a number of other deities.

One of the most important deities of this class is Naigamesha. Naigamesha is represented on the obverse of a fragment of a Jaina sculpture discovered at Mathura. The inscription incised on the panel is written in scripts of the beginning of the Christian era. The deity (Naigamesha) is a goat-headed one seated on a low seat in an easy attitude. He is shown with his face turned to the proper right, as if addressing to another personage, whose image has been lost. To his right there are three female figures standing and an infant is shown close to the knee. The deity is called in the inscription 'Bhagavat Nemeso.' Nemeso of the present inscription is a variant of the name of the deity Harinegamesi in the Kalpasutra, Naigameshin in the Neminatha Charita and Nejamesha or Naigameya in other works. In Jaina religious art he is depicted as a figure either with the head of a ram or antelope or a goat. In the Mathura sculpture which is the subject of discussion here he is found bearing a goat's head. Cunningham discovered four mutilated figures of Naigamesha which he failed to identify and described them simply as deities with Ox's head. According to Buhler the sculpture depicting Naigamesha with female figures and a small child refers most probably to the legend which narrates the exchange of the embryo of Devananda and Trishala. The legend in the Kalpasutra in short is this. Mahavira took the form of an embryo in the Brahmani Devananda's body. Thinking that an Arhat ought not to be born in a low Brahmanical family, Indra 'directed Harine gameshi, the divine commander of infantry to transfer Mahavira from the body of Devananda to Trishala, a lady of the Juatri of Kshatriyas, who was also with a child. Harinegameshi carried out successfully Indra's order. In Jaina mythology Naigameshin is regarded also as a deity of procreation. The Antagana-Dasao refers to the story as to how, lady Sulasa propitiated Naigameshin and had a conception through his compassion. The ancient Jainas represented Naigameshin in both male and female forms as presiding over child birth. The sculptures of the Curzon Museum, Muttra, Nos. 2547 and E. I. represent the deity in his male aspect, and sculpture No. I. E2. (of the same museum) in her female aspect as the goat-headed mother goddess.

The Jaina pantheon includes the deities like Sarasvati and Ganesha etc. which figure prominently in Hindu pantheon also. We have from the Jaina mound of Kankali two headless female statues. One of them has not been identified, the other is the figure of Sarasvati. The goddess is seated on a rectangular pedestal 'with her knees up.' She has a manuscript in her left hand and the right hand which was raised up is lost. There is a small attendant on her either side. The inscription on the pedestal consists of seven lines in Indoscythic scripts. Besides the figures of Tirthankaras and other deities of the Jaina pantheon the Mathura sculptures of Kankali mound bear isolated symbols and designs auspicious to the Jainas, such as Svastika, Vajra, shell, bulls, elephants, goose and antelope, etc. Svastika to the Jainas is the emblem of Suparsvana, the 7th Jina, and Vajra is that of Dharmanatha, the 15th Jina, the shell is the cognizance of Neminatha, the 22nd Jina, elephant of Ajitanatha, the 2nd Jina, goose of Sumatinatha the 5th Jina, antelope of shantinatha, the 16th Jina and bull of Rishabhanatha, the 1st Jina. All these would show that the art of Kankali mound was thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Jainism.

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