Jain Remains of Ancient Bengal

by Shubha Majumder | 2017 | 147,217 words

This page relates ‘Characteristic Features of Jain Icon’ of the study on the Jain Remains of Ancient Bengal based on the fields of Geography, Archaeology, Art and Iconography. Jainism represents a way of life incorporating non-violence and approaches religion from humanitarian viewpoint. Ancient Bengal comprises modern West Bengal and the Republic of Bangladesh, Eastern India. Here, Jainism was allowed to flourish from the pre-Christian times up until the 10th century CE, along with Buddhism.

The Characteristic Features of Jain Icon

Though there are different types of icons in Jain iconography however, the main emphasis is always on the Tīrthaṅkara image. The characteristic features of a Jain image have been referred in various early medieval works. According to the Bṛhat-saṃhitā “the god of the Arhats (the Jainas; i.e., any of the twenty four Tīrthaṅkaras) should be shown nude, young and beautiful in appearance, with a tranquil expression and arms reaching down to the knees; his breast should have the (auspicious) Śrīvatsa mark” (Dvidedi 1895-97: 58; 45; 320). The Mānasāra, a śilpa text of sixth century CE, mentioned that the image of Jain Tīrthaṅkara should be in a straight erect or sitting posture with two arms and two eyes. They should not be decorated with ornaments and clothes. The Śrīvatsa mark should be made in the gold over the chest (Mānasāra, LV.36-42, 71-85). The Pratiṣṭhā-sārodhāra speaks that a Tīrthaṅkara image should have a calm and serene face (Sastri P.M. ed. 1974: 61-62, Bombay). Another text Pratiṣṭhāsārasaṅgraha narrates that the icon of a Tīrthaṅkara should be young, nude and void of any garments. The Tīrthaṅkara bears in his chest a Śrīvatsa mark and accompanied by eight prātihāryas (Vasunandi Saiddhāntika 1925: 4 Solapur). The Rūpamaṇḍana, one of the important iconographic texts, gives an exhaustive account on the iconographic features of a Tīrthaṅkara image (Srivastava, Balaram 1964: 33-39, Varanasi).

The eight Prātihāryas of a Tīrthaṅkara image consist of i) heavenly tree, ii) a throne seat, iii) Trilinear umbrella and a lion throne, iv) Aura of a beautiful radiance, v) Drum (Divya-dhvani), vi) showers of celestial blossoms, vii) two chowries and viii) heavenly music (cf. Bhattacharya, 19-20, ft. 1). All these symbols are present in a complete image of Tīrthaṅkara. The Yakṣa and Yakṣiṇī are to be notice in the lowest corner of the main image. However, in the present study region this feature is very rarely seen. The Tīrthaṅkaras are always representing in kāyotsarga and in dhyānasana postures. The basic difference between one Tīrthaṅkara image with another is the respective lāñchanās, which are always depicted on the pedestal of the image (Bhattacharya 1974: 19-20). Another important thing is that the highest ideal in Jainism is the ascetic, homeless, possessionless, and above all, passionless wanderer. That is why the Jains are always portrayed as mendicants or yogis.

In the present context it is very necessary to understand the Jain perspective towards arts in general and towards divinity, worship and objects and places of worship in particular. Jainism does not subscribe to the popular idea of God as some supreme being invested with the power of creating the universe and sitting in judgement over the destinies of all beings. However, in Jainism the God is the highest spiritual ideal for every one who wants to progress on the path of religion. The spirit in every one of us is in the grip of karmans from beginningless times. Karmans give their fruits automatically according to their nature, duration, intensity and quantum. There is no escape from them unless one experiences their consequences, good or bad. In this entire God has no part to play. If Jainism admits worship of the divinity, it is not for gaining any favours or for escaping calamities, however, for evolving and attaining the great qualities which are found in the Supreme Spirit, which is the final, spritiul stage of the spirit in every one of us.

Simple image–worship, in due course of time, became highly complex depending on the means of the worshipper. Gradually different attandent deities were started worshipped by the followers of Jainism and during the Gupta period some of the most significant developments in Jain art and iconography took place. Jain images were evolved three-dimensionally and the figures became more sophisticated and light in modelling. The ethical background of Jain art and architecture aims at evolving ātman, into paramātman and cultivates the spirit of piety, peace, serenity, detachment, charitable disposition, devotion to learning and pious living as well as to austerity and renunciation, in the minds of the devotees.

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