Jaina contribution to art and architecture has created a special niche for them in the long history over a period of two thousand years in the southern part of peninsular India. The rich art heritage of the Digambara Jainas in Tamilnadu is manifested in their rock-cut monuments and structural sanctuaries still under worship.
They contain splendid iconic forms of the Tirthankaras and their attendant deities. These sculptural depictions throw a flood of light on the chequered history of Jaina religion, illustrate the excellent artistic achievements of the past and reflect the lofty ideals and subtle philosophy of the Tirthankaras.
Moreover, the changes brought about in the sphere of religion, mode of worship, rituals etc., can also be understood from these specimens of art.
Although the architectural monuments of the Jainas form the subject of research for many scholars, the potentiality of their sculptural wealth has not been taken up for intensive study.
Earlier published works on Jaina art in Tamilnadu contain brief descriptions of only the outstanding specimens, although their instances are too many. Hence, a systematic survey and a multi-dimensional approach to the study of the Digambara sculptures in Tamilnadu would be a desideratum.
The earliest extant religious monuments of Tamilnadu are the natural caves which once served as abodes of Jaina mendicants. More than one hundred such abodes of the wind-clad ascetics59 have been brought to light so far and they are found in Tirunelveli, Ramnad, Madurai, Pudukkottai, Trichy, Vilupuram, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai and Erode districts.
These caves were made suitable for habitation of monks by cutting stone beds inside them. Sometimes, on the over-hanging boulder of the caves, a drip-ledge was cut to prevent rainwater flowing into the cave shelters. Epigraphical records in brahmi characters of the 2rd century B.C. to 4th century A.D., mentioning the names of resident monks or of the donors of stone beds, are incised on many of them.
1 Curiously enough, these early abodes of the Jaina monks are devoid of any sculptural embellishment.
Jainism in its early phase was very simple and puritanic and monks of the Jaina order paid little importance to image worship.
Besides, the traditional aversion of the early Tamils towards the use of granite or any hard stone for making religious images also stood a stumbling block to the progress of sculptural art.
2 However, this trend did not continue for long and, in course of time, changes had been accepted in all religious systems as a result of which iconism and ritualistic worship formed an integral part of the religious life of people. Various factors contributed to such changes in the sphere of religion in medieval times.
In the religious history of Tamilnadu, the 7th century A.D. marks the rapid growth of brahmanical religion on the one side and the decline ofBauddha and Jaina religions on the other. The bhakti movement spear-headed by the Saiva Nayanmars and Vaishnava Alvars, coupled with the brahmanical temple-building activities of the Pallavas and early Pandyas gave a fillip to the growth of Saivism and Vaisnavism.
In their attempts at popularizing brahmanical religion, the bhakti saints undertook extensive pilgrimage to almost all the temples, sang in praise of the principal deities with soul-stirring hymns, performed miracles, aroused the religious feelings of the common man and admitted all sections of society into their fold. At the same time, they also condemned 60 vehemently the customs and practices of the Jainas as well as Buddhists.
The Saiva and Vaishnava temples of the Pallavas and Pandyas (7th- 9th century A.D.) became pivotal centers containing elegant sculptural forms of gods and goddesses. Ritualistic worship of these deities in temples formed an integral part of brahmanical religion. All these temple-oriented activities fulfilled the aspiration of the common man and attracted more people into the fold of Brahmanism.
Besides, the numerous land grants and other donations made to these temples provided economic strength and man-power. Thus, the concerted efforts of bhakti-saints and royal support to Brahmanism affected the growth of Jainism in the 7th century A.D. However, soon it recovered from adversities and came to possess a fresh lease of life by adjusting itself to the circumstances and accommodating some elements from Brahmanism.3
In the process of assimilation, Jainism admitted ritualistic and anthropomorphic worship of Tirthankaras and their attendant deities. Sometimes, prominence was given to the worship of yakshis like Ambika and Padmavati.
The early Jaina caves which lost their prominence in the wake of bhakti movement began to throb with religious activities in the 8* – 9th centuries and came to possess excellent images of Tirthankaras and yakshis, to which regular ritualistic worship had been performed.
