The Grammar of Jina Iconography II [Part 1]

Published: 05.03.2012
Updated: 02.07.2015

The essay was published in Berliner Indologische Studien No. 13/14. 2000, pp. 273-337.


§ 1. Introduction

The present article is the continuation of Grammar I, and Grammar I should be read as an introduction to the present article.

The subject matter of Grammar II is complicated, but I have tried to make the text as readable as possible. The photo section is primarily a didactic supplement, but it includes a few unpublished illustrations as well.

Thanks are due to Gerd J.R. Mevissen for numerous suggestions, for constant encouragement, and for active help in finalizing the text. Cl. Bautze-Picron gave me her advice on several important points. Isabell Johne very kindly placed a copy of her unpublished M.A. thesis at my disposal. Ethan Kroll tried to make the English text more readable than it was in the version prepared by me. The article is another tribute to the kindness of Dr. U.P. Shah (1915-1985) who introduced me to Jaina iconography.

The preview at the end of Bruhn Gr I included sixteen topics for further discussion (pp. 261-262). Instead we now suggest a study of the following items (bibliographical references not complete):

  • Supārśva (JRM: 139-142),
  • Candraprabha (JRM: 142-144),
  • Mallī (JRM: 159-161, see in particular JRM: figs. 103-104),
  • Munisuvrata (JRM: 161-163; Mitra Ic: 38-39),
  • Nemi (JRM: 164-170; Sharma Sp: 82, 157),
  • Jīvantasvāmī (Tiwari Jī),
  • Bharata (Tiwari El: 105-109),
  • Bāhubali (Tiwari El: 97-104).

The anatomie surnaturelle of the spiritual hero (Grönbold Bu: 409) and, more important, the rampant multiplication of Jinas (three Jinas, four Jinas, thousand Jinas), may be added.

There is some logic in this new list, although it includes both Jinas and non-Jinas. In some cases, only points of detail are to be considered, in other cases the matter is more complex. Even the basic characters of System B, viz. Ṛṣabha and Pārśva, require now and then fresh investigations (and could thus be included into the new list). Candraprabha (Jina no. 8) has been mentioned on account of the frequency of the crescent cihna (refer also to Ray Ea: figs. 3-4). His unique seven-faced image in the Victoria and Albert Museum is another item of interest (Tiwari Un: fig. 46).

The new list forms a separate subject or “isolate“ (to be treated on some later occasion), and the same is true of our “real pantheon“ (to be treated in § 6). On the whole, the structure of the present article is not seen at first sight, but will become transparent when the text is read carefully (§§ 4 and 5 are mutually complementary, and § 6 is related to § 7). We would prefer at this stage the title “grammar of Jaina iconography“, but we retain the old title for the sake of continuity and simpler reference.

There is also the question of further observations on Systems A and B. The complete System A exists only on chovīsī slabs and in the form of serial representations of the 24 Jinas. Otherwise, the situation must be studied from case to case. At Deogarh we have the usual triad of Ṛṣabha, Pārśva, and non-R-non-P (details below). However, we do find a few cihna.s at Deogarh already in the early-medieval period. In this context, a Jina without any characterization is both “non-R-non-P“ (one out of three categories) and “a Jina without cihna“ (non-R-non-P, no cihna). An absolutely exact description of the situation is difficult. In the early-medieval and medieval periods, the system of cihna.s was known in principle and sometimes put into practice (JID: fig. 213), but on the whole cihna.s (except the bull cihna) were rare. The position of the attendant deities was weak (§ 5). Be that as it may, we mention two Jina images with (irregular) attendant deities which have the advantage of being dated. They are JID: fig. 195, A.D. 994: bull cihna, Gomukha, attendant goddess (neither Ambikā nor Cakreśvarī); and JID: fig. 242, A.D. 1048: lion (!) cihna, Kubera with elephant (unique at Deogarh), Ambikā with hood-circle. Our distinction of two different Systems (A and B) is confirmed by the fact that in the period of cihna.s and attendant deities the strong characterization of Ṛṣabha and Pārśva was on the decline. At Deogarh and elsewhere the lateral strands (characterizing Ṛṣabha) became shorter and shorter, and were finally almost reduced to an appendix of the elongated ear-lobes (JID: fig. 224). In addition, the lateral strands were occasionally also shown with non-Ṛṣabhas (JID: fig. 211, Candraprabha with lateral strands) which indicated the diminishing interest in the “lateral strands as distinguishing mark of Ṛṣabha“. As far as Pārśva is concerned, we observe that at Deogarh and elsewhere, the hood-circle became less and less accentuated (JID: fig. 231; Jayantavijaya Āb: fig. 22).

