The History Of Iconography

The historians and the archaeologists now agree that the Pre-Vedic civilization in India had a rich heritage. The excavations carry 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.

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 too 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 of 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 was baked for longer life. Those had proportionate figure. Such clay images have been found from the excavations of Harappa, Kaushambi, and 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.

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, Parshvanath 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-Yakshinis Vidyadhar Goddesses, Panch- parmeshtis. 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 Shwetambar 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 Shravanabelgola 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 Parshvanath 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.

a) 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.

b) 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 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 are 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.

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. From the 4th cent. B.C. there is direct evidence of the existence of Jain images, cave temples and structural shrines or 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. 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.

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, Shravanabelgola, 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.
Mahavir Temple at Ossia (783-92 A.D.).
Deogarh Jain temples (cir. 850A.D.- 13th cent. A.D.)
Mahavir 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.