Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 4


Bahubali (Balarama) in Meditation
Painted wooden book cover (Patli)
Jain School, Western India, 12th c.

Dec 19, 2016 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's artistic legacy in paintings, sculpture and temple architecture.

12th - 16th Centuries

The Western Indian style of painting prevailed in the region of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Malwa. One of the motivating forces for artistic activity in Western India in this period was Jainism, just as it was Buddhism in case of the Ajanta and the Pala arts.

Jainism was patronised by the Kings of the Chalukya Dynasty who ruled Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan and Malwa from 961 A.D. to the end of the 13th Century. An enormous number of Jain religious manuscripts were commissioned from 12th to 16th Centuries by the princes, ministers and rich Jain merchants, who wished to earn religious merit. Many such manuscripts are available in Jain libraries (bhandaras), which are found at many places in Western India.

The illustrations on these manuscripts are in a style of vigorous distortion. One finds in this style an exaggeration of certain physical traits, e.g., eyes, breasts and hips are enlarged. Figures are flat with an angularity of features, and the further eye protruding into space. This is an art of primitive vitality, vigorous line and forceful colours.

From about 1100 to 1400 A.D., palm leaves was used for the manuscripts, and later on paper was introduced for the purpose. The Kalpasutra and the Kalakacharya-Katha, two very popular Jain texts, were repeatedly written and illustrated with paintings. Some notable examples are the manuscripts of the Kalpasutra in the Devasano pado Bhandar at Ahmedabad, and the Kalpasutra and Kalakacharya-Katha of about 1400 A.D. in the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay, the Kalpasutra dated 1439 A.D. executed in Mandu, now in the National Museum, New Delhi and the Kalpasutra written and painted in Jaunpur in 1465 A.D.

The Battle between Bahubali (Balarama) and Bharat
Painted wooden book cover (Patli)
Jain School, Western India, 12th c.
[ Click for large version ]

Although our references above to Jain paintings refer to the 12th to 16th Centuries, Jainism pre-dates this period by a great many years. And when considering the later artistic influences above, it's important to also trace the genesis of Jain styles and imagery to its Vaisnava precursor. This relationship was discussed in some detail in a 2009 Sampradaya Sun series, "Worship of Lord Brahma, Part 19":

"In order to understand the significance of Brahma worship in the Jain sect, we should first consider the relationship of Jainism to Vaisnavism. Like Buddhism, Jainism is considered to be a 'reform movement', having separated from the main body of Hindu religious tenets to become an independent religion.

The word 'Jain' means 'victor' or 'conqueror', referring to one's final victory over bondage to material life. The fundamental tenet of Jainism is non-violence. The Jain's philosophical evolution away from the worship of Lord Krsna as the Supreme Creator is said to have been the result of their desire to distance themselves from the contaminated priestly order of Brahmanism that reigned at the time, and which offered a particular representation of the Vedas and Upanishads. In this regard, the break-away of the Jains is somewhat like the genesis of Buddhism.

While the sect was founded much earlier, Jainism became prominent during the time of Mahavira, who was born into a Hindu family around 599 BC in the town of Vyshali, in present day Bihar, North India. Mahavira has been deified by the Jains, and their sastra declares him to be the last of 24 tirthankaras, or perfect souls.

Because of their focus on non-violence, the Jains distanced themselves from Sri Krsna and His non-pacifist pastimes. Instead, they took up the concept of Baladeva, Vasudeva and Prati-Vasudeva to solve their philosophical dilemma.

The Jain list of sixty-three Shalakapurshas or notable figures, includes amongst others the twenty-four Tirthankaras and nine sets of the Baladeva/Vasudeva/Prati-Vasudeva triad. Krishna is accepted as Vasudeva, Balarama as the Baladeva, and Jarasandha as the Prati-Vasudeva. The Jain sastra explaining their conclusions in this regard include the Harivamsha of Jinasena (not be confused with the addendum to the Mahabharata) and the Trishashti-shalakapurusha-charita of Hemachandra.

In each age of the Jain cycles of time, Vasudeva appears along with His elder brother, Baladeva. Prati-vasudeva fills the role of the demon, while Baladeva upholds the Jain principles of non-violence. Vasudeva, however, must forsake this principle and kill the Prati-Vasudeva, to save the world. Vasudeva is then believed to descend to hell, as punishment for this violent act. Once his penances are paid, he is reborn as a Tirthankara.

Aside from this unique permutation of philosophy, the Jains generally accept many of the fundamental tenets of Vaisnavism, and images of the Trimurti are often found in their temples, in various forms, including the Caturmukhya Brahma..."

Jaur Gita-Govinda illustration study
Gujarat, 1593 A.D.

The style of the above Jain paintings will also be familiar to Sun readers who followed the Feature series on the Jaur Gita-Govinda, a Gujarati manuscript produced in the 16th Century, (dated 1650 Samvat / 1593 A.D.) Jaur Gita-Govinda was written in Devanagari script, and comprises 30 illustrated folios of Radha and Krsna's lila pastimes. The style is unmistakable similar to the 12th Century Jain paintings above, which further demonstrates how the Vaisnava mood progressed through the Western Indian School of art.


Sources: Excerpted and paraphrased from:
Ministry of Culture, Government of India
"Worship of Lord Brahma, Part 19", Sampradaya Sun


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