Lay devotees began to make endowments in the form of land, gold, sheep etc., for the conduct of daily pujas to these icons and for the upkeep of the monastic establishments. The early abodes of Jaina mendicants in course of time, thus, metamorphosised into temples.
Simultaneously, building of temples in urban and semi- urban centers was on the increase in the Pallava and Pandya domains.
Jaina cave temples at Anaimalai, Arittapatti, Aivarmalai, Uttamapalayam, Kuppalanattam, Kalugumalai, Chitara! etc. in the Pandya region and Anantamangalam, Atchipakkam, Tirumalai, Tondur, Tirunatharkunru, Tirunarungondai, Cholapandipuram, Vallimalai, Valutalangunam etc.,
in Tondaimandalam were61embellished with exquisite sculptures of Tirthankaras and, at times, with yakshis. Structural temples at places like Tirupparuttikunram, Perumandur, Karan tai, Agalur and Kilsattamangalam are also best examples bearing testimony to this new development.
In Tondaimandalam (northern Tamilnadu), Jaina caves at Karuppankunru, Panchapandavamalai and Tirakkol attained importance in the 8th century A.D. At Karuppankunru, 24 km. north-east of Madurantakam, relief sculptures of Adinatha and Mahavira are carved on a boulder leading to the cave atop the hillock.
A little away from these images, a beautiful sculpture of Parsvanatha flanked by Dharanendra and Padmavati yakshi was commissioned within a shrine-model at the instance of Vasudeva Siddhanta Bhattaraka in the 8th century A.D.4
An excellent portrayal of Ambika yakshi and an image of Naganandiacharya are accommodated in the cave at Panchapandavamalai near Arcot town. The goddess is shown seated in ardha utkutikasana with her left arm holding a lily flower and the right resting on the seat. Miniature figures of her sons and husband are also seen in the panel.
Naganandi, a monk who probably popularized the worship of Ambika, stands in kayotsarga a little away from the yakshi. All these images were caused to be made by one Naranan of Pugalalaimangalam in 781 A.D.5
Tirakkol near Vandavasi has a huge boulder containing beautifully carved images of Adinatha, Chandranatha, Parsvanatha and Mahavira on its four sides. Except Parsvanatha, others are shown seated in dhyana posture.
Parsvanatha, occupying the western side, stands in kayotsarga pose, canopied by a five-hooded serpent above his head. Kamata kneels down in supplication on the right side, while Padmavati holds a long-handled umbrella above the head of Parsva, from the left side. All these bold reliefs exhibit the 9th century style of art.62
Ananthamangalam, 14 km. north-west of Tindivanam, has two groups of sculptures carved on the fagade of a cave and on an adjacent boulder. The first group represents Ambika majestically standing along with a row of three Tirthankaras.
The next group has Parsvadeva flanked by Padmavati and Kamata in anjali pose. The cave together with these sculptures was known as Jinagiripalli ,6
An excellent portrayal of Parsvanath in the 9th century Chola style of art could be seen on the western face of a huge boulder atop the hillock at Atchippakkam, about 20 km. north-east of Tindivanam. The Tirthankara stands in an erect posture with a five hooded serpent canopy above his head. Padmavati holds a long-handled umbrella extending beyond the serpent hood.
At the right hand corner of the panel, Kamata is shown wielding a huge boulder in his four arms with the intension of hurling it on Parsva. As his attempts to disturb the penance of Parsvanatha caused no adverse effect, he bows down before the Jina. Strangely enough, a four armed celestial on a chariot is sculpted at the left hand corner as if witnessing the whole episode.
. Chittamur, situated between Tindivanam and Ginjee, the headquarters of the Digambara sect, is noted for its Malainatha and Parsvanatha temples. The former temple grew around a huge boulder containing an oblong panel with excellent images of Bahubali, Parsvanatha, Adinatha, Mahavira and Ambika yakshi.
Among them, the sculpture of Ambika is spectacular and unparalleled in the rock-art of Tamilnadu. Like a creeper entwining a tree, she stands elegantly in tribhanga pose with her right leg firmly placed on the back of the crouching lion and the left, bent at the knee, rests on the areca tree behind.
