The Grammar of Jina Iconography II [Part 2]

Published: 06.03.2012

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


§ 2. The Jaina Couple

The absence of literary references to the well-known Jaina couple has led to a number of more or less tentative designations. We mention the following:

  • a family group“ (Pal Ex: 174-175),
  • Gomedha and Ambikā“ (Kramrisch Hi II: pl. 54; Mohapatra Or: passim),
  • Jain tutelary couple“ (Bhattacharyya Pa: pls. 10 and 12),
  • Kubera and Bhadrā“ (Coomaraswamy Ya: pl. 6, fig. 3),
  • parents of the Jina“ (Shah Pa and elsewhere),
  • sacred couple“ (Bruhn Ch: 68-70),
  • probably Umā-Maheśvara (SothLon 29.11.82: fig. 234),
  • yakṣa with his consort“ (Nawab Jn: pl. 9, fig. 21).

U.P. Shah also quotes the expression “happy twins“, obviously used by some early author (Shah Pa: 28). We find indeed identifications of the tree as kalpavksa, i.e. as the tree of life in the golden age (Burgess An: pl. 294, p. 41; Dhariwal In: plate before p. 45). An attempt at identification by V.S. Agravala is mentioned in Nawab Jn: 26. - In the present article we use the expression “Jaina couple“ or simply “couple“ if the context makes it clear that the Jaina couple is meant. Compare for the subject inter alia Bruhn Ch; JID: fig. 333 (attempt at a definition of the problem); Shah Pa; Pal Ex: pp. 137 and 174-175.

The motif is well-defined in the sense of its being “unmistakable“. The common denominator consists in a seated couple, the male to the left (as seen by the viewer), the female to the right. Standing forms are late and possibly limited to the “Deogarh area“ (Mevissen Co: fig. 25). When children are shown, they are always seated on the lap of their parent, and the sex is not indicated. The motif can be derived

  1. from the Buddhist art of Gandhara and from Buddhist India: “Pāñcika and Hārītī“ (Grönbold Bu: 367-368; Johne Hā; Misra Ya: 77-80: archaeological evidence) and
  2. from Hindu iconography: “Umā and Maheśvara“.

Buddhist India stands for Mathurā, Kaushambi, Ajanta, Ellora, Aurangabad, Ratnagiri. See in particular Chandra Pr: pl. 62; Huntington At: pl. 5; Mitra Ra: pl. 121 and pp. 168-169 (further references in Johne Hā). The Buddhists have the single Hārītī and the single Pāñcika in addition to the Buddhist couple (Johne Hā: pl. 69, fig. 145, etc.), whereas the Jaina couple are always “complete“ (contrary also to K-and-A) and thus a different type of motif. References to Hindu origins will be given below.

The couple are depicted with considerable variety in more than one respect. The two figures form an “art type“, following a purely artistic and non-literary canon. But in the present case this canon is not tight and leaves ample scope for variation. The artists were guided both by the artistic canon (including local conventions) and by their own whim. This applies in particular to the typical frieze on the socles of the images of the couple. No doubt, there was always considerable freedom in the rendering of such socle friezes (infra), but the images of the Jaina couple are exceptional in this respect (Bruhn Gr I: § 6).

[Two motifs] Matters become still more complicated insofar as there is in Jaina iconography another, similar motif, viz. “Kubera-and-Ambikā “ (next section). This motif was introduced at about the same time as the couple motif. But the Jaina Kubera cannot be separated from the Hindu Kubera, the Jaina Ambikā not from the Hindu goddess with child and lion. Moreover, the Jaina Kubera is often shown with an elephant (and Ambikā with a lion), clearly a Hindu vāhana, although not to be derived from the Hindu Kubera.

In the case of both the Jaina motifs (Jaina couple and K-and-A) we do not find the slightest reference in Jaina literature. Instead of representing deities known from the Jaina canon (Śakra, etc.), the Jaina artists yielded, for unknown reasons, to the two male-and-female motifs. Naturally, the artists always or almost always connected the motifs with a Jina: a miniature Jina above the couple and a “dominating“ Jina above K-and-A.

The distinction between Jaina and non-Jaina deities is a general problem, and it cannot be ignored in connection with the discussion of the two motifs. Miniature Jinas as vehicles of distinction are rarely missing in the case of non-Jinas. If an image of Jaina character has no miniature Jina, it may, nevertheless, be possible to demonstrate that it was actually commissioned by a Jaina. Miniature Jinas are not depicted above the figures on the outer walls of the Mālādevī Temple at Gyaraspur (see figs. 9-10), but in the case of that temple Jaina motifs were, for political reasons, banned almost completely from the exterior. In the case of images placed in the interior of a temple or any other structure, such rules did not exist so that the miniature Jina will only be missing in rare cases. There are nonetheless problems in the case of K-and-A, of Kubera alone, and of Ambikā alone. The vicinity to Hindu deities sometimes creates an element of uncertainty (Hindu or Jaina?) in the case of images without miniature Jina which may still be Jaina (figs. 11 and 20). There exists the parallel problem of missing miniature Buddhas (Asher La: 302). Probably the problem can in most cases be solved by investigations on the spot.

In the case of the couple and elsewhere, the motif of the miniature Jina at the top was often extended by the addition of motifs taken from the upper portion of the Jina image (garland-bearers, etc.). See for the couple Burgess An, pls. 293-294; for a doubtful case (couple / K-and-A) Pal Ex: 137; for an independent Ambikā: Pal Ex: 177; for the “resting female“ Bruhn Gw: fig. 151. [End of Two motifs.]

