The authors argue that the Jaina arts are simple because they are influenced by the tenets of Jainism
Among the ancient creeds of India, Jainism occupies an exalted position by virtue of its simple tenets of non-violence, renunciation, austerity, and non-acquisition. The faith and its rigorous practices were propagated among and followed by the masses for over two millenniums. Like the Brahmanical and Buddhist creeds, Jainism was also known for the spread of its culture and ancient monumental architecture in the entire subcontinent.
The Brahmanical and Buddhist arts flourished in a multi-dimensional pattern with a high level of aesthetics patronised by kings, merchants, connoisseurs, and so on. In addition, artists themselves played an important role in fashioning their evolution. So much so, the greatness of ancient Indian art, which is rarely secular, is always seen and appreciated through the remains of the Brahmanical and Buddhist arts.
Comparatively speaking, the Buddhist art under the somewhat rigid Hinayanic influence was very lively, animated, and full of activity. As for the Jain art, the general perception is that the rigidity associated with the tenets and practices of Jainism resulted in monotonous and sedate art creations. Is it correct? The authors try to find an answer. Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari has done extensive research in the field, and his vast experience and erudition stand out in this work.
Jaina art centres
Starting with an introduction to Indian culture and art of all sects under different phases, the volume gives a list of significant Jaina art centres and a few references to the arts, including performing arts, in the Jaina texts.
The next few chapters are fully devoted to the iconography of the Jain pantheon — the tirthankaras (the main divinities of Jainism), Yakshas, and Yakshis (shasanadevatas or the subsidiary deities) Mahavidyas (a group of Tantric deities), besides other deities, including Bahubali of Jainism. These chapters are a treasure-house of information useful to the students of Jainism.
The authors briefly dwell on the painting of Jaina affinity, like the painted manuscripts and the famous murals of Ellora, Sittannavasal, and Tiruparuttikunram (Tamil Nadu), which is now, unfortunately, over-painted.
The aesthetics of the Jaina art are critically analysed in other chapters. The authors accept the fact that the artists employed by all the creeds were the same. Therefore, there are bound to be common features in modelling the images.
The Jaina images portray the fundamental tenets of the creed — absolute renunciation, non-violence, and austerity. They argue that the forms of kayotsarga (the erect posture) is the “embodiment of immovable strength and indestructible spiritual power” and the Jaina art “not only reflects the fine taste for beauty but also heighten the spirit in man.” An attempt is also made to coordinate the Jaina texts with the delineated art forms in the temples.
Nevertheless, the discussion especially insofar as it relates to sculptures is hardly convincing about their aesthetic expression. The epilogue speaks about the relationship between the man and aesthetics, and the Jaina concept of aesthetics, besides other aspects. The authors argue that the Jaina arts are simple because they are influenced by the tenets of Jainism. Being simple could also be very aesthetic. They emphasise the role of the viewer in appreciating the work of such art.
What is significant about this book is that it has brought the aesthetics aspect into discussion, while researching Jaina art, which has tended to be approached only from the viewpoint of iconography.
Artists, who excelled in displaying aesthetics while creating works of art on Brahmanical and Buddhist themes, felt constrained when it came to Jainism because of the very nature of its tenets.
Profusely illustrated, both in colour and black-and-white, the publication is marked by erudition on Jaina art. Perhaps its only short-falls are the lack of proper diacritical marks and the inaccuracies in regard to the south Indian Jaina centres of art.