Jain Remains of Ancient Bengal

by Shubha Majumder | 2017 | 147,217 words

This page relates ‘Images of Tirthankara Neminatha’ 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.

According to the Jain canonical texts, the emblem of Neminātha is a conchshell or śaṅkha[1]. The Śāsanadevatās who attend upon him are Yakṣa Gomedha and Yakṣiṇī Ambikā. The Jina has a well-known historical family background. His father was named Samudravijaya, the king of Sauripurī or Dvārakā. His race is known as Harivaṃśa (Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacarita, vol. VII: 7; Uttarapurāṇa Parva 70 & 71). The most interesting point is, according to the Jain texts, that Neminātha was a cousin of Śrī Kriṣṇa and Baladeva and his mother was Śivadevī (Bhattacharya 1974: 57-58; Shah, 1987: 164-5).

According to the Uttarapurāṇa, Indra called him Neminātha (Uttarapurāṇa Parva 71.46) because the Jina was as it were the spoke (nemi) of the Wheel of True Law. Hemacandra gives a similar explanation. According to another explanation offered by Śvetāmbara writers, he was called Ariṣṭanemi because while he was in the womb, his mother saw, in dream, a wheel of Ariṣṭa-jewels (Kalpasūtra-Subodhikāṭīkā 113)[2].

Till today I have able to documented four sculptural specimens of this Tīrthaṅkara from the present study area and among these four images three from Purulia and remaining one from Bankura.

The most noteworthy and largest image of Pakbirra is the image of a Tīrthaṅkara which is till today identify Tīrthaṅkara Padmaprava. However, during the recent visit it is observed that the lāñchana which is carved at the center of the triratha pedestal is a spoked wheel and on the basis of this it is clear to identify this image as Tīrthaṅkara Neminātha (Pl.XXIX.D).

The image is made of blackish stone and stands at a massive height of 235cms. The Jina stands in kāyotsarga on a small lotus flanked by caurī-bearing attendants. He has elongated ear-lobes and his hair is arranged schematic curls with a prominent uṣṇīṣa. The central projection of the pañca-ratha pedestal bears a small wheel and the remaining rathas are completely blank. The surface of the image is highly polished and contains a crack running diagonally across from the left waist to the right knee. P.C. Dasgupta identified this image with that Tīrthaṅkara Padmaprabha presumably on the basis of the stylized lotus carved on the pedestal (1971: 123). S.C. Mukhopadhyay, however, objects to this identification and points to an unidentifiable design in the lower pedestal as 'emblem' (1977: 30). He further informs that on the right hand corner of the lower pedestal there was an inscription, however, this inscription is now non traceable. The grace and dignity of the image, its massiveness coupled with transcendental expression, places the image unquestionably an echelon above the rest of the images found at Pakbirra.

A badly damaged image of this Tīrthaṅkara was documented from Baramoshya (Pl.XXIX.E). The head and the back-slab of this image are missing and the image is broken into two parts. The image approximately measures 132 x 45x 18 cm. Iconographically and stylistically this image is very much similar with the Neminātha image from Pakbirra. The Jina is standing in kāyotsarga posture on a double-petalled lotus placed on a tri-ratha pedestal. The central ratha of the pedestal bears the lāñchana of the Jina i.e., wheel is neatly carved and placed between two devotees in namaskāra-mudrā (folded hands). At both ends of the pedestal, a crouching lion is depicted. The upper part of the pedestal bears an inscription. The Jina is flanked on both sides by male caurī-bearers. Their left hands are in kaṭyāvalambita posture and the right hands hold a fly-whisk.

The Ramkrishna Mission Museum of Purulia town preserved an image of Tīrthaṅkara Neminātha (Pl.XXIX.F) however, only lower half of the image is preserved and it measures 66 x 45 x 10 cm. The mūla-nāyaka standing in kāyotsarga posture on a double-petalled lotus seat placed on a tri-ratha pedestal. The central ratha decoratedwith the lāñchana i.e., wheel, which is flanked by crouching lions. The remaining back-slab reveals the male caurī-bearers flanking the Jina at the lower corners, who are sparsely clad and elegantly jewelled. Their left hands are in kaṭyāvalambita posture and the right hands hold a fly-whisk.

A single sculpture of this Tīrthaṅkara was reported from Gokulnagar (Chattopadhyay 2010: 198) of Bankura district and presently displayed in the Vangiya Sahitya Parisad Museum, Bishnupur. The cognizance of the Jina is abraded. Therefore, it is difficult to identify the lāñchana or symbol. However, other iconographic features seem to indicate that it is probably the image of Neminātha. This image is in kāyotsarga posture on a double-petalled lotus placed on a tri-ratha pedestal. The central projection of the pedestal bears a miniature figure of a seated female deity, probably Ambikā, the Yakṣī of Neminātha. She is holding a child on her lap. The remaining projections of the ratha pedestal are embellished with crouching lions. The tip of the nose, the right hand, and the right attendant of the Jina are damaged. The head of the lord is encircled by a nimbus. The deity has elongated ear lobes, and his hair is arranged in schematic curls with a prominent uṣṅīṣa. The caurībearer of the left side of the Jina is visible. The edge of the stele is relieved with miniature figures of four standing Tīrthaṅkaras arranged in pairs on both sides of the mūla-nāyaka. The usual vidyādharas holding long flowering garlands may be seen on the top corners of the back-slab. These are reminiscent of the conventional representation of hovering clouds. The figure is made of chlorite stone and measures 75 cm x 43 cm. The image may be dated in c. eleventh century CE.

Footnotes and references:


Conch, the emblem of this Tīrthaṅkara may be accounted for as being symbolic of his residence in a sea-side place where conches are abundantly met with or as reminiscent of his kinship with Vaiṣṇavite family of Śrīkṛṣṇa (Bhattacharya 1974: 58).


In this context it is worth mentioning that especially in the present study area wheel was closely associated with this Tīrthaṅkara. Only one case conch is depict as the emblame of this Tīrthaṅkara, however, wheel is very common.

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