In Focus


This seated figure of one of the twenty-four liberators (Jinas, or tirthankaras) of the Jain faith is shown with his hands folded in the gesture known as dhyana mudra, the gesture indicating meditation. The figure is entirely nude and is reflective of one of the two major sects of Jainism (Digambara, whose name means sky-clad or naked); figures of the other sect, the Svetambaras, are usually shown dressed in white, again reflective of their name. Only the aus­picious mark, the shrivatsa, adorns the figure’s chest. Very much like the Buddha, whose anthropomorphic form was first rendered in sculpture about the same time as the first figures of Jinas, this figure has hair depicted as short curls, a cranial protu­berance to accommodate his exceptional wisdom, and elongated earlobes that indicate the heavy earrings he wore before renouncing material pleasures to assume an ascetic life.

Jinas are not deities in the customary sense but rather mortals who have achieved exceptional status by their extraordinary asceticism. Some of the twenty-four Jinas are recognizable by iconographic features, for example, the shoulder-length hair of the first Jina, Adinatha, and a canopy of cobras shielding the head of the twenty-third Jina, Parshvanatha. The specific identity of this figure, however, cannot be determined.

In context, the figure would have sat within the sanctum of a temple or in a small shrine in the temple. In contrast to the stark appearance of the figure, Jain temples are often richly decorated, the shrines gilded and sometimes further enhanced with jewels, all reflecting the wealth of the donors. Jains are often asso­ciated with wealth, having for centuries functioned as bankers to monarchs and as merchants; Jains also do not engage in some menial professions such as agri­culture because they avoid activities that might kill even small animals that inhabit the soil.

Black stone such as that from which this figure is carved is often used for the principal images in Digambara Jain tem­ples. Several features of the sculpture point to a 14th-century date, prob­ably roughly contemporaneous with the Adinath temple at Ranakpur in the south­ern part of the state of Rajasthan.

Excerpt from

Frederick M. Asher, "Jina," in Anne Bromberg, The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Have: Yale University Press, 2013), 67.

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