For the Deogarh version of the Jina triad of System B (supra) we have to refer the reader to the survey of the forms of the hair-dress in Bruhn Id (pp. 157-158). This survey was not mentioned in the detailed discussion on pp. 253-255 of Bruhn Gr I, and it is therefore repeated in the present context. There are six cases: Ṛṣabha with strands and lateral strands, Ṛṣabha with curls and lateral strands (Gyaraspur, Vajramath [image originally in the Mālādevī temple?]), Pārśva with curls, Pārśva with strands (reduced formula only), non-R-non-P with curls, non-R-non-P with strands (reduced formula only). This is in contrast to the earlier threefold arrangement: “Ṛṣabha with strands, Pārśva with curls, non-R-non-P with curls“ (Mathurā, etc.).

A different matter is the use of unidentified miniature Jinas at the top of Jaina images. There is a rare Pārśva in one case or another, but the general tendency is to leave the tiny figures unidentified (this applies also to the wall-figures of Deogarh Temple No. 12). Among the miniature Jinas surrounding the central Jina a few (mainly Pārśva and Supārśva) are identified now and then. In other words, the small Jinas do not have the same iconographic status as the main Jinas in a composition. Exceptions are mainly found in Eastern India: identification according to Systems A and B, Bruhn Gr I: fig. 17. [Read “miniature Supārśva of fig. 17“ on p. 266]. A tendency towards “absolute non-identification“ can be observed in a number of cases.

According to normal usage we call Jaina art, from Mathurā to Shravana Belgola, “Jaina“ without any added explanation. This art is uniform, i.e. unrelated to the developments in the Jaina church. It is true, that we find at Mathurā representations of monks holding a piece of cloth: Mitterwallner (Fr) et alii. But whatever the relevance of these representations to the study of the history of the church, from the point of view of iconography they merely form a “motif”. Relevant to church history is the emergence of Śvetāmbara art, however. This is an art province in its own right, and for the sake of clarity its monuments must in many cases be called “Śvetāmbara“ and thus distinguished from the main area. The latter may be called “Digambara“ (for want of a more neutral term) if “Jaina“ is not sufficient.

As far as the time scheme is concerned, I felt that the present article had to be published without further delay, partly to correct and supplement Grammar I in those cases where it was necessary, and partly to pave the way for Grammar III/IV. In a general manner I would say that the sequence Grammar I-II-III-IV will be a comparatively late exposition of my iconographic methodology. A publication soon after JID (1969) would have been better.

[A: Preview] Grammar III/IV is conceived in the first place as an overview of Western Indian Jina images. There is, however, apart from the historical caesura (transition from “early“ to “late“ ca. A.D. 1050), a strong typological bias. The typology is based on several oppositions: tritīrthika vs. single Jina; seated Jina vs. standing Jina; Pārśva vs. non-Pārśva; stone vs. bronze. Grammar III/IV can also be called a new descriptive attempt, expanding upon JID and Bruhn An, and related to the descriptive studies by Cl. Bautze-Picron: e.g. Bautze-Picron Id (infra-type description) and Bautze-Picron Sy (inter-type description). See § 7 for a theoretical discussion on the description of types. A technical requirement is a corpus of images, e.g. a corpus of Western Indian Jina bronzes not contained in Shah Ak (Shah Ak may form “part I“ of the corpus).

Two subjects could not be included in the present paper, but will be discussed in Grammar III/IV. In the first place, the aṣṭa prātihārya.s, viz. the literary evidence (Shah Ev: 51ff), the connection of the aṣṭa prātihārya.s with the samosaraṇa and above all the aṣṭa prātihārya situation in art and iconography must be explained in some detail. In connection with art and iconography, we intend to survey in Grammar III/IV the treatment of the aṣṭa prātihārya.s in two regions: Deogarh and Gwalior on the one hand and Western India on the other. In the second place, the Jaina Tārā, as we call the goddess, has to be presented. Her images seem to be confined to Deogarh. See Mevissen Co: figs. 21-22 and 24 (“Jaina Tārā“ at Deogarh). [End of PREVIEW.]

