Jaina & Brahmanical Art : A Study in Mutuality


By Dr. Maruti Nandan Pd. Tiwari


The core of the Jaina pantheon and so also the visual manifestations representing the concretization of thought and myths into figurative and pictorial art, was the 24 Jinas or the Tirthankaras who were venerated as the Devadhideva, the invincible supreme deities. The Jainas further developed their pantheon by assimilating and transforming different Brahmanical legendary characters and deities in Jaina pantheon. It is to be remembered that while embracing Brahmanical deities, the Jainas have never compromised with their basic tenets of meditation and bodily abandonment represented best by the vitaragi Jinas who were free from passions and desires and who could neither favour nor frown at anybody. It is for this reason that the Jinas were never shown as safty-bestowing, or boon - conferring deities as was the case with Buddha, Siva, Vishnu, Ganesa and others. But at the same time religion can thrive only with the active support of the masses and this fact was very much in the minds of the Jaina acaryas. The majority of the worshippers aspire for wordly and material possessions from the deities they worship which, however could not be obtained from the worship of the vitaragi Jinas and hence several other deities were conceived and incorporated in Jaina pantheon to cater ti the need of the common worshippers. It was done through the induction of the sasanadevatas or the Yaksas and Yaksis, joining the Jinas on two flanks as guardian deities. They bestow upon the worshippers the desired boons. This socio-religious requirement paved the way for assimilation and mutul understanding between the Brahmanical and Jaina sects. The present paper endeavours to make a succinct study of such assimilations on the basis of literature and art examples.

If we look at the ancient map of India we come across several such sites which have yielded temples and gamut of sculptures related to both the Brahmanical and Jaina sects, the most important of them being Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, Osian, Rajasthan, Ellora, M<aharashtra, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, Aihole, Halebid and Badami, Karnataka. Besides, Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh the Vimalvasahi and Lunavasahi, Rajasthan, Taranga (Ajitanatha temple) and Kumbharia, Gujarat, and Sravanabelgol, Karnataka were the Jaina sites of great consequence which had yielded profuse amount of Jaina icons. The iconic data at these sities bear testimony to the multidimensional mutual influences. The Parsvanatha Jaina temple at Khajuraho (C. 950 - 70 A. D.), containing all around its facade the figures of Brhamanical deities like Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, Rama, Balarama, Kama, Agni and Kubera along with their respective Saktis in alingana - pose, is a remarkable example of coherence and mutuality between the two sects. Such figures in alingana pose are indeed the violation of accepted norms of the Jaina tradition and were actually carved under the influence of Brahmanical! sculptures at Khajuraho. On the north and south sikhara and also on the garbhagrha facade of the Parsvabatha temple, there are three sculptures showing amorous couples.

The instances of erotic figures in Jaina context, datable between 10th and 12th century A. D., are also known from Deogarh (Doorway, temple 18), Santinatha temple at Narlai (Pali, Rajasthan), Ajitanatha temple at Kumbharia. The presence of erotic figures at Jaina sities is the gross violation of the Jaina tradition which does not even conceive of any Jaina god along with his sakti in alingana pose. The rendering of erotic figures on Jaina temples was due to the Tantaric influence in Jainism during the early medieval times (C. 7th to 10th century A. D.). However, the Jaina Harivamsa Purana (783 A. D.) makes the point more clear by referring to the construction of a Jina temple by a sresthi Kamadatta, who, for the general attraction of the people, also caused the installation of the figures of Kamadeva and Rati in the temple. It also alludes to the worship of Rati and Kamadeva along with the Jina images. It may also be noted here that the Tantaric influence was accepted in Jainism but with certain restraints. Overt eroticism was never so pronounced in Jaina literature and sculptural manifestations as was the case with Brahmanical and Buddhist religions, which is evident from the sculptural examples carved on the temples at Modhera, Khajuraho, Konark, Bhubanesvara and many other places. The erotic figures from Jaina temples as compared to Brahmanical ones are neither so profuse in number nor so obscene in details.

The Jinas also find representation on some of the Brahmanical temples at Khajuraho (Kandariya Mahadeva and Visvanatha temples - 11th century A.D.), Osian (Surya and Harihara temples - 8th - 9th centuries A.D.) and Bhubanesvara (Muktesvara temple - 10th century A. D.)

