A Vegetable Motif in Central Indian Art [Part 7]

Published: 23.05.2012

§ 8. The fantastic tree

In the medieval and post-medieval art of Central and Western India we come across a number of vegetable motifs which have no common denominator but which can perhaps be grouped together under the label “fantastic tree.“ This grouping suggests itself mainly in connection with the art of the post-medieval Jaina temple at Ranekpur (Crowe Tr, JRM fig. 179), but perhaps it is applicable to a much wider area. Be that as it may, we thought it desirable to view the evidence collected in the present section not only with reference to earlier but also with reference to later developments.

At Deogarh, we find four slabs showing ācāryas, in this case Jaina teachers, in connection with vegetable motifs. There are two closely related earlier slabs (Neg. nos. 1034-35) and two closely related later slabs (figs. 11-12). The earlier images show only ācāryas surrounded by conventional foliage, but the later images each show an ācārya and a disciple (“disciple“ = ācārya en miniature) with an uncommon tree motif - a late offshoot of the banana plant motif - between them. Refer for these two slabs to the Introduction supra and to Bruhn Āc (p. 182: 5c: our fig. 11; p. 183: 5g: our fig. 12). The close connection between Deogarh (figs. 11-12) and Nālandā (figs. 3-4) is obvious. It is, however, difficult to discover concomitances between specific hermit motifs (ṛṣis etc.) and specific vegetable motifs.

The vegetable motif of the first slab can be “identified“ as a banana plant. However, it does not follow the traditional vocabulary except in some of its individual features. The relevant details are

  1. the superimposed whorls (fig. 11-DEF-2.3),
  2. the branching out (trifurcation) of the stem (fig. 11-D-2.3), and
  3. the halved leaves (fig. 11-CD-3).

Refer for (i) and (ii) to fig. 1, and for (iii) to Desai Vi 92. In the case of the second slab, the general appearance is still more removed from traditional renderings so that the connection with the old banana plant can only be established through very careful analysis. Obviously, the new form of the motif was obtained through processes of multiplication. To indicate the superimposed whorls, the first slab shows a single prong (fig. 11-E-2.3), while the second slab has four prongs (fig. 12-BCDE-4). Again, the irregular leaves of the traditional renderings (whatever their shape) have been translated into a series of leaves which suggest branches as found with actual trees (at least three “branches“ on either side). At the same time it is worthy of note that the typical halved leaves have at least partially been maintained (fig. 12-BCD-5). It seems thus possible to derive the entire motif, however “fantastic“ in appearance, in a plausible manner from the original banana plant motif. - As in the case of Nālandā (figs. 3-4) we have to focus attention on a few monastic utensils. On both slabs we notice books in the left hands of the figures, and on the second slab two brooms and an alms-bowl are shown in front of the stem: see fig. 12-EF-3.4.5 (brooms) and fig. 12-G-4.5 (alms-bowl).

By the same method of scrupulous analysis we can demonstrate that two slabs showing the Sacred Couple of Jaina iconography and published in the Indore State Gazetteer exhibit the motif of the banana plant or derivates. The two relevant vegetable motifs, which differ from one another and also from the two Deogarh slabs, supply the tree motif which is compulsory for all representations of the Sacred Couple. The banana plant (“tree“) from Pura Gilana (Dhariwal Ga: opp. p. 58) can still be called, conventional, while the banana plant (“tree“) from Mori (Dhariwal Ga: between pp. 44 and 45) is rather anomalous. The four slabs (Deogarh-Deogarh-Pura Gilana-Mori) seem to indicate that certain workshops in Madhya Desha favoured unusual stylizations of the banana plant.


Makaranda - Essays in honour of Dr. James C. Harle

Compiled by PK

Revised online edition by HN4U 2012


Click on categories below to activate or deactivate navigation filter.

  • Institutions
    • Jainology
      • Art and Archaeology
        • Center for Jaina Studies FU Berlin [CfJS.FU], Germany
          • Share this page on:
            Page glossary
            Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
            1. Deogarh
            2. HN4U
            3. Indore
            4. JAINA
            5. Jaina
            6. Jaina Temple
            7. Makaranda - Essays in honour of Dr. James C. Harle
            8. PK
            9. Ācārya
            10. Ācāryas
            11. ācāryas
            Page statistics
            This page has been viewed 1597 times.
            © 1997-2021 HereNow4U, Version 4.5
            Contact us
            Social Networking

            HN4U Deutsche Version
            Today's Counter: