In Focus

Dancing figure

Temples for adherents of Jainism, an important religion particularly in western India, are often situated on elevated places such as Mount Abu. Jainism favors asceticism, accomplished by strict dietary restrictions, as well as pilgrimages that can involve arduous ascents up mountains to reach temple sites. Today, however, many drive up Mount Abu, unlike the experience at some other Jain pilgrimage sites such as Shatrunjaya in Gujarat, which requires walking up more than 3,500 steps.

Atop Mount Abu is the Delwara group of temples constructed of white marble. Although there are some five temples in the group, two are especially prominent, the Vimala Vasahi, constructed about 1030 and restored in 1322, and the Luna Vasahi, constructed about 1230. These temples stand in a large rectangular walled compound whose interior walls are adorned with sculptures generally confined to niches. Besides those sculptures, however, the temples display enormously rich architectural carving as well as fine figural sculpture on the pillars and even around the dome of the temple, where figures such as this one suggest celestial deities.

Jainism, like Buddhism, stresses detachment from the senses and renunciation. Despite the asceticism of Jainism, Jain temples often appear resplendent with the rich carving of the interior, reflecting the wealth lavished on temples by members of this faith, many of whom were and still are wealthy businesspersons and bankers. Like images from Hindu temples, the dancing figure represents a vision of female sensuality, in which pleasure itself, as suggested by the dancer's enchanting body full of motion even before she begins to dance, can be part of the experience of enlightenment. The voluptuous figure leans forward to secure a set of bells on her left ankle. These bells would punctuate a dancer's movement with sound in response to the rhythm of her dance.

White marble is a preferred medium for Jain sculpture. Quarried at Makrana, also in Rajasthan, the material is used for stone temples throughout the region. Even beyond Rajasthan, where Jain temples are carved from other types of stone, the principle images are customarily marble products. Makrana marble was used also for the Taj Mahal, and even today artists in Jaipur carve sculptures from this stone that are exported widely across India and abroad.

The figure probably dates close to the 12th or 13th century, and so if it does not come from the Luna Vasahi temple, it is very likely from a temple made about the same time as that one. The angularity of some of the features - her right elbow for example- and the oversized hands especially suggest this date.

Adapted from

  • Frederick M. Asher, "Dancing figure," in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Have: Yale University Press, 2013), 65.

  • Anne R. Bromberg, "Jain Sculptures," in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Have: Yale University Press, 2013), 64.