The Jainas in their list of 63 salakapurusas (great men), finalised during the Kushana - Gupta period, include a number of Brahmanical deities and legendary characters, the most important of which are Bharat Chakravartin, Rama and Balarama as Baladevas (or Balbhadras), Laksmana or Narayana and Krsna as Vasudevas (or Narayanas), and Asvagriva, Taraka, Nisumbha, Madhu, Kaitabha, Bali, Prahalada, Ravana and Jarasandha as Prativasudevas (or Pratinarayanas). It may be noted that independent texts were also composed on Rama and Krsna, they are the Paumacariya of Vimalasuri (A. D.473), Padmapurana of Ravisena (A. D. 678), Uttarapurana of Gunabhadra (9th - 10th century A. D.), Harivansapurana of Jinasena (A. D. 783) and Trisastisalakapurusacaritra of Hemacandra (mid 12th century A. D.). Of all the deities borrowed from Brahmanical tradition, Rama and Krsna, the two great epical characters, undoubtedly occupy the most exalted position in Jaina worship and religious art. They were incorporated in about first second century A.D. The rendering of Krsna alongwith Balarama begins as early as in Kushana period. Balarama and Krsna were associated with the 22nd Jina Aristanemi or Neminatha as his cousin brothers and as a consequence they find representation in the images of Neminatha is flanked by the figures of four - armed Balarama and Krsna - Vasudeva. Balarama holds musala, hala while Krsna bears mace. Another image of late Kushana period shows Kesna with mace and cakra. This association distinctly explains the process of adoption and transformation of Brahmanical deities in Jaina worship. The subsequent examples of such images are known from Batesvara, Agra, Uttar Pradesh and Deogarh (Temple No. 2, Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh Owing to the explained kinship of the two, Balarama and Krsna were also carved in different narrative panels at Kumbharia and Vimalavasahi (11th - 12th century A. D.) showing the life of Neminatha. These scenes include the water sport and trial of strength between Neminatha and Krsna (Vimalavasahi - celing of cell no. 10). According to the Jaina tradition and so also in visual expression Neminatha is portrayed as victor in a trial of strength with Krsna which was intended to establish the superiority of Jainism. The relief in the Vimalavasahi shows in the second circular band the demonstration of strength of Neminatha in the ayudhasala (armoury) of Krsna. In the scene Krsna sits on a throne when Neminatha enters. The hands of both are folded in greeting each other. Ahead is the scene of trial of strength wherein the outstretched hand of Krsna is bent by Neminatha to suggest his victory over Krsna.

Vlmalavasahi and Lunavasahi (C.1150-1250 A. D.) exhibit some very interesting renderings of Krsnalila and other Vaisnava themes which include Kaliyadamana (Vimalvasahi cell 33), Krsna playing holi with Kanakasrngakosa (as found in Harsacarita) with gopas and gopikas, the episode of Bali and Vamana, samudramanthana and vivid carvings pertaining to Krsna Janma and his balalilas. The scene of Holi is carved in the bhramika (corridor) ceiling of the devakulika 41 of the Vimalavasahi (c. A. D.1150). This is a singular instance of the rendering of Holi (play of sprinkling of colourful water on each other) in plastic art. It becomes all the more important in view of its Jaina context on the one hand and its total absence in plastic art at Brahmanical sites on the other. It is somewhat surprising to note that the Jaina works such as Harivamsa Purana (of Jinasena of Punnata - gana - A. D.783), the Mahapurana of Gunabhadra - (A. D. 897) and the Trisastisalakapurusacaritra (of Hemacandra Suri - latter half of the 12th century A. D.) dealing at length with Krsnacarita, however, do not refer to the holi of Krsna. The present instance of the rendering of holi thus appears to have been inspired by Brahmanical works wherein this festival is variously known as suvasantaka and Vasantotsava and kamadevanuvarti. The ceiling accommodates nine figures of gopas and gopikas including Krsna. Krsna in the certre with small kiritamujuta and long fluttering uttariya is playing the sport of holi in gayful mood. Krsna with two Kanakasrnga kosas (cowhorn shaped golden sprinklers) in his hands is sprinkling the coloured water on gopas and gopikas smartly and pleasingly. All other figures lean towards Krsna in rhythmic postures. The Lunavasahi (1250 A. D.) contains the elaborate renderings of the birth of Krsna under close vigil alongwith his childhood episodes including the killing of demons by Krsna.