Her right arm possesses a lily flower whereas the left entwines the areca tree. Her smiling countenance, attenuated waist, globular shaped abdomen, suppleness of the limbs, etc., are illustrative of the immaculate workmanship of a divine artist. These sculptures were commissioned during the reign of Aditya Chola I (871 -901 A.D.).7
Tirunatharkunru, adjacent to Ginjee town, contains a huge boulder with an interesting series of twenty-four Tirthankaras, 63 arranged in two rows and accommodated within an oblong framework.
TheTirthankaras are sculpted alike in seated posture, surmounted by triple umbrellas, but without other accessory motifs. However, each image is flanked by a pair of flywhisks placed cross-wise, a feature not to be seen in other places.
Vallimalai, 32 km. north-west of Vellore, was a prominent Jaina centre, attracting monks and lay devotees from Karnataka since the 9th century A.D.
The hillock at this place contains sculptures of Jaina deities at different levels. A shallow cavern on the north-eastern side has three groups of sculptures exhibiting the Western Ganga style of art. The first group represents bold reliefs of Adinatha and Mahavira without the usual accessory motifs likeprabhavali, trichatra and creeper design.
However, a pair of miniature chauri-bearers could be seen at their shoulder level. Besides, Sarvahna yaksha and Ambika yakshi flank them at the foot-level. A little away from this composition is a bold relief of Padmavati yakshi, seated in sukhasana pose with four arms, carrying attributes such as ankusa, pasa, lotus and fruit.
A thinly carved single serpent hood forms the canopy above her crown. Its hefty body, heavy bosom, sturdy limbs and thick folds of abdomenal muscles are reminiscent of the Western Ganga style. The third group is a row of five monks and a Tirthankara with Kannada label inscriptions mentioning their names incised below the pedestals.8
The southern side of the hillock has a series of sculptures depicting Parsvanatha, Chandranatha, Ambika, Mahavira etc. Among them, the finest is the life-size image of Mahavira, seated majestically in meditative pose and surmounted by a triple umbrella set within a conically cut niche. Its massive body with a melting contour, snail-curls of hair, smiling countenance, half-closed contemplative eyes etc., are illustrative of the immaculate workmanship of a 9th century master craftsman.
The Andimalai hillock at Cholapandipuram has two huge boulders converging at the top, and thereby appears like a cavern. The inner side of the boulders contains bold reliefs of a seated Tirthankara, Parsvanatha and Bahubali facing each other. The
rear side of the cavern has a loose sculpture of Ambika yakshi, now worshipped as Kaliamman by the local Hindus. These 10th century sculptures were commissioned by one Velikongaraiyar Puttadigal and the local Chedi Chieftain Siddhavadavan donated the village Panaipadi for conducting worship to these deities.9
On the northern slope of the Tirumalai hillock near Polur is a group of four excellent depictions of Ambika, Bahubali, Adinatha and Parsvanatha exhibiting the 10th century style. Among them, the icons of Ambika and Bahubali are superb. The Yakshi stands majestically by the side of an areca tree with her sons and a lady attendant carrying a vessel on either side. Above the children is the carving of her husband Somasarman wondering the charming figure of the golden yakshi.
Bahubali pursues severe austerities standing in a rigid position and attended by his two sisters on either side. His massive body, broad shoulders and stout legs portraying masculine vigour are in contrast to the feminine charm exhibited by the slender form, descending breasts, wavy abdomenal muscles and attenuated hip of his sisters.
The Pandya region (Southern Tamilnadu) has more number of Jaina caverns than the Pallava territory. Apart from the early cave shelters around Madurai, several new ones as at Chitaral, Eruvadi and Kalugumalai emerged as important centers of sculptural art.
At Chitaral in Kanyakumari district, a cavern on its outer side contains two rows of figures, the upper consists of twelve miniature forms of Tirthankaras, while the lower one has four bold reliefs of Adinatha, Mahavira, Parsvanatha and Ambika interspersed by miniature Tirthankaras. These images were caused to be made at the instance of monks such as Ajjanandi, Uttanandi and Viranandi in 9lh century A.D.10 The interior of the cave was modified into niches accommodating fine sculptures of Ambika, Mahavira and Parsvanatha.
