A Rich Heritage-Jain Icons, Caves & Temples



By Mr. Satish Kumar Jain

Paper read on 4th July, 1991 at the 6th Biennial Convention of Federation if Jain Associations of America & Canada held in Standard University (San Francisco) California, U. S. A.


Jainism is an independent and one of the oldest living religions of the world. According to Jainism, in the iternal time span there have been cycle of 24 Tirthankars in every Avasarpani and Utsarpani division of time. The present cycle of 24 Tirthankars started with the first Tirthankar Rishabhadev. It ended with the 24th Tirthankar Bhagwan Mahavir.

The 22nd Tirthankar Neminath was cousin son of Lord Krishna's uncle and is thus a historical figure. The 23rd Tirthankar Paraswanth was born at Varanasi in B. C. 877. After rigorous penances as an ascetic he attained salvation in B. C. 777 at Mt. Paraswanath (Bihar). Bhagwan Mahavir was born at Kundanpur in the republic of Vaishali (Bihar) in B. C. 599. Acharang and canonical literature give graphic description of his practising penances. He preached his philosophy of 5 important doctrines-non-violence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy and non-accumulation of wealth in various parts of the country. He attained salvation in B.C.527 at Pawapuri (Bihar). From the post Tirthankar period i.e. after Bhagwan Mahavir there continues a tradition of learned Acharyas, who communicated to the people the great knowledge of the Tirthankars.

The people had very high regard for the Tirthankars for their highly ideal life of renunciation and extreme good to the people. After them, the devotees intensely felt their physical non-existence as moral and spiritual guides, which gave rise to the tradition of symbol worship.

The symbols have been twofold (i) Atadakar (without image of Tirthankar), (ii) Tadakar (with image of Tirthankar).

The Atadakar Jain symbols included stupas, Tri-ratna, chatiya- stambha, chaitya-tree, poorn ghat, sharav samput, flowere wreath, pushpa-padalak, etc. Astha mangal Dravya i.e. eight auspicious objects-Swastik, Dharma-Chakra, Nandya-Vrat, Vardhmanakya, Srivatsa, pair of fish, louts, mirror and the cognisances of the Tirthankars were also included in the list. Astha-Pratiharya and Ayagpattas were also considered as important Jain symbols. The Ayagpattas, rectangular stone-slabs, bore various Jain symbols with or without the image of Tirthankar. Those were the objects of worship. The Ayagpattas found in the excavations of Kankali-Tila Mathura of the very early centuries are important. According to Buhler the slabs for worshiping Arhatas were known as Auapattas. These were established before each of the four entrances of the stupas. All these symbols were much in vogue in the early period of art.

Tadakar Symbols : With the development of art forms, iconography received considerable attention and the iamges of Tirthankars began to be made. In the later period the worship of Tirthankars in idolatory form became most popular. 

In the early period of iconography, the Jain idols were established at little height from the surface ground in a vedika (after) like structure. Later on, these were roofed and came to be known as Devayatans, Devalayas or Temples. With the advancement in building making the simple temple style had drastic change and larger and artistic temples began to be constructed. The rock cut caves were also effected both to serve as places of worship and as abodes of Jain ascetics for their short period eanderings.

Jain Temples : The temple making derived its inspiration form the amavasharan of Tirthankar, in which Tirthankar had his seat in Mulgandha Kuti. Samavasharan was, therefore, taken as the model of a Jain temple. Earlier, the Jain temples had a Man-Stambha, infront of the main entrance of the Jain temple, continued to be built in many Jain temples of India.

Temple  making is also said to have its base in the concept of existence of Sumeru and Kailas, the inaccessible mountains, the abodes of Ishta-Dev. Since it was not possible for the devotees to reach these mountains and worship the Ishta, they thought of raising Sumeru and Kailash like structures, where the Ishta could appear and be worshiped. These two mountains were thus the models for temple making as well as for making spores of the temples. The coins of 5th - 4th century B.C. spire like structures. Some damaged old seals bear inscription of early forms of temples.

There are literary references of temples which existed even before 6th century B. C. in Mathura, Kampila and other places. Temple making appears to have its start from north India.

