In Jaina pantheon, the twenty-four Tirthankaras of the present aeon, commencing from Adinatha to Mahavira, form the pivotal object of veneration. Although all the twentyfour occupy equal position in the pantheon, some of them like Adinatha, Parsvanatha, Mahavira and Neminatha have been popularly worshipped by lay devotees. As a result, their images occur more frequently than others in almost all the parts of peninsular India.
In iconographic parlance, all the Tirthankaras except Parsvanatha and Suparsvanatha are represented more or less identical, either seated in ardhaparyankasana or standing in kayotsarga pose. Distinctive personal attributes (weapons, ornaments etc.), as in the case of the Hindu deities, have not been endowed to the Tirthankaras.
However, they are attributed with a cognizance each inorder to facilitate their identity. Besides, each Tirthankara is attended by a pair of yaksha and yakshi, whose presence at the foot level also reveals the identity of their Masters. The practice of carving emblems or attendant deities on the pedestal of the Tirthankara images is a common feature almost through out India.
But in Tamilnadu, such a practice had not been adopted till about the 18th century A.D., in consequence of which the possibility of identifying earlier images remain uncertain. An78attempt has been made, therefore, in this paper to identify some of the Jaina rock-cut images belonging to the 7th-10th centuries with the help of literature, epigraphical records, local traditions and art conventions.
Several Jaina caves in Tamilnadu are embellished with beautiful iconic depictions of a single Tirthankara, but most of their identity remains unsettled. Among them, those figures found in places like Panchapandavamalai, Valutalangunam and Arittapatti can be identified with Adinatha on the basis of epigraphical corroboration.
The Panchapandavamalai cave temple, near Arcot town, contains a diminutive carving of a seated Tirthankara, surmounted by a triple umbrella and flanked by chauris. This 8th century icon is referred to in a lithic record as “Tiruppanmalai Deveri.e. the lord of the milky white mountain.
In conformity with thepuranic tradition of Adinatha attaining nirvana on the snow-clad Kailasa mountain, here, his image is elegantly styled as “Tirppanmalai Dever”, and thereby its identity is made clear.
The excellent portrayal of a seated Tirthankara adorning the overhanging rock of the Valutalangunam cave, 14 km. north¬east of Tiruvannamalai, was known as “Marntupirasuraidever.2 Although this epigraphical name is incongruous, it appears to mean the Deva born of Marudevi which denotes Adinatha.
Arittapatti near Madurai has a fine carving of a Tirthankara seated on a double-lotus pedestal, flanked by two lamps and canopied by a trichatra. This exquisite early Pandya specimen of the 9th century A.D. was commissioned by the revered monk Ajjanandi who was the foremost Jaina revivalist in the Pandya country.
The clue for its identification lies in the name of the hillock, “Tiruppunaiyanmalai”3 which means the hillock of that Tirthankara who served as a saviour or as a life-buoy in order to 79 protect human beings when the bhoga-bhumi lost all its charm and wealth. Obviously, Adinatha is indirectly alluded to in this epithet “Tiruppunaiyan
It may be added in this context that similar single sculptures commissioned by Ajjanandi, found at Alagarmalai, Kongarpuliyankulam and Karungalakkudi – all within a radius of 20 km. from Madurai may also represent Adinatha. Their identity with Adinatha is not improbable even though confirmatory evidence is conspicuously absent.
It was an art convention to depict the first and last Tirthankaras together instead of all the twenty-four in a single composition. Non-availability of space to carve the entire group at one place could have initially prompted craftsmen to represent only Adinatha and Mahavira together and finally it became an accepted norm symbolizing the Chaturvimsatimurtis.
Examples of these two Tirthankaras shown together are reported from the caves at Karuppankunru, Eruvadi, Aluruttimalai, Muttuppatti, Uttamapalayam and Vallimalai. Among them, those sculptures from Eruvadi, Muttuppatti and Vallimalai deserve special mention.
On the eastern face of the twin hillock (Irattai porrai) at Eruvadi in Tirunelveli district, more or less identical reliefs of Adinatha and Mahavira, each crowned by a trichatra, find place. The renowned monk Ajjanandi4 commissioned these two images in the 9th century A.D.
His choice of the twin hillock to sculpt the figures of the “Twin” Tirthankaras is praise worthy, and it was apparently more prompted by intent and less by chance. Perhaps, Ajjanandi visualized the two hillocks as symbolic forms of Adinatha and Mahavira.