Eruvadi, 5 km. to the north-west of Valliyoor in Tirunelveli district, has an interesting sculptured group of Adinatha and Mahavira on the eastern face of a hillock known as Irattaiporrai 65 (twin hillock). The two Tirthankaras are shown seatd in ardhaparyankasana and each crowned by a triple umbrella. The physique of the latter is stouter than the former.
These two images, commissioned by the renowned monk Ajjanandi in the 9th century A.D., were taken care of by the members of the local assembly who agreed to make necessary arrangement for the conduct of their worship.11 It may be added in this context that depicting the first and last Tirthankara in a single composition became an art convention symbolizing the Chaturvimsatimurtis in sculptural art from the 8lh century A.D. onwards.
Kalugumalai in Tuticorin district was the most prolific Jaina centre in 9th and 10th centuries. The large space above the main cave in hillock was transformed into an array of more than one hundred and fifty images of Tirthankaras and attendant deities, varying in size and arranged in three tier.
The lower two rows are interspersed at intervals by big size images of Adinatha, Neminatha, Mahavira, Parsvanatha, Padmavati and Ambika, commissioned in separate niches. Among them, the figures of Parsva, Padmavati and Ambika deserve special mention.
Parsvanatha is magnificently shown in kayotsarga pose, flanked by kneeling Kamata and casually standing Padmavati yakshi. What is unique in this composition is that Dharanendra, instead of showing him in the form of a five-hooded serpent, is seen in therio-anthropomorphic form sheltering the head of Parsva and unusually holding two fly-whisks in his arms.
The sculpture of Padmavati is depicted in sukhasana pose with four arms, carrying a pasa, ankusa, fruit and pustaka. Her tall crown is adorned with a five-hooded serpent canopy, arranged beautifully in a conical fashion. Ambika yakshi stands elegantly having a tall and slender body. She is accompanied by one of her sons, lady attendant and the lion mount.
The presence of her husband in this composition is noteworthy in that his body is shown trembling at the very sight of the yakshi. The sculpture is carved in conformity with the tradition that when Ambika assumed the golden yakshi form, her husband could not withstand the glow of66her body and consequently fell down unconsciously and breathed his last to be reborn as her lion vehicle.
An unfinished rock-cut temple of the 8th century A.D. could be seen on the slopes of Chokkampatti hillock near Kadayanallur in Tirunelveli district.
The empty shrine is guarded by a pair of dvarapalakas carved more or less in an erect position. Niches on the front side of the temple have life-size, but partially finished images of Dharanendra yaksha and Padmavati yakshi.
He is depicted like a royal person wearing a crown adorned with a triple serpent hood. His right arm is raised in anjali, while the left rests on a mace. The portion below the hip remains unfinished. Although the image resembles a dvarapalaka, the presence of a three- hooded snake resolves its identity with Dharanendra.
The figure of Padmavati, leaning towards the front, stands gracefully with heavy bosom, raises her right arm in anjali and keeps the left in lolahasta, Its benign countenance, hefty body, bulbous breasts, thick folds of abdomenal muscles etc., add charm to the image.
Unfortunately, its lower portion remains incomplete. The stoppage of carving work in this temple, according to some scholars, seems to have been a sequel to the sectarian animosity between the brahmanical creeds and the Jainas in the 7th century A.D.12
The famous rock-cut temple at Sittannavasl, 16 km. from Pudukkottai contains in its shrine a row of three seated figures of Tirthankaras representing Adinatha, Neminatha and Mahavira. Except for the trichatra above their heads, no other decorative elements could be seen around them.
When the front mandapa of the temple was renovated in the 9th century A.D., its lateral walls were added with bold reliefs of Parsvanatha and an acharya facing each other.
Parsvanatha performs austerity in ardhaparyankasana, with a five hooded serpent canopy adorning his head, arranged in a conical fashion. The other image of the acharya, seated in yogic posture and crowned by a single umbrella above the head, seems to be the same as Ilangautaman acharya of Madurai who undertook the renovation work of the rock-cut temple in the 9th century A.D.13
67The ascetic abodes at Anaimalai, Aivarmalai, Algarmalai, Arittapatti, Kilakuyilkudi, Muttuppatti etc., around Madurai pulsated with religious activities in the 9th century A.D. As a result, they began to wear a new look with exquisite sculptures of Tirthankaras and, at times, yakshis. Uttamapalayam cave also got metamorphosised into a veritable gallery of sculptures with recurrent versions of Parsvanatha and others.
Anaimalai, about 14 km. from Madurai, attained its height of glory mainly in the 9th century A.D., when the earlier ascetic abode was embellished with a number of lovely Jaina sculptures. At that time, a series of bold reliefs representing Tirthankaras and Ambika were carved inside the cave in a row.
Among them, notable are the depiction of Parsvanatha and Neminatha. Parsva is seen standing in a rigid pose with the therio-anthropomorphic form of Dharanendra above his head as at Kalugumalai. The image of Neminatha, portrayed in ardhaparyankasana and surmounted by a triple umbrella, is set within a niche resembling the whorl of a conch.
Ambika with her sons, lady attendant and her husband Somasarman are sculpted to left side of Neminatha. Lithic records in the cave reveal that all these images were caused to be made at the instance of the monk Ajjanandi and lay devotees like Enadinadi, Saradan Araiyan and Evviyam Puthi and CheliyaPandi.14 The accountants of Prokodu village and some revenue officials of Venbaikudi agreed to protect these images.15
Kilakuyilkudi near Nagamalai contains two natural caves, one at the lower level and another at a higher level of a hillock. The lower cave, known as Chettipodavu, on its frontage accommodates a massive figure of Mahavira having broad shoulders, smiling countenance, flaming aureola around the head and flanked by chamradaris and vidhyadaras further above.
The bold conception of its physique and horizontality of its shoulders are true reflections of Mahavira’s great strength. The interior of the cave is sculpted with low reliefs of three seated. Tirthankaras flanked by two forms of Ambika, one seated and the other in a fighting pose.68
The latter is a vivid portrayal of the goddess riding a lion, holding a bow and arrow in her arms and fighting with an evil- person riding on an elephant. This is a unique specimen of Ambika yakshi in fighting attitude, probably carved in conformity with some local tradition.
The upper cave known as Pechchipallam also contains a number of Jaina sculptures, mostly representing Parsavanatha. Although all these images are depicted similarly in kayotsarga pose, some difference could be seen in the mode of representing the snakehood and the accompanying figures of Kamata and Padmavati.
The 9th century specimens of Adinatha and Mahavira carved side by side above the cave at Muthtuppatti near Kilakuyilkudi are remarkable for their elegance and refinement of art. The first image of Adinatha, accommodated in a curvilinear niche, was commissioned by the monk Kanagavira Periyadial, while that of Mahavira, within a rectangular niche, was caused to be made by Maganandi acharya.16
Uttamapalayam, about one hundred kilometer south-west of Madurai, is yet another 9th century prolific Jaina centre with a natural cave and a group of bold relief sculptures of Tirthankaras carved on the face of a huge boulder known as ‘karuppannasamy ’ rock.
The western end of the rock has two beautiful images of Adinatha and Mahavira, while the remaining part of the rock is studded with eight versions of Parsvanatha sheltered by a snake hood. Interestingly, the eighth specimen is provided with a seven- hooded serpent canopy, converging like an aureola around the head of Parsva.
These images were consecrated by great ascetics like Ajjanandi and Arishtanemi, besides some lay followers whose names are lost.17 Parsvanatha was the most favourite theme in the medieval rock-art of Tamilnadu.
Structural temples, built in different parts of Tamilnadu since medieval times, have either disappeared completely with the 69 passage of time or the surviving ones have lost their original architectural style consequent to extensive repairs and renovations.
However, historically important temples at places like Tirupparuttikunram, Tirunarungondai, Tirumalai, Chittamur, Karantai, Perumandur, Ponnur, Pundi etc. have some sculptures belonging to the Pallava, Chola, Pandya and Vijayanagara schools of art.
Some specimens, which escaped the wrath of human vandalism, are preserved in modem temples as at Venkunram, Thiyagadurgam, Chettipatti and Puduppedu. Besides, the Government Museums have also acquired quite a good number of stray images from various places. Select examples representing the different school of art are described hereunder.