The History of Iconography : The historians and the archaeologists now agree that the pre - Vedic civilization in India had a rich heritage. The excavations carries out in Mohanjodaro (Sindh province of Pakistan) and Harappa (Montogaomari Distt. In Punjab in Pakistan ) in 1922 and thereafter give evidence of the pre- Vedic civilization. According to the former Director of the Archeological Survey of India, Sir John Marshal in Sind and Punjab areas such people lived five thousand years back, who had a developed civilization which excelled the contemporary civilization of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The Panis or the Vratyas, asherents of Sraman culture, are believed to have also lived in western & northern India. While the Aryans entered India (C.1500 years B.C.), they pushed many of those Dravids to the south. The Panis were expert navigators, successful businessmen, possessing knowledge and wisdom and knowing fine arts. They also spread to many parts of the world and settled there. They were idol worshippers.

Some seals obtained from the Mohanjodare excavations have the images of ascetics in Yoga-Mudra. One of the seals with an ascetic is in Kayotsarga (Khargasan) i.e. in standing posture absorbed in meditation with his cognizance the bull standing nearby. This is considered by many as the earliest seal depicting the First Jain Tirthankar Rishabhadev.

There is also a red stone nude torso (without head, arms and legs) found from the excavations of Harappa (Indus Valley civilization cir.4000-5000 years back), and kept in the National Museum, New Delhi. If at any time it is established as a Jain torso, the Jain icon making will have its history at least 4000-5000 years old from now.

There is reference in the Jain texts like Avshyak Churni, Nisheeth Churni, Vasudeva Hindi, Tri-Sasti Slalka-Purush Charit that Uddayan, ruler of Sindhu-Sauvir had a sandalwood image of Bhagwan Mahavir. Made in the life time of Mahavir, it was , therefore, known as Jiwant-Swami and shows Mahavir as a Prince, with crown on his head. The ruler pf Avanti (Ujjain) king Pradyot is said to have managed to obtain this image through a maid- servant by replacing the original one with a similar looking wooden image.

In their earliest form, the Jain images were of clay which were baked for longer life. Those had proportionate figure. Such clay images have been found from the excavations of Harappa, Kaushambi, Mathura etc. As the baked clay idols were not durable the making of stone idols came into vogue.

The earliest Jain stone idols are of Yakshas and Yakshies. Those are surprisingly not of Tirthankars and are also not of artistic significance. Many of them did not have proportionate figure.

So far the known earliest Jain images are the two torsos found from Lohanipur area of Patna. These Tirthankar images were found while digging a sewer Made of stone, these have no head and legs. These are exhibited in Patna Museum. Having shining polish, which is a characteristic of the Mauryan sculptures, these are considered to be of Mauryan period (B.C.320-158). Mauryan Polish is that famous technique of early craftsmen, who handled the rough material of the stone until it resembled glass in smoothness.

A Kalinga Jina (Riahabhadev image) is also mentioned in some Jain texts and the Hathigumpha 17 line inscription in Brahmi script in Udaigiri Hill, near Bhuvaneshwar. This is eclogy if King Kharwel (B.C. first century). These is mention in this earliest Jain epigraph that while conquering the Nandas of Magadha king Kharwel of Kalinga (present Orissa) brought back the image to his capital, which had been forcibly taken to Magadha by Nandas. Some believe that the above Lohanipur bust is that very Kalinga Jina. There is, however, no historically established evidence on that.

The iconography saw its rapid development in the Ska-Kusana period(1st-2nd century A.D.) Mathura was then its principal centre. Images in sitting posture of Tirthankars Adinath, Shantinath, Munisuvrathnath, Neminath, Paraswanath and Mahavir were mainly made, which did not bear symbols or cognizances. Many of the earlier Adinath images are found with hair lock on the shoulders. Besides Tirthankar images, Ayagpattas, Stupas, images of Uakshas, Yakshsi, Saraswati, auspicious symbols, Chaitya-tree were also made. A special feature of the period was introduction of four faced images-Sarvatobhadrikas.