The specimens from Muttupatti near Madurai are remarkable for their elegance and refinement. Adinatha is accommodated within a curvilinear – topped niche, while Mahavira in a rectangular80one. Moreover, the image of Mahavira is stouter and sturdier than Adinatha. His shoulders possesses a horizontal contour while that of Adinatha is sloping.
This difference, either in the shape of niche or in the stature of the body, is also clearly discernible in the images of Mahavira from Melapparaipatti, Uttamapalayam, Emvadi, Kilavalavu and Vallimalai. The Western Ganga sculptures representing Adinatha and Mahavira at Vallimalai in Vellore district are shown seated without the halo behind the head and the triple umbrella above.
They are flanked by Sarvahna Yaksha and Ambika Yakshi, which is a common feature in Western Ganga art. Here again, Mahavira’s sturdy physique and horizontality of shoulders differentiate him from Adinatha.
In the case of triple sculptures of Tirthankaras seated alike, as at Sittannavasal, Chettipodavu and Kalugumalai, Mahavira occupies the last place. Besides his physical features are sturdier than the first and second images.
Stranglely enough, the sculptured group at Kalugumalai in Tuticorin district has Adinatha, Neminatha and Mahavira accommodated in separate niches and the first two images contain depictions of a dharmachakra and a flaming conch respectively on their pedestals, revealing their identity.
Perhaps the sculptor did not intend to show the lion emblem on the pedestal of Mahavira whose identity could be easily understood from his physical features and the last place assigned to him in a group of three sculptures. The presence of lanchanas on the Pedestals of the above images is believed to be due to the impact of the Western Ganga art idiom in the Pandya country.5
The boulder accommodated in the shrine of Malainatha temple at Chittamur, 16 km., northwest of Tindivanam, has a row of sculptures representing Bahubali, Parsvanatha, Adinatha, Mahavira and Ambika Yakshi.
Although Mahavira is portrayed in the fourth place, the convention of depicting him next to Adinatha is followed here. Besides, his anatomical features differ from that of Adinatha.
Apart from the above sculptures of Mahavira along with others, individual representations of the same Tirthankara are also metwith in the caves at Chettipodavu, Kalugumalai,81Tirunatharkunru, Tirumalai etc. In these icons, Mahavira is shown seated in ardhaparyankasana with a well-built body and broad shoulders.
The bold conception of the physique and horizontality of shoulders are true reflections of Virasamy’s (Mahavira) great strength. These features are fully manifested in the hefty sculpture at Chettipodavu near Madurai. In fact, it is because of the presence of this bold image of Mahavira who, according to local belief, resembles a ‘Chetti ’ or a stout-wealthy merchant, the cave is called Chetti-Podavu.
It may not be out of context to state that the single rock-cut images of Mahavira at Chettipodavu, Kalugumalai, Anaimalai and Vallimalai are carved facing the southern direction. Whether these sculptures were intentionally commissioned facing south or merely a coincidence cannot be ascertained precisely.
Some scholars have tried to identify certain images with that of Mahavira on the basis of the three front – facing lions carved on the pedestal, mistaking them for his cognizance.6 These lion figures are suggestive of the simhasana and not of the lanchana of Mahavira.
In fact, these motifs occur on the pedestals of the other Tirthankaras (well identified) also, hence, the presence of lions is not a criterion to identify the sculptures of Mahavira.
Neminatha, the twenty second Tirthankara, is popularly known as Sikhamaninatha in Tamilnadu. Here, the convention of carving his image between the sculptures of Adinatha and Mahavira has been adopted in places like Sittannavasal, Kalugumalai, Uttamapalayam, Chettipodavu, Kuppalanattam, etc., where they are shown in a group of three Tirthankaras.
At Kalugumalai, the central figure has a depiction of the conch emblem on its pedestal, the presence of which proves the identity of Neminatha. At Uttamapalayam and Anaimalai, the niche containing his image is fashioned like the whorl of a conch, which feature also adds credence to his identification.
Sometimes, the presence of Ambika Yakshi to the right side of a Jina image is also taken to be an indication of his identity with Neminatha, as at Anantamanglam.7. But this cannot be strictly considered as a rule for his identification.
Tirumalai has a unique 16 feet high82colossal image of Sikhamaninatha carved on the vertical surface of a huge rock. The very idea of sculpting this imposing figure in the 11th century A.D. is believed to have been inspired by the Bahubali colossus of Sravanabelgola.8
Parsvanatha is the most popularly worshipped Tirthankara, who figures prominently in the sculptural art of Tamilnadu. As his image is iconographically different from the stereotype form of the other Tirthankaras, it captivated the imagination of the artists more than others.