An archaic image of Tirthankara (Mahavira) from Valuvur is now kept in the Jaina temple at Venkunram near Vandavasi. It is a low relief shown seated in dhyana posture, having a slender body, flexible arms, loosely arranged legs and discular trichatra above the head. Fly-whisk bearers and creeper designs are conspicuous by their absence in this 7lh century specimen.
Two bas-reliefs, representing Mahavira and Ambika yakshi are now placed inside a modified cave temple at Thiyagadurgam in Vilupuram district. The Tirthankara is shown seated on a low pedestal with the arms loosely held a little above his folded legs.
The head surmounted by an arch with flames, the triple umbrella resembling discs placed one over the other in diminishing tiers and the thinly carved chamradaris are beautifully accommodated within a conical slab.
Ambika yakshi stands in tribhanga pose, with her right arm holding a bunch of three mangoes (or flower buds) and the left placed on the head of her lady attendant.
Miniatures of her two sons are shown at her shoulder level, while the lion vehicle and Somasarman are seen on the right side. An areca tree with a bunch of ripe fruits is carved behind the yakshi. These two relief sculptures exhibit the 8th century style of Pallava art.
Two early Chola sculptures of the 9th century from Mossakudi are preserved in the Pudukkottai Museum. The first specimen represents a Tirthankara seated in dhyana pose with his arms70loosely held above the crossed legs. The triple umbrella resembles thick discs placed one over the other.
Other decorative elements are omitted in this figure. The second one is an exquisite image of Parsvanatha with a well-proportioned body, smiling countenance, snail-curls of hair, and a halo-like converging serpent hood above the head.
Among the sculptural vestiges found in the dilapidated temple at Chettipatti near Pudukkottai, the images of Mahavira, Parsvanatha (head only) and chauri-bearers are noteworthy. Mahavira is seated in ardhaparyankasana without any decorative design on the background.
The head of Parsvanatha is an excellent piece of plastic art illustrating the best traditions of the 10th century Chola style. The curvelinear contour of the serpent canopy, smiling countenance of Parsva, arrangement of the curly hair in small circles, half-closed contemplative eyes etc., add beauty and serenity to this fragmentary specimen.
Figures of chauri-bearers, carved upto the middle part, which once adorned the niches of the temple, also belong to the same school of art.
The images of Parsvanatha and Bahubali found in the Karantai temple near Kanchipuram are illustrative of the 11th century Chola style. True to the appellation, “Tirumerrisai Perumal” 18 (west-facing deity), the figure of Parsvanatha, with the usual iconographic features, occupies the western niche of the shrine.
The idol of Bahubali, absorbed in deep meditation, stands motionlessly, unaccompanied by his sisters on either side. Interestingly, locks of hair are shown falling on his shoulders in this specimen and it is rather a rare feature in the sculptures of Tamilnadu.
Twelfth and thirteenth-century Jaina sculptures are found in the Ponnur, Pundi, Perumandur and Tirumalai temples. These images are generally sturdier than the earlier sculptures and contain more decorative elements on the prabhavali and on the accompanying chamradaris.
The damaged figure of Ambika yakshi from Perumandur and the Tirthankara images housed in subsidiary shrines at Tirumalai are the best examples of this period. 71
Sculptural works of the Viajayanagara style are seen in a number of temples as at Chittamur, Pundi, Vilukkam, Vijayamangalam, Tirupparuttikunram, Tiruppanamur, Tirumalai etc. These specimens, no doubt, follow the usual iconic pattern, but lack the aesthetic beauty of the Pallava, Chola and Pandya sculptures. Rigid anatomical features, angular profile of the limbs, minute carvings on the background and elaborate ornamentation of the trichatra are commonly seen in them.
As a result, the Vijayanagara and Nayak sculptures are bereft of the serene and sublime qualities of the earlier styles of art.
In Jaina art, the Tirthankaras except Parsvanatha and Suprasvanatha are represented more or less identical, either seated in ardhaparyankasana or standing in kayotsarga pose. Distinctive personal attributes, as in the case of Hindu deities, have not been provided to the Tirthankaras. However, they are attributed with a cognizance each inorder to facilitate their identity.
Moreover, each Tirthankara is attended by a pair of yaksha and yakshi, whose presence at the foot-level of the images also reveals the identity of Tirthankaras. The practice of carving emblems or attendant deities along with the Tirthankaras is very common almost throughout India.