[B: Theoretical Excursus] The emphasis and even overemphasis on “classification“ and “form-principles“ in our previous studies is evident. There may exist a temptation for the critical mind to regard such concepts as an open sesame vis-à-vis the complexities of Indian art. What is required now is a reconsideration of the place of these concepts in the study of Indian art. This will be done below for the two concepts just mentioned as well as for “slot-filler analysis“ and “distinction“. The expression “concept“ refers here to an approach (or a strategy), to a phenomenon, or to both.

When scrutinizing such concepts one may be inclined to distinguish between useful and less useful concepts. The “differences in usefulness“, however, seem to be connected with the varying conditions of employment.

Slot-filler analysis (§ 11) is useful, not exclusively but primarily within early-medieval and medieval Indian art (mainly Northern India in its widest sense). Outside this area the conditions are different. The concept is simple but a demonstration with the help of examples (paradigmatic sentences) may be helpful and can be supplied in Grammar III/IV.

In art, form-principles (JID: chapter 23; Bruhn Gr I: § 5) can be observed everywhere (symmetry, etc.). The best example of form-principles in Indian art are the “syncretistic icons“ (Banerjea Ic: 540-563). In the case of the wall-figures on the exterior of the temples we observe likewise form-principles (JID: chapter 8). It is, however, difficult in this case to isolate individual types of form-principles such as assimilation, repetition, etc. of figures and attributes (JID: §§ 91-92). Even then it is possible to develop in a systematic manner the study of wall-figures (and serial representations generally speaking) as a micro-subject within iconography. The number of cases where the study of form-principles has clear advantages is, however, limited. Different is the situation if general books on Indian iconography are under consideration. Any such publication should have an introductory chapter on the morphological evolution of motifs like lotus, cobra/nāga, jaṭā/jaāmaṇḍala and on increasing anatomical complexities (number of arms, etc.). This evolution is likewise a form-principle and, however trivial as a subject of research, one of the best examples.

Distinction (Bruhn Se II: 19-21) is a normal operation of the mind, and mentioning it seems to be trivial. In the case of the text-image relation it is evidently useful, but it is prima facie no instrument of research because it does not tell us beforehand where to distinguish. The situation changes, however, as soon as we concentrate on the aspect of unity. The assumed unity of Indian culture has so many facets that here at least the concept of distinction (as opposed to unity) becomes employable for research. For example, compare § 4 on the distinction between “real“ literature and alakāraśāstra which opens a new field of literary analysis or literary criticism.

Our last concept is classification. This also seems trivial if classification is mentioned as a general instrument of research. Moreover, there is no clear-cut line of demarcation between classification and distinction. To explain the situation, a few examples of useful classification (classification/distinction) must be mentioned. In the case of the Deogarh Jinas, the concept of classification forces us to distinguish not only between different phases in the historical development (JID: chapters 11-13, 15), but also between different clusters of images in roughly speaking one and the same period (JID: chapters 7, 9-10). We can say that the subject of Indian iconography (mainly developments after ca. A.D. 750, i.e. after the third quarter of the first millennium), makes rigorous classification imperative. If we distinguish between Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain iconography, it is but logical to extend this top-level classification to lower-level classifications. In the case of Jaina iconography we suggest in the first place a regional classification (Northern and Central India, Western India, Eastern India, Deccan, Karnataka, Tamilnadu). As classification has a sort of Eigendynamik, further steps within this framework are bound to follow, although the exact direction cannot be derived from the strategy of classification alone. The present article includes elements of classification (§ 3, etc.), but introduces mainly dichotomous distinctions (§ 4: § 5, § 6 [last paragraphs]: § 7). - Further theoretical matter (besides the concepts just mentioned) will be found in §§ 6-8.

In the field of Sanskrit (and Prakrit) literature we have already studied “concepts“ in a fairly coherent manner. There is a “list of sixteen strategies“ in Bruhn Mā: 188-190; further observations on strategies will be found in Bruhn Se II: 17-21; the phenomenon of “scholasticism“ has been described in Bruhn Se II: 33-34.

Ultimately, we have to restate our demand to describe a subject in toto and from all aspects (and not in a selective manner). This simple statement helps to organize our methodological suggestions. It can be demonstrated by ad hoc studies which extend the subject and our perspective (for example studies in the “fuzzy period“ and in “partial motifs“ in Jaina iconography). See also Bruhn Se II (p. 16) on “selection“ in the dialectic of the New Left. Consideration of all facts and aspects is always inconvenient for the ideologist. [End of A-B.]


Berliner Indologische Studien

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