As a result, almost all the cave temples in Tamilnadu possess atleast one image representing him. In places like Kalugumalai, Uttamapalayam, Pechipallam, Kilavalavu, Ananthamangalam and Vallimalai, recurrent versions of Parsvanatha are commissioned, revealing the popularity of his worship.
Parsvanatha’s identity can be easily resolved by the presence of a five hooded serpent canopy above his head. Besides, the serpent’s body is shown descending down in a zigzag manner behind the Jina.
However, a solitary specimen from Uttamapalayam contains a seven-hooded serpent above his head, similar to the sculptures from Karnataka. In rock cut panels, due to the availability of sufficient space, Parsvanatha is accompanied by Padmavathi to his left and Dharanendra or the kneeling Kamata to his right side. The boulder – wielding Kamata is also shown at the top corner.
The kneeling figure to the right side of Parsvanatha is mistakenly identified by scholars with that of Dharanendra. But it actually represents Kamata repenting for his sin of causing disturbance to the penance of Parsva.9.
Although the practice of sculpting Dharanendra with folded arms on the right side of Parsva is common in other parts of India, he is replaced by kneeling – Kamata in Tamilnadu. However, it is only at Karuppankunru near Madurantakam, Dharnendra, having a serpent hood on his crown, is seen with his arm held in anjali. Here, the serpent canopy reveals Dharanendra’s identity.
Suparsvanatha, the seventh Tirthankara, also resembles Parsvanatha in form, but his image in Tamilnadu is shown canopied by only a three-hooded serpent above the head. Suparsva is hardly83represented in the rock-art of Tamilnadu.
Only very few modern bronzes representing Suparsva are reported from the Jaina temples under worship in and around Vandavasi, Ginjee and Tindivanam. Apart from the above identifiable images of the Tirthankaras, several sculptures of the Jiñas, either shown seated or standing are also found in many cave temples. But they cannot be definitely identified for want of any supportive evidence.
Among the twenty-four yakshas, only Sarvahna and Dharanendra appear in the rock art of Tamilnadu. Similarly, only Ambika and Padmavati, among the Yakshis, figure in the cave temples.
The earliest example of Dhamendra, dated to the 8th century A.D., is seen in the Chokkampatti unfinished rock cut temple in Tirunelveli district. Here, he is portrayed like a dvarapalaka, with the right arm raised above (for holding a flower bud or to express tarjanimudra) and the left placed on a mace.
A three-headed serpent adorns his crown. This image differs very much from the later standardized figures of Dhamendra, hence, differently identified as a Naga king or simply a king by scholars.
10 Other sculptures of Dharanendra are represented in rock art as a five-hooded serpent sheltering the head of Parsvanatha. Sometimes, he appears in therio-anthropomorphic form, holding chamras in his arms, above the head of Parsva. Such specimens are reported from Kalugumalai, Anaimalai and Pechchipallam.
At Karuppankunru only, he is shown canopied by a five-hooded serpent and in complete human form, with his arms held in anjali to the right side of Parsvanatha.
Sarvahna is rarely represented in the early art of Tamilnadu. It is only at Kalugumalai and Vallimalai his images are seen accompanying the Tirthankara. In the former place, he is depicted as a stumpy figure on the pedestal of Adinatha, while in the latter he is shown seated on the mastaka of his elephant mount to the right side of Adinatha and Mahavira group of sculptures.
This 9th century Western Ganga specimen from Vallimalai has been84mistakenly identified by scholars with Matanga Yaksha due to the presence of the elephant vehicle.1′
Sarvahna and Ambika enjoy the unique position of accompanying all the Tirthankaras till about the 11th century A.D. through out India, and the same is followed at Vallimalai also. Apart from Dharanendra and Sarvahna other yakshas do not appear in the rock-art of Tamilnadu.
Among the yakshis, Ambika occupies the pivotal position and Padmavati comes next in the order of priority. The remaining yakshis do not appear in rock art at all. Jaina caves at Chitral, Kalugumalai, Anaimalai, Cholapandiapuram, Vallimalai, Tirumalai, Chittamur etc., have lovely images of the Ambika datable between 8th and 10th centuries.
She is generally shown seated or standing with her two children and lady attendant in diminutive form at her foot level. The lion vehicle is also carved by her side or on the pedestal. In some places as at Kalugumalai, Tirumalai, Anaimalai and Panchapandavamalai, her husband in the previous birth (Somasarman) is also portrayed admiring the golden form of the yakshi.
The excellent sculpture of the golden yakshi (Ponniyakki) at Panchapandavamalai near Arcot town was caused to be made by the monk Naganandi in the year 780 A.D.12 This image has been mistakenly identified by scholars with Siddhayika and Jvalamalini.13.