But in Tamilnadu, such a practice had not been followed till about the 18th century A.D., in consequence of which the possibility of identifying earlier images is rather very difficult. Under such circumstances, literary evidence, epigraphical documents, local traditions, art-conventions etc., may provide some clue for identifying some of the Tirthankara images. (It is dealt with in detail in the next paper).
Canonical texts on Hindu sculptures have laid down rules as to which side or direction images of deities should be installed in temples. These rules are strictly adhered to in Saiva and Vaishnava temples even at present. But such a tradition has not been followed in Jaina temples. However, some rock-cut images of Adinatha 72 are carved east-facing, Mahavira south-facing and Parsvanatha west-facing.
Such specimens are met with in places like Kalugumalai, Chettipodavu, Anaimalai, Tirakkol, Vallimalai, Tirunarungondai etc. Whether these sculptures were intensionally commissioned so or merely a coincidence cannot be precisely ascertained at present.
During the medieval times, however, there was a strong belief associating Parsvanatha with the western direction among the Digambaras of Tamilnadu. As it sequel, many of his images came to be consecrated facing the western direction.
Being a Jina occupying the western niche, Parsvanatha was popularly known as “Tirumerrisaiyan” or “Tirumerrisai perumal”.19 Lithic records from Karantai and Jaina devotional compositions such as Tirumerrisai Anthathi, Tirumerrisai Padikam and Appandainathar Ula20 eulogise Parsvanatha as the Tirthankara facing the western direction.
Although this tradition was in vogue in Tamilnadu, most of the Parsvanatha temples face east and they even do not accommodate his image in the western niche of the shrine. Hence, it cannot be treated as a rule that Parsvanatha should be consecrated facing the western direction only.
Incidently, it may be added here that in most of the Parsvanatha sculptures, his head is canopaied by a five-hooded serpent only, unlike their counterparts in Andhra and Karnataka where seven hoods are commonly seen.
Karnataka and Tamilnadu had political, cultural, commercial and religious contacts from a very early period. Jainism served as a link between the two regions since the 2nd century B.C. down to modern times. Most of the historians agree that Jainism spread to Tamilnadu from Karnataka long before the advent of the Christian era.21
An early brahmi inscription of the 2nd century B.C. from Sittannavasal records that one Kauri Iten monk of Eruminadu (Mysore area) took to asceticism at Sittannavasal.22 Monks of the Mulasangha at Sravanabelgola successively 73 travelled to distant parts of Karnataka as well as Tamilnadu in order to propagate the gospel of the Jina.
23 The cordial relation between the Jaina adherents of the two regions could be understood by a systematic study of literary works, epigraphical documents, manuscripts, paintings and sculptures in both the regions.
The impact of Karnataka art idiom on that of Tamilnadu is illustrated at its best by the sculptures from places like Kalugumalai, Pechchipallam, Karantai, Pudukkottai and Vallimalai. Among the 9th century triple images of Adinatha, Neminatha and Mahavira from Kalugumalai, the first two images contain carvings of a dharmachakra and a flaming conch respectively on their pedestals.
The presence of these lancharías is believed to be mainly due to the impact of Western Ganga art idiom in the Pandya country.24
Tirumalai has a colossal image of Neminatha, popularly known as Sikhamaninatha, carved on a huge rock. The very idea of sculpting this imposing figure in the 12lh century seems to have been inspired by the Bahubali colossus of Sravanabelgola.25
The Western Ganga sculptures representing Adinatha and Mahavira at Vallimalai near Vellore are flanked by Sarvahana yaksha and Ambika yakshi. Similarly, the Adinatha bronze figures obtained from Pudukkottai are accompanied by Gomukha and Chakresvari.
The presence of the attendant deities along with their respective Tirthankaras in these specimen of the 9th – 10th centuries apparently reveal the impact of Karnataka art idiom in Tamilnadu.26
The presence of jatas on the shoulders of Adinatha in the Pudukkottai bronzes and of the Bahubali images from Tirumalai and Karantai and a mango tree behind the sculptures of Ambika as at Vallimalai, Cholapandipuram and Sempattur is also due to such an extraneous impact.
Generally, Ambika images in Tamilnadu are depicted standing