Nov 18, 2008

Jaina Art and Architecture in Karnataka

Dr.K.V. Ramesh

Those of you who, on hearing the title of my paper, expect me to give a list of the Jaina monuments of Karnataka with their locations, dates and descriptions will be surely disappointed after listening to me. As a matter of fact, what I have chosen to do, of my own choice, is to try to trace the origins of Jaina architecture in Karnataka and them to shift the burden of my paper to my own conclusion on what the Jaina monuments of Karnataka, alreay well written upon, have and have not achieved. In doing this I have not spared my own conscience, nor have I spared the inevitable historical manifestations of Jainism; but, all in good faith. The motivation behind this paper is my firm belief that what our troubled land needs today is Mahavira's pristine teachings shorn of spiritual and material accretions thrust upon them by almighty time as the author of history. Though the ink on this paper is still wet, the thoughts which have gone into its contents nave lingered on in my mind for years at a stretch. I had all along been searching for a forum in which to voice them. I hope I have at last found one this morning though your expectations and my protestations may not be the same.

In his 'editorial observations' which appears as the prologue for the monumental three volume publication on 'Jaina Art and Architecture' published by the Bharatiya Jnanapith (New Delhi: 1974), the learned editor Shri A. Ghosh observes: "It is difficult' to conceive of any Jaina artistic or architectonic creation that does not pertain to, and can be isolated from, the mainstream of Indian art and architecture. No doubt, the special religious and mythological concepts of Jainism produced sculptural forms not found in the creations of other denominations, but even these conformed to the style of the region and period to which they belonged. Thus, while representation of the Samauasarana, Nandisuara-dirpa, Ashtrapada, etc., typical of Jaina mythology, are peculiarly Jaina, in the style of execution even they followed the contemporary style of the region in which they were produced."

Further on, continuing in the same vein, he says "There is no religion-wise difference in the sculptural embellishments of the religious edifices. The same richness of life is apparent in the sculpture of all religions, except where it is strictly religious in character. Call them Yaksis, attendants, nayikas, apsarasas, sura­sundaris or alasa-kanyas, they appear everywhere, singly or in mithunas, and nothing in the austere tenets and practices of any religion could prevent their appearance in places of worship. There is no gainsaying the fact that the above observations should be constantly kept in mind by anyone trying to make an objective assessment of the achievements of the patrons of Jainism in the fields of art and architecture.

Now, to get to the subject of my paper, which is Jaina art and architecture in Karnataka, if we are to believe epigraphical information of the 7th century A.D., and there is no reason why we should not, the history of Jainism in Karnataka goes back eto the pre-Asokan Mauryan period with the migration, from the north, of Bhadrabahusvamin and a large number of his disciples and their settlement in the hilly tracts of Sravanabelgola. But in Sravanabelgola itself no architectural activity seems to have been initiated prior to the nineth century A.D.

This is in stark contrast with what happened just a little latern in the extreme south of the peninsula, in the Pandyan region to be more precise. It is generally accepted, on strong circumstantial evidences that part of the migrant Jaina clergy and laity proceeded further south and settled themselves in the hilly tracts of the Pandyan country where we find in the rock-beds and some of the natural or slightly worked out caverons Jaina inscriptions in Tamil a few of which were, according to me, not merely of the Mauryan but of the pre-Asokan decades.
We do not find such epigraphical and rock-cut confirmation of Jaina activities in the Mauryan period at Sravanabelgola which was many times better suited for such activities.

I can think of at least two possible explanations of this striking contrast:
1. In that early phase of extreme Jaina austerity, simplicity and self-abregation, which was still the case when Jainism reached Kamataka, no beds were cut out on the rocks and no caverns worked upon lest such acts should detract from quiet essential Jaina tenets;

2. Even the simple enough act to commemoratively engraving the names of the hundreds of Jaina asceties who attained samadhi by lying down on the rock surfaces was not done because those early Jaina migrants to Sravanabelgola did not carry with them a script.

This stark austerity, devoid of embellishments or, for that matter, even any type of rock-cuttings to render ascetic life less uncomfortable, is tellingly brought home by the description of the expansive, cold rock-surfaces scattered all over Sravanabelgola and, one of which Prabhachandra lay down and attained samadhi early in the 3rd century B.C. as prithula-tal-astirnna-tatasu sitasu sitalasu.