The second ceiling no. 49 of Vimalavasahi exihibits a remarkable figure of 16-armed sthauna Narasimha (man-lion incarnation of Vishnu) killing the demon Hiranyakasipu. The entire representation is so forceful and dynamic that it makes the figure undoubtedly one of the best representations of Narasimha in Indian Art.

As compared to Krsna, the rendering of Rama was not so popular in Jaina art and the sculptural examples are found only on the Parsvanatha temple (c.954 A.D.) at Khajuraho where at the figures of Rama - Sita - Hanumana and Sita sitting in asoka-vatika and receiving the message and the ring of Rama from Hanumana are carved.

Apart from the above epical characters, several other deities were assimilated directly in Jaina worship with identical iconographic features. The concept and names of such deities are found in the early Jaina works datable between c. third and seventh century A. D. but their detailed iconographic features are enunciated mainly in the works assignable between c. 8th and 14th century A.D. The list of such deities comprises Ganesha (Jaina devakulikas at Osian and Neminatha temple at Kumbharia 11th - 12th century A. D.), Ksetrapala (Deogarh and Khajuraho), Laksmi, Saraswati (Mathura, Deogarh, Khajuraho) Pallu, Vimavasahi, Lunavasahi, Kumbharia, Humcha. Kushana to 12th century A. D.), Astadikpalas (some times their number being ten including Nagaraja Dharanendra and Brahma), Navagrahas, Astavasus (carved on the Jaina temples of Khajuraho); 64 yoginis (enunciated in the Acaradinakara of 1412 A. D.), Indea and several other deities. In concurrence with the Brahmanical tradition, the astadhikpalas and the navagrahas were carved respectively on the cardinal point and door-linteles of almost all the Jaina temples.

Ganesa, as the remover of the obstacles and bestower of success, was incorporated into Jaina pantheon during the early medieval times. According to Acaradinaakara of Vardhamanasuri (1412 A.D.), Ganesa is adored even by the gods in order to obtain desirable worldly things. On the basis of the available instances showing Ganesa with rat mount and as carrying lotus goad, tusk, axe, spear and modaka or modakpatra the bearing of Brahmanical iconography is distinct. Jaina Sarasvati also has distinct bearing of Brahmanic Sarasvati. Their proximity could be ascertained on account of their identical vahana (swan or peacock) and attributes namely, manuscript, Vina, rosary, water-vessal, goad and noose. In one of the images carved in the ceiling of Vimalavasahi (A.D.1150), Sarasvati is joined by the figures of sutradhara Loyana and Kela, the chief architect and sculptor of the temple. She is thus visualized here as the goddess of fine arts as well.

There are few such Jaina deities who were borrowed but with some changes either in respect of their names or the iconographic features or even both to suit the requirement of Jaina creed. The Brahmasanti and Kaparddi Yaksas are the foremost among such deities who occupied important position in visual representations at Svetambara Jaina temples in western India, namely Delvada and Kumbharia. They distinctly reveal the bearing respectively of Brahma and Siva. Likewise, several yaksas and yaksis associated with the Jinas show such features which suggest that they are the transformation of Vishnu, Siva, Brahma Karttikeya, Kali, Gauri and Vaisnavi. In some cases only the names like Garuda and Kumara Yaksas and Kali, Mahakali Yaksis have been borrowed. The Sasanadevatas of Rsabhanatha, the first Jina are Gomukha (bull face and parasu in hand) and Cakresvari (ridding a garuda and carring disc, mace, conch) apparently represent Siva and Vaisnavi. In one of the ceiling of Santinatha temple at Kumbharia, the figure of Cakresvari is labelled as Vaisnavi.

The figures of Saptamatrkas finding no metion in Jaina works were also carved in some of the examples known from Mathura, Gyaraspur, Vimalvasahi and Khandagiri. These figures are carved usually in the parikara of Ambika images (Mathura museum) while at Khandagiri (Navamuni Gumpha - 11th century A.D.), they are carved with the Jainas as Yaksis, albeit with the features of Indrani, Kaumari and other Matrkas. We also encounter the figures of several such deities, mainly the female ones, at the prolific Jaina sites like Vimalavasahi, Lunavasahi and Kumbharia which could not be identified on the testimony of the available Jaina texts. Most of the deities in such cases show the influence of Brahmanical goddesses. Vimalavasahi alone has 16 such goddesses, some of which with bull as mount and holding either trisula or sarpa or trisula in both the hands have distinct Saivite stamp.

