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Volume 36 Number 3, June 1983

Volume 36 Number 3

The Iconic and the Narrative in Jain Painting


Manuscript Tradition

Miniature Painting
    Early Articulations: 1050–1350 AD
    Regional Interpretations: 1350–1550 AD


Bombay’s Loss to Posterity
Foy Nissen

Book Reviews 

The Iconic and the Narrative in Jain Painting: Introduction
Doshi, Saryu
Vol. 36 No. 3, June 1983, pp. 22-24

Jainism is one of the more ancient religions of India. This system of religious, philosophical, and ethical teachings derives its name from the Sanskrit name jina which signifies conqueror. Jainism was expounded by Mahavira more than 2500 years ago. Mahavira was born in 599 BCE in the region of Magadha and was a slightly older contemporary of the Buddha. The similarities between the two religions have led to much confusion, but by the late 19th century, Jainism was no longer regarded as an offshoot of Buddhism but as a religion in its own right. The Jains maintain that their religion is timeless and has been revealed again and again by countless teachers known as Tirthankaras - those who show the way to salvation. Although several schisms took place in the Jain community, the major and lasting of them has been the one that split it into Digambara and Shvetambara traditions.

Manuscript Tradition
Doshi, Saryu
Vol. 36 No. 3, June 1983, pp. 25-30 [Also in Masterpieces of Jain Painting edited by Saryu Doshi; Vol. 36 No. 3, March 1985; pp. 25-30]

For more than 3000 years, the Vedic tradition has been preserved orally and although the Indian Oral Tradition began, in a formal sense with Vedic lore, it was not restricted to it. In the 6th century BCE, the scope of the oral tradition expanded to include the theological doctrines and the canonical literature of Jainism and Buddhism. References to writing begin to appear in the early layers of the Pali Buddhist canon of c. 5th century BCE. In the centuries immediately preceding the Common Era, both the desire and the need to relegate holy teachings to writing began to manifest itself. This transformation emerged from the ambiguity that began to arise from conflicting interpretations of religious doctrines. The pious act of commissioning manuscripts of religious texts became frequent among the Jains. The tradition of temple libraries was common to both sects of the Jains - the Digambaras and the Shvetambaras. The illustrated manuscript traditions of both sects have contributed valuable evidence towards determining the historical unfolding of Jain painting.

Miniature Painting
Doshi, Saryu
Vol. 36 No. 3, June 1983, pp. 31-52 [Also in Masterpieces of Jain Painting edited by Saryu Doshi; Vol. 36 No. 3, March 1985; pp. 31-82. Extended version of article in the book]

The beginnings of Jain miniature painting survive in the form of illustrated palm-leaf manuscripts and wooden book-covers belonging to the 11th and 12th centuries. The palm-leaf manuscripts were written either in ink with a reed pen, or incised with a stylus and smeared with powdered ink. Of the manuscripts executed in this phase, just a handful are illustrated. They are copies of canonical texts and contain only a few miniatures. In contrast to the palm-leaf manuscripts are the wooden book-covers of this period called patlis. They exhibit a remarkable freedom in their style as well as content. The miniatures in these early palm-leaf manuscripts and wooden patlis are executed in the Western Indian Style of painting, and most of the early documents belong to the region of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Towards the end of the 13th century, a new development occurred - the narrative content of the text began to receive attention.

Doshi, Saryu
Vol. 36 No. 3, June 1983, pp. 53-90 [Also in Masterpieces of Jain Painting edited by Saryu Doshi; Vol. 36 No. 3, March 1985; pp. 83-146. Extended version of article in the book]

Jain literature possesses a quality of its own. Encompassing a vast body of collective works, the Jain canon illuminates the inner thoughts and ideals of an exceptional group of minds from a distant epoch. At the core of the ancient texts rest the first stirrings of metaphysical speculation. The sacred books are didactic in tone and the earliest among them strikes as a mosaic of "truths", pieced together from heterogeneous elements. Although the foundations of Jain literature were established by learned monks and sages, the edifice, once erected, was enlarged and embellished by the various contributions of poets. The canon covers a broad spectrum of literary activity that spans over 2000 years. A large body of non-canonical literature comprising epics, poetry, legends, stories, and fables served to elaborate and elucidate the canonical texts.

Note: Bombay's Loss to Posterity
Nissen, Foy
Vol. 36 No. 3, June 1983, pp. 91-93

When a city landmark, such as some singularly visible structure disappears, the unfamiliar gap is immediately perceived. When a culturally significant interior feature is destroyed there is no telltale exterior sign. An instance of vanished evidence came about with the demolition in 1976 of the Shri Godi Parshvanath Shvetambar Jain Derasar at Pydhonie in Bombay. The enormity lay not so much in the disappearance of the exterior form of the building as in the destruction of its inner fabric, which consisted of high-quality late 18th and early 19th century murals. The interior decoration constituted a priceless heritage now lost to the city.

Vol. 36 No. 3, June 1983, pp. 94-98

Thracian Treasures from Bulgaria reviewed by Sadashiv Gorakshkar;  Cire Perdue: Casting in India by M. V. Krishnan reviewed by R. Nagaswamy; Jain Temples of Western India by Harihar Singh reviewed by George Michell;  Forest Monks of Sri Lanka by Michael Carrithers, reviewed by Robert E. Buswell Jr.

Vol. 36 No. 3, June 1983, p. 99