The relation between the couple and Umā-and-Maheśvara may be a general one (question of the Hindu prototype). But there is also a special connection in so far as the Period II images of the couple (see below) mostly reflect a posture of the bodies similar to one which is typical of Umā-and-Maheśvara. Refer for the couple in this context to Shah Pa: figs. 11c-13b (11c = fig. 1); for Umā-and-Maheśvara to Pal LA I: 256, Krishna Gu: pl. 53, and Deva Ne: pls. 67ff. It seems that this particular posture of Umā-and-Maheśvara was very popular: for a version with Kubera and wife refer to Misra Ya: fig. 16 (= Krishna Gu: pl. 93), and for a version with Mañjuśrī and Prajñā (wood, Nepal) to Mallmann Ma: pl. 9. P. Pal was the first to see the connection:

Whatever their exact identification, there can be little doubt that conceptually the subject [“family group“] is related to the Buddhist tutelary couple of Panchika and Hariti and to the Hindu family group with Śiva, Parvati, and their sons and attendants“ (Pal Ex: 174).

The frieze below the couple (“frollicking urchins“ et alia) is likewise closely connected with Śiva (Pal La I: 256; Krishna Gu: pl. 53, Deva Ne: pls. 72ff.; Trivedi Jh: figs. 32-35), but it also occurs elsewhere. Two early examples are Huntington An pl. 5 (Pāñcika and Hārītī) and Pal LA 1:255 (Revanta). When describing the couple we refer by “child“ (“children“) always to the respective motifs in the main panel and not to children, etc. on the frieze. - The typology of the Jaina couple is complicated:

  1. We have isolated six early images: Pal Ex: 174; JRM: figs. 80 and 152; Pal Ex: 175; fig. 3; Bruhn Gr I: fig. 14 (Gwalior). Pal Ex: 175 and fig. 3 are closely related and can be called a pair. The time of the six images is Gupta and early-medieval. The two images “Bautze-Picron Ea: pl. 271“ and “Mohapatra Or: fig. 64“ are later but seem to belong to an old iconographic tradition. The Gwalior relief is weather-worn, and the couple can only be recognized in outline. The representation is, however, interesting as a rare or unique instance of the inclusion of the couple into the parikara of a Jina. In our description we shall concentrate on one single variable, namely the number of children: female with one child and second child standing (!) to proper right of male (Pal Ex: 174), female alone with child (JRM: fig. 80), male and female with child (Pal Ex: 175 and fig. 3), no children (Bautze-Picron Ea: fig. 271 and Mohapatra Or: fig. 64), image mutilated and iconography not clear (JRM: fig. 152; Bruhn Gr I: fig. 14). - The images depicting the couple (all periods) normally carry no inscriptions. But on the image JRM: fig. 152 we find the strange inscription (“ca. 9th cent. A.D.“) anantavīrya. The word ananta occurs repeatedly: Jina no. 14 (Ananta), yakṣī no. 14 (Anantamatī), future Jina no. 24 (JRM: 103; Anantavīrya), “yakṣī“ of Ananta (Anantavī[r]y[ā]; figs. 13-14). The name on the image thus makes no sense (cf. Asher La: 302 on “local names“ of deities in inscriptions).
  2. In the following period (900-1000), the images are more numerous and more uniform. There is now more or less clear contact between the male and the female. In most cases the male is shown without and the female with child. The tree above the couple is compact (Periods II-III). See Shah Pa: pls. 11c-13b (mentioned already) and JID: figs. 180-180A. Chronologically, the motif bridges over what is generally called early-medieval and medieval. An image from Bengal is Bhattacharyya Pa: pl. 10. Some images show special features. Interesting on account of the friezes (friezes with figures similar to, but not clearly marked as Jaina ascetics) are Shah Pa: pls. 12a and 13b. The former of the two images has a small cihna-like bull (shah Pa: 28-29) below the knee of the male figure, an unusual feature. The second image (pl. 13b) has yakṣa slots with indistinct attendant deities. The two images are closely related in style. The arrangement is unusual in SothLon 29.11.82: fig. 234 (Northern India, ca. A.D.1050-1150). There the couple form the main subject in a multiple composition (Jinas, navagraha.s, etc. surrounding the couple in separate panels).
  3. Period III (900-1200) overlaps chronologically on Period II. The general tendency is to keep male and female separate, to show both with a child, and to depict both in identical form. Two examples from Eastern India have been published in Burgess An (pls. 293-294 [294 = fig. 2]). Refer for the Central Indian standard type to Kramrisch Hi: pl. 54 (late image). See also Bruhn Ch: fig. 2, JRM: fig. 205 (Deogarh Wall-Section I), Bruhn Gw: fig. 157. Two images without children have been mentioned under Period I (Bautze-Picron, Mohapatra). Standing couples (§2 supra) appear near the end of Period III.

The couple are not found in miniature painting. Miniature painting is text-oriented and hardly tolerates non-Jaina motifs. On the other hand, we do have a series of 12 plus 12 “couples“ on a ceiling slab of the Neminātha Temple at Kumbharia (Shah Pa: fig. 11a; JRM: fig. 82). The inscribed names show that here we are in fact concerned with the parents of the Jinas. The females carry the children on their right laps, perhaps in order to distinguish the couple in the relief from the old couple. The males in the series carry no children.

It would not be surprising to find here and there praises of the parents of the Jinas in literature. However, a single quotation from a late text published by U.P. Shah (Pa: 27, fn. 15) cannot substantiate his claim that the motif always represents the parents of the Jinas, nor is there any reason to identify the old couple at least in some cases with the parents of the Jina.

There is hardly any influence of Kubera on the Jaina couple. The posture of fig. 1 is, as we have seen, jointly inherited by the Jaina couple and Kubera-and-wife from Umā-and-Maheśvara. The two jars of fig. 2 can be derived from Kubera or Pāñcika but are not more than a chance occurrence.


Berliner Indologische Studien

Compiled by PK


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