The conception of dvitirthi and tritirhi Jina images, depicting two or three Jinas together was perhaps inspired by the syncretic icons of Brahmanical tradition. The Hariharapitamaha images from Ellora, Abaneri, Khajuraho and else where show the figures of Brhma, Vishnu and Siva either standing or sitting on single pedestals. The Pal Jina images from Rajgir, Bihar in some examples show the five or seven-hooded snake canopy (representing Suparsvanatha and Parsvanatha) but the cognizances on the pedestal are either conch (of Neminatha) or bull (of Rsabhanatha) or elephant (of Ajitanatha) which suggest that inspired by Brahmanical syncretic icons the Jaina also attemped at such innovatory forms which have never been referred to in any od the Jaina works. The above example thus represent the syncretic images of respectively of Suparsvanatha - Neminatha, Parsvanatha - Ajitanatha and Parscanatha - Mahavira.

Besides the rich repository of Jaina images from the ambience of various sites we have numerous literary references as well which connote Brhmanical influence. The two Jainas epical works namely Mahapurana and Trisastisalaskapurusacaritra, are of enduring importance from this stand point. These works have several references to the worship of Siva and other Brahmanical deities, besides the episodes of Nala - Damayanti, Ahilya, Bhagiratha and descend of Ganga. Rsabhanatha, bearing close semblance with Siva , has been euliogized in the Adipurana of Jinasena (C. 9th century A. D.) with 1008 appellations which distinctly illustrate how liberally different Brahmanical deities have been imbibed. These names include Svayambhu, Sambhu, Sankara, Sadyojata, Trinetra, Jitamanmathe, Tripurari, Trilocana, Siva, Isana, Bhutanatha, Mrtunjaya, Mahesvara, Mahadeva, Kamari, Jagannatha, Laksmipati Dhata, Brahma, Hiranyagarbha, Visvamurti, Vidhata, Pitamaha, Chaturanana, Indra, Mahendra, Surya, Aditya, Kubera, Vamanadeva, Rama and Krishna.

Foot Notes

  1. Consult Tripathi, L. K., 'The Erotic Sculptures of Khajuraho and Their Probable Explanation, Bharati (B. H. U.) No. 3, 1959-60 p.p. 82-104; Tiwari, Maruti Nandan, Khajuraho ka Jain Puratattva, khajuraho, 1987.

  2. There are about 50 erotic couples showing in some cases shaven-headed Jaina munis with elongated ears who are engaged in different sexual activities.

  3. Atraiva Kamadevasya Ratesca Pretimamvyadhat I
    Jinagare Samastayah Prajayah, Kautukaya sah II
    - Harivamsa Purana 29.2

  4. Harivamsa Purana 29.1-10,29.2

  5. The eariliest list of 63 salakapurusas are found in the Paumacariya and some Agamic texts while the detailed anecdotes of rhese great men are enunciated in the Mahapurana and Trisastisalaka purusacaritra.

  6. Consult, Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari & Kamal Giri, 'Vaisnava Themes in Dilwara Jaina Temples, Vajpeya - Prof. K. D. Bajpai - Felicitation volume. (E. D. A. M. Shastri etc.), New Delhi, 1987, p.p. 195 - 202.

  7. Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari, Elements of Jaina Iconography, Varanasi, 1983, p.p. 115-16.

  8. Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari & Kamal Giri, 'Images of Ganesa in Jainsim' Ganesh - studies of An Asian God, (Ed. Robert L. Brown), New York, 1991. p.p. 101-14, "Sarasvati in Jaina Tantaric Worship, ' Archaeology & Art - Krishnadeva Felicitation Volume (Ed. C. R. P. Sinha), Pt.II, Delhi, 1990, p.p. 311-25.

  9. U. P. Shah, Jaina Rupamandan, Delhi, 1987, Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari, Jaina Pratimacijnana, Varanasi, 1981.

  10. Adipurana 25, 100-217



Source : Article From 'Ahimsa International Silver Jubilee Souvenir 1998' Authored By Dr. M. P. Tiwari


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