The Gupta period(4th to 6th century A.D.) and the post Gupta period (mainly upto10th cen. A.D.) had the best of iconography with the making of highly adorned images also having Tirthankar cognizances and auspicious symbols inscribed on them. Double. tripple and four faced images inscribed on the same slab or stone were also made. Making of Chaturvinshati Jain images, i.e. one stone/slag having inscribed images of the 24 Tirthankars was also in vogue. Goddesses with two, four, six, ten and twelve arms were made. Making images of some goddesses, with arms in front and back side and of some with arms in all the four sides was a very special feature of this period. Images of Yakshas-Yakshis Vidyadhar goddesses, Panch- parmestins. Bharat and Bahubali were also made. The Jain images in large number in Deogarh (U.P.) Chanderi, Gwalior, Khajuraho (Madhya Pradseh) and various other places are the master-pieces of this period.

The Swetamber Jain images began to be made from Girjar-Pratihar and Kalturi periods, in the post Gupta period. Though the finest of the Jain images, highly adorned, are found in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Western U.P., in south too, particularly in Karnataka, Jain colossal and other images were made. 57 feet high monolith Gommateswar (Bahubali) statue created by Chaumundraj - the Minister and Commander of the Ganga ruler Rachmall IV in 981 A.D. at Sravanabelgola is the finest example of iconography-known world over. The other colossal of Bahubali are at Karkal (41'3" -1432 A.D.), Venur (35'-1604 A.D.), Dharmasthala (39'-1973 A.D.) all in Karnataka and Firozabad (35'-1976A.D.) in U.P. The 84 feet high monolith Adinath statue of Bawangaja (Badwani) in M.P., which has been renovated at high expense and which is about 1200 years old, is also worth mention, besides the 34feet high highly attractive statur of Paraswanth in sitting posture in Gwalior Fort., Gwalior fort is very rich in having jain icons, say few thousands, including 58 feet high colossal and many other many other places have been important centres of Jain idol making in the past, while Jaipur (Rajasthan) and Karkal (Karnataka) are the foremost centres of the present time.

Stupas : The stupa was an early form of structuiral architecture of the Jaina as evidenced by the excavations of Kankali-Tila side at Mathura. As the saying goes, the earliest stupa (Temple) of gold was made by gods during the time of 7th Tirthankar Suparswanath and was later renovated in the period Tirthankar Paraswanth. It was known as Vodvo-Stupa. Its mention has been made on the pedestal of of image of Tirthankar Munisuvrat of 2nd century A.D. found in Kankali Tila excavations. Actually, even by the 2nd century A.D. this stupa had become so ancient that the facts about its origin were completely forgotten and it came to be ascribed to gods. The stupas generally had four vedicas (Alters) for worship. Though the Jain literature abounds in references to stupas but the only extant remains are of one of more stupas in Kankalr-Tila at Mathura of the centuries immediately before and after Christ. Some of the Ayagpattas found in Kankali-Tila excavations bear inscriptions of Jain stupas. Building stupas, however, seems to have lost favour with the Jains by the close of the Gupta Period.

Caves : The Jain ascetics earlier did not enter the cities. They preferred to have short stay in forests, caves, rock-shelters etc. outside the dwelling places. More than 200 sites in India have the existence of natural or man made Jain caver. Many of the sites in various parts of India have been visited by me, which are a splendid creation. The man made caves were mainly created for the Jain monks and for worship. The earliest among those are four caves of Mauryan period made on the order of Emperor Ashok in the middle of 3rd century B.C. for Ajivak Jain saints in Barabar Hill and Nagarjuni Hill, 12 miles south of Rajgir; two rock cut caves (twin caves) of Son Bhandar at Rajgir also of Mauryan period, and Hathigumpha and Ranigumpha at Udaigiri Hill near Bhuvaneshwar (Ist century B.C.) Later, larger caves were created at Vidisha (2 Jain caves among 20 Gupta period caves), Terur and Ellora caves in Maharashtra and at many other places.

The tradition of cave making with the Jain images inscribed in them is found in a developed form in Sittanvasal (Tamil Nadu), Aihole and Badami Jain Caves (Karnataka) and Ellora and Terpur Jain Caves. The Ellora group of Jain caves created in 10th-11th century A.D. is indeed the finest example of cave making in India in quality of sculpture and inscriptions. The Jagannath and Indrasabha caves are fully developed froms of Jain temples having vedikas, full size images of Tirthankars, huge columns and roof and wall decorations. It is from Ellora Jain caves that the art of Jain temple making went on improving in craftsmanship.

