Jainism – a way of life




THE JAINS have a rich cultural heritage dating back at least 2500 years. Jain icons or images of 400BC have been found in India. King Samprati was a great patron of Jain faith. According to an inscription found in Gujarāt, king Samprati was a ruler of Avanti. This inscription is believed to have been carved out in the 2nd century AD. Samprati was a grandson of the famous emperor Ashoka. Samprati proclaimed that no animal should be killed. He helped poor and hungry people and erected countless monuments. He had commissioned innumerable images of various Tirthankaras. Images found in a great many temples of India are probably carved out due to his patronship. Even today whenever an Image is found during some excavation works, people say that this was made during the time of Samprati. Icons found in India are that of various dimensions and made from various materials. There are images in sitting and meditating postures whereas some images, especially many of the Digambara sects are found in standing postures. This is called Kayotsarga mudra. A colossus Jain image of Bāhubali is in South India in a place called Shravan Belagola and it was carved out, in 983AD, of a single granite stone. This magnificent statue is 57 feet high.

There are more than 10,000 Jain monuments and temples in India. These masterpieces of architecture represent the devotion of Jain lay-people. An American author, Michael Tobias in his book ‘Life Force, The World of Jainism’ writes:

“Jain lyrical poetry, prose, painting, sculpture and architecture have excelled at expressing these ecological concepts. Her art is fiercely original, pictorials executed with an uncannily minimalist abstraction, a pure and shorn design, sculpture scraped-rather than chiselled-from white marble, philosophy frequently expressed in poetic riddles and verse; a whole universe of moral exhortation and touching anecdote. In addition, Jain pilgrimage constitutes a major tradition within India.”

Jain temples are mostly situated in places where they can be used as the nearest place of worship. Many temples, however, were built where significant events in the lives of Tirthankaras took place. There are countless temples on top of hills or mountains too. The design of Jain temples is governed by written rules, which involve both art and scientific values. The study of this covers mathematics, geography and a complete knowledge of architectural practices.



Pālitānā is some forty-five kms from a town called Bhavnagar in Gujarāt, India. On the outskirts of this town, you would see conglomerate of magnificent temples on the hills of Shatrunjaya. The mountain is 1640 feet high and one has to climb about 3700 steps to go to the top. There are 108 large temples and 872 small temples with more then 7000 images on the hills of Shatrunjaya. It is said that all Tirthankaras, except Nemināth, had visited this place. Every year more than 400,000 pilgrims visit these temples. This is a unique place where every Jain would like to visit at least once in a lifetime.


This is a historical place. The mountain of Girnar is much higher then Shatrunjaya. 22nd Tirthankara Nemināth had visited this place many times and this is the place of his Nirvāna too.


This is one of the five main pilgrimage-places of Jains. Situated amidst beautiful hill in a remote region of north Gujarāt. King Kumārpāl built this temple. The main idol of Tirthankara Ajitnāth is white in colour and is 2.75m high. The temple itself is magnificent; with the footprint of 150 ft x 100 ft and it is 142 feet high. It is said that the wood used in the ceiling of this temple is a non-combustible type, which does not burn but emits some water in case of a fire.


This is comparatively a new temple and the images were installed in 1972. However this is a popular pilgrimage place now. The temple is 125 feet high and the main image of Tirthankara Simandhar Swāmi is more then 12 feet high!


Here two most beautiful temples are situated on a beautiful mountain. The mountain is called Abu and it is 1220m high. One of the two temples here was built about 1000 years ago. The second temple was built about 800 years ago. These two temples have unparallel carving in the world and it can be only described as poetry in the marble. It took immense love, devotion and above all vast sums of money (Millions of Pounds in toady’s terms) to build these temples.


A magnificent temple, situated in the state of Rajasthān is a living example of what temple-architects could do. A merchant called Dharanā Shāh built this temple, which is 316 feet long and 290 feet wide, in 15th century. This temple has got 84 small deris (little temples) around main temple and the main temple has 1444 pillars yet you can see the main image without any of the pillars obstructing the view of the main idol.


This is the king amongst all pilgrimage-places. It is called Sammetshikhar and is situated on the mountain known as Parasnāth Hills. 20 out of 24 Tirthankaras had attained nirvāna on this mountain. This is one of the most sacred places of Jains. There are Shvetāmbara and Digambara temples here but unfortunately this place is involved in a dispute between the two sects of Jains. According to the Shvetāmbara sect, the Mogul King Akbar presented this mountain to Shvetāmbaras in 1592 AD and they still have a document to prove this. According to the Digambara sect these documents are not valid now.


In Karnataka district, on top of a hill at Shravan Belgolā, there stands a giant statue of Lord Bāhubali. Lord Bāhubali was one of the sons of the first Tirthankara, Rushabhdev. This statue is 57 feet high and is carved from the bedrock of the hill. Bāhubali and his brother Bharat were engaged in dual over the issue of sovereignty. Bāhubali could have won the dual but he chose not to fight and had renunciated everything to become a monk.

There is now a Digambara mutt (One of the head quarters for Digamabar) here. A big ceremony took place in 1981 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the creation of this giant statue of Lord Bāhubali. Another ceremony of mahā-mastakābhisheka took place in February 2006.

There are thousands of towns and villages in India where beautiful Jain temples attract thousands of people every day. Temple building is still continued through out the world. Temple-architects called Sompuras design and construct temples on traditional lines.

The images in Shvetāmbar temples are usually found in a sitting posture. This is called padmāsan posture wherein the right foot is kept on a left knee and the left foot on the right knee. The hands are shown in the lap with the right palm over the left one.

As all images look same, it is only possible to identify the Tirthankara by the emblem inscribed or carved out on the pedestal.

The Digambara tradition believes in the naked image and many of the Digambara images are found in a standing (kāyotsarga) posture. Cave temples are other forms of architecture found in Orissā and some other states of India. Some are more famous for the art and wall painting rather then the architectural aspects. Here there are about thirty-four temples and monastic quarters cut into the rock. Jain temples at Ellorā are noteworthy in the context of iconography. As regards art, wall paintings found in temples and caves represent religious stories. Jain manuscripts are the best source for studying Jain art. The other form of Jain art is found in invitation scrolls, which were sent to monks to invite them to a certain place for the monsoon sojourn period. These scrolls were very long and had beautiful paintings on them.


One thing we must not forget. The temple is not constructed as a museum piece, as a work of art pure and simple. It is the locus of the God whose image is found within the inner shrine. It is a religious building and its artistic qualities are there at the service of, and subsidiary to, its spiritual functions.

 - From THE JAIN Souvenir Issue 1988

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