But the presence of her two children, a lady attendant and the lion vehicle at her foot level and her husband Somasarman on the right side proves beyond doubt her identity with Ambika Yakshi. Moreover, her name”Ponniyakki ” mentioned in the 8th century lithic record refers to Ambika only as evidenced by literature as well as local tradition.14
A rare form of a yakshi, shown as a warrior goddess riding on a lion and fighting with a person on elephant’s back is metwith in the Chettipodavu cave near Madurai. This 9th century low relief is also mistakenly identified with Siddhayika by some scholars.15
Actually, it stands for Ambika yakshi as Simhavahini, holding a bow and an arrow in her arms and getting ready to fight with a wicked person mounted on an elephant. The same episode85is preserved in a Jain literature, Tottiratirattu, of the late medieval tiems.16 Very likely, it was based on some local tradition, the sculpture had been carved unusually so as to gain popular appeal.
Padmavati yakshi is accorded a lesser position than Ambika, even though her iconic form was introduced in art a little earlier than the latter. Generally, she is represented as an accompanying figure of Parsvanatha and sometimes as an independent cult deity also.
Independent images of the goddess are sculpted in a few places like Chokkampatti, Vallimalai and Kalugumalai. The unfinished 8th century rock-cut specimen at Chokkampatti depict her like a dvarapalika with her right arm raised in anjali and left hanging down.
The projected part above her crown was intended for a snake-hood. This image had been variously identified by earlier writers as a queen or a lady-donor.17 But her identity with Padmavati is certain as the other side of the entrance contains an image of Dharanendra, her husband, who is also depicted like a dvarapalaka. The 9th century Vallimalai sculpture of the yakshi, seated in sukhasana, possessing ankusa, pasa, lotus and a fruit in her four arms and adorned with a serpent canopy above her crown, is also wrongly identified by scholars like C.Sivaramurthi and I.K.Sharma with Srutadevi.18
The iconic features and attributes of this goddess are in conformity with the textual description of Padmavati only. At Kalugumalai, she is elegantly portrayed than the above specimen and endowed with four arms, carrying an ankusa, pasa, lotus and fruit. Her head is decorated with a five-hooded serpent canopy, arranged conically to accommodate her tall crown.
Besides, she is flanked by two lady chamradaris having a single serpent hood on their crowns. In the case of Padmavati as an accompanying figure of Parsvanatha, she is generally shown holding a long-handled umbrella extending over the head of the Jina.
In some panels, she simply stands to the left side of Parsva with her right arm raised in anjali while the left hangs down. Yakshis other than Ambika and Padmavati do no appear in the rock-art of Tamilnadu between the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. 86
Published in SVASTI (essays in honour of Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah), ed. Nalini Balbir, Bengaluru, 2010.
1. Epigraphia Indica, Vol. IV. p .140.
2. Reading of the inscription given by Pulavar S.Kuppuswamy of Bahur, Pondicherry.
3. M.Chandra Murthi, “Ancient Vestiges of Kalinjamalai”, (in Tamil), Mukkudai, July 1975, pp. 13-14.
4. South Indian Inscriptions, Vol. 14, No.41.
5. A.Ekambaranathan, Kalugumalai and Jainism (in Tamil), p.36.
6. H.Sakar in Jaina Art and Architecture, Vol. II, pp.23-232.
7. P.B.Desai, Jainism in South India and some Jaina Epigraphs, p.37.
8. A.Ekambaranathan, Tirumalai and its Jaina temples
(in Tamil), p.48.
9. A.Ekambaranathan, Jaina Iconography in Tamilnadu, p.107.
10. C.Sivaramamurthi, Kalugumalai and Early Pandyan Rock-cut Shrines, p.40, K.V.Soundarajan, Glimpses of Indian Culutre – Architecture, Art and Religion, p.95.
ll.I.K.Sharma, Temples of the Western Gangas of Karnataka, p.191.
12. Epigraphia Indica, Vol.IV, pp.136-137.
13. P.B.Desai, op.cit., p.40, R.Champakalakshmi, Jainism in South India (unpublished M.Litt thesis), Madras
University, 1957, p. 121.
14. Appandainathar Ula, line 78.
15. P.B.Desai, op.cit., p.59. R.Chamapakalakshmi, op.cit., 1957, p.121.
16. Thotira Tirattu, 15:9.
17. C. Sivaramamurthi, op.cit., p.40.
18. C. Sivaramamurthi, Panorama of Jain art — South India, p.57, I.K.Sharma, op.cit., p.188.