Be that as it may, epigraphical references to the construction or existance of Jaina places of worship in Karnataka begin to trickle in only from the 4th-5th centuries A.D. Ignoring for a moment .the possibility of a marginal error of a few decades, I may point out here that the relatively datable history of Karnataka's Jaina monuments commences towards the end of the 5th century A.D. with an epigraphical controversy generated by the Gudnapur inscription of Ravivarman of the early kadamba ruling house of Banavasi. The said controversy centres round what is, in all probability, a significant correction introduced in the text of that lithic record by the original engraver himself. From line 12 of this pillar inscription we learn that Kadamba Ravivarman caused the construction of a temple for Manmatha (tena uesma Manmathasyedam Ravina ksitindrena karitam). Further on in line 17 the same temple is referred to as that of Kama. Here the Sanskrit word for temple, as originally engraved, was devalaya. Subsequently, however, the letter de was corrected to read jt and the horizontal bottom line of the following letter va was erased so that devalaya could be read as jinalaya. While editing this inscription my friend Dr. B.R. Gopal, without pointing out that such correction had been effected, adopted the reading ji na laya as the intended one and had forcefully argued, drawing support from literary sources, that Kama, installed in that jinalaya was none other than Bahubali and that the worship of Bahubali in Karnataka can be dated back to the close of the 5th century A.D. Though the case for the Jaina orientation of the Gudnapur temple that was is further strengthened by the reference, further on in the same inscription, to the alaya of Padmavati, more likely the Jaina Yaksi of that name, some senior scholars have equally forcefully questioned the veracity of Dr. Gopal's conclusions. It is likely that further excavations, if conducted at Gudnapur, may help in bringing this controversy to an end. If, as a result, Dr. Gopal should be proved right we would be looking at the ruins of what would be the earliest datable brick-built Jaina temple in Karnataka. This is because, though we know from inscriptions that Ravivarman's predecessors and some Ganga rulers of Southern Karnataka who had preceded him in date, had also built Jaina temples, we have not so far been able to identify the sites of their construction or ruins.However, a clear picture and also a continuous history of Jaina art and architecture in Karnataka becomes available to us from the middle of the 6th century A.D. with the establishment of the Chalukyan hegemony in northern Karnataka and the consolidation Ganga power in Southern karnataka. And this continuous history of Karnataka's Jaina art and architecture always inevitably .reminds us of the wise words of A. Ghosh which I had quoted at the very commencement of this paper. The only difference is that in the case of Karnataka Ghosh's words are truer than in the case of mo'st other regions of India. For, with the exception of Gujarat, it was in Karnataka that Jainism enjoyed for long centuries great popularity, following and opulence, three necessary prerequisites for continuing architectural activities.

And, we can think of at least two very good reasons for this happy situation. One is that from early times Jainism had become an integral part of the religious life and rituals of even technically 'non-Jaina households. I have often been telling such of my friends as are interested in epigraphical data that even in those households in which men were staunch followers of Saivite and Vaisnavaite faiths, womenfolk had been equally staunch adherents of the Jaina faith. In fact the present day survival of a member of important pockets of Jainism in Karnataka is not a little due to the sustenance that religion had received from women at least until the middle of the 14th century A.D.

The other reason is that the Chalukyas, who had for the first time elevated the land of the Kannadiga to the status of a chakrauarti-ksetra, had made it their declared policy, prompted either by an enlightened outlook or by political exigencies, to patronise all the major religions of the Deccan with equal vigour. For proof I can do no better than take recourse to the text of an Alampur inscription of Chalukya, Vrjayditya (696-734 A.D.). While his own sua-dharma was Saivism, for promoting which he had done enough, Vijayaditya is eulogised in that record as having showered equal patronage on Vaisnavism, Buddhism and Jainism:

So= vjad=Bhagavatam-Bauddhau­Ji nendra ma tam-asritan,Sva-dharma-kriyaya visuamtirthyan-santarpayan-nripat

Therefore it is that we find in the Karnataka of the Chalukya-Ganga period due representation having been given to Jainism whether it is rock-cut caves or all­stone or brick religious edifices. This catholic policy did not end up as the fad or fancy of a single dynasty or of a single historical epoch but was bequeathed to their posterity by the Chalukyas and the Gangas. In the case of Jainism, unlike in the case of Buddhism, the effective application of this policy was rendered easier by the fact that Jainism had more or less patterned itself after the fashion of the brahmanical faiths in the matter and mores of rituals of everyday worship and hence fell in line, again more or less, with the same kind of architectural needs and designs. This meant that not much more of innovations and techniques were demanded of the artisans and engineers and not much more of extra investments from the patrons.

In this normal course I should at this stage give a chronological-cum­descriptive account of the Jaina monuments, sculptures, wood-carvings, and paintings of Karnataka. I, however, desist from doing so partly because I have no expertise in that field and partly because many such accounts have been earlier given by highly competent scholars in many publications. On the other hand I propose to share with you thoughts which had formed in my mind whenever I had visited Jaina monuments in any part of Karnataka. And, as an epigraphist, I had, indeed, had many such opportunities.