Also in the Tamil region there a ae number of rock-caverns at various places which are with or without beds created for the Jain saints right from the 2nd-1st century B.C.

Jain Temples : The Jain temples do not appear to have the origin before the commencement of iconography. Temple architecture is a direct result of icon or image worship since at least the historic times. The Buddhist texts speak of the existence of Arhat- chaityas in the Vajji country and Vaisali, which had come down from pre-Buddha and so from pre-Mauryan times. From the 4th cent. B.C. there is direct evidence of the existence of Jain images, cave temples and structural shrines or temples. Ramnents of temples found from the excavations of Lohanipur, Sravasti and Mathura do not help in assessing the exact form of the ancient Jain temples. The earliest forms of temples were known as Yakshayatan and Yaksha-chatitya. The Jain caves which were known as cave temple are being considred different from Jain temples. The rock cut Jain caves are, however, of earlier origin. The rock cut caves have their origin in the pre Christian era.

Earlier, the temples were simple in form. The Vedika and spore are the later additions, as is known from the temples of Mathura built in 2nd and 1st century B.C.

The temple making became popular during Mauryan and Shunga periods with constant uptrend in Shak-Satvahan period (1st-2nd century B.C.), while the images of Tirthankars began to be inscribed in various portions of the temples including the columns. Mathura, capital of Saurasena-an important city from 6th century B.C. Ahichatra, Kasusambi, Kampila and Hastinapur were the principal Jain temple centres during Kushan period. As in the case of iconography, the temples, highly adorned were built in large number during Gupta period(4-6th century A.D.). After 600 A. D. (post Gupta period), Nagar style of temple making became popular in northern India while Dravida style was profusely accepted in the South.

In the post Gupta period the four styles of temple making became prominent viz. Gurjar-Pratihar, Kalturi, Chandel and Kachhapghat. The broad three classifications of temple making style are Nagar, Vesar and Dravid.

The temple making received very good impetus during the period 6th cent -13th cent. A.D. as it received considerable support of the rulers, courtiers and wealthy persons of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, some parts of U. P. and Karnataka. Best of the Jain temples were built during this period at many places including Ghanerao, Osia, Mount Abu, Ranakpur, Chittor Fort, Jaisalmer, Jhalraoatan etc. all in Rajasthan; Gyaraspur, Vidisha and Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh; Shatrujaya-Palitana, Girnar, Taranga, Kumbharia-all in Gujarat; Hampo (Old Vijaynagar), Hellebid, Sravanabelgola, Mudbidri in Karnataka. The Jains generally selected picturesque sights for their temples, valuing rightly the effect of environment on architecture.

Some of the very famous Jain temples in India are as under :
Paraswanath and Adinath temples at Khajuraho (10th cent. A.D.).
Vimal Vasahi and Luna Vasahi, Delwara-Mount Abu (1032 A.D.& 1231 A.D.)
Adinath Temple at Ranakpur (1439 A.D.)
Neminath and other temples at Girnar-(13th Cent.).
Adinath and other Jain temples at Shatrunjaya-(10th cent. and after).
Ajitnath Temple, Taranga-(1165 A.D.).
Mahavir, Paraswanath and Shantinath temples at Kumbharia (11th cent. A.D.).
Adinath Jain temple and Kirti Stambha at Chittor For (c-1200-1500 A.D.).
Maladevi temple at Gyaraspur. (Late 9th cent. A.D.).
Sumatinath Jain temple at Jaisalmer.
Mahavira Temple at Ossia (783-92 A.D.).
Deogarh Jain temples (cir. 850A. D.- 13th cent. A.D.)
Mahavira Temple at Ghanearo.
Indeed the Jain community is proud of the vast and varied sculptures which were built during the last 1700 years-4th cent. B.C. to 13th cent. A.D.



Source : From 'Sixth World Jain Conference' ( 1995) Souvenir


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