When one approaches a Jaina basadi in Karnataka from the front, more of ten than not, before he enters the m'ain building, he sets his eyes on the lofty, exquisitely carved manastambha raising skyward and cannot but be at once impressed. I have no doubt that Walhouse's words of ecstacy on seeing the manastambhas in front if the basad is of South Kanara hold good for all of them anywhere in Karnataka. He says "The whole capital and canopy are a wonder of light, elegant, highly decorated stone-work; and nothing can surpass the stately grace of those beautiful pillars whose proportions and adaptation to surrounding scenery are always perfect, and whose richness of decoration never offends".

Behind the manastambhas you have the basad is, either wholIy ruined or in various stages of survival or thoroughly and richly renovated. Speaking purely on a personal note, and without for a moment intending in the least to detract from their artistic excellence, value and appeal, I may reveal here that these splendid basadis of Karnataka had always generated in my mind great awe tinger with a sense of sadness. This sadness stems from my apprehension that religious quintescence and ostentation are two elements of contradiction and incompsibility, inversely proportionate to each other. It is after all true that all religions the world over have suffered progressive erosion of their intrinsic utilitarian values even as external manifestation of grandeur and astentation became progressively more and more pronounced. I am afraid well established facts of historical development prove that Jainism is no exception to this. Many are the basadis in Karnataka the ostentatious artistic and architectural beauty of which have been glorified by inscriptional poets of the past. For example. the massive Tribhuvana-chudamani -Chaityalaya of mudabidure, built in the thirties of the 15th century is graphically described by a contemporaneous inscriptional poet as follows:

Lalita-stambha-kadambamam madana-kayzamloveyam dvara-chi­tra-lata-bandhaman-vdgha-bhittiyan­adhishthan-adiym tere-te­r-olavim bannisi pelal-an-ariyen-ondamballen-a chaitya - kan ­salamam bhavisi Visvakarman-anugindamsvshamam tuguvam

This verse may be fully translated as follows:
"I cannot indeed describe in words graceful enough the various parts of the caityalaya such as the multitudes of elegant pillars, the madanika-bearing stouts, the frame-work of the sloping roof, the artistic creeper-bands at the doorway, the strong (or excellent) walls, the basement etc. but I know for sure one thing that Visvakarma, the celestial architect, on beholding the skillful execution of the caitya, sways his head in admiration.

Those who have seen this basadi will easily agree with me that there is no element of poetic exaggeration whatsoever in the above description. However, my own and purely personal thought is that the builders of this basadi, and there were so many of them, had travelled far from those remote times of Mahavira, but not necessarily on the path advocated by him.
But the tinge of sadness and the great awe that grip me when I am admiringly viewing the basadi vanishes the moment I stand before the cells face to face with the sublime serenity that exudes from every inch of the venerable idols of worship. The feeling of noble humanism promoted in our minds by these images in comparable with similar feelings we experience when we see those monolithic colossi, those absolute wonders unique for Karnataka, the open air Bahubali images at Sravanabelgola, Karkala and Venuru. Speaking in common of all these three Jaina colossi Walhouse observes: "The salient characteristics of all these colossi are the broad, square shoulders, very massive at the setting on of the arms; ... the thickness and remarkable length of the arms themselves; the tips of the fingers... nearly reaching the knees; the hands and nails very full, large and well-shapes. Considering the great massiveness of the upper part of the burst, the waist appears unnaturally slender; the legs are well proportioned... All the colossi are distinguished by cirspy, close-curled hair and pendulous ears". All these In their totally, when viewed in their natural surroundings unfailingly inculcate in the viewers mind the greatness of the Jaina's unselfish sacrifice for humanity. Before '1 conclude, I will revert once again to the tinge of sadness I have referred to above and confess that I do not suffer from such affliction when I visit and look at the gorgeous Saivite and Vaisnavite edifices, surely because, from time immorial, wasteful ostentation has been an inalienable part of the brahmanical faiths. On the other hand Jainism was born as a well meaning intellectual protest against these practices and extraneous elements. And in my reckoning, notwithstanding volumes that have been written on the artistic excellence of the Jaina monuments of Karnataka and elsewhere, which is all very true and is there for all to see, their role in the direct dissemination of the noble message of Jainism among the non­Jainas has been minimal. And this statement comprehends even the material manifestations of later Jainism. For, I recollect, with consternation, seeing at Nagai in North Karnataka a miniature, improvised temple in which a Digambara Jaina image, broken wt.ere it matters, in installed and worshipped by the local people as the goddess bettale- Basamma i.e. the naked asamma.

But this innocent misconception demonstrates in a telling, though not exemplary, manner the total merger of Jainism into the fabric of the everyday socio­religious life of the Kannadiga and of Karnataka. All that now remains for the devote followers of the Jaina to do is to remove such miscorkeptions and place Jainism and its art and architecture in proper perspective. With the firm hope that this will happen sooner or later, I will conclude by borrowing the words of a 15th century Chiftain of Karnataka:

alliya jinalayangal-ellavan­atibhaktiyinda vandipe nan
'I salute, with great devotion, all the Jaina temples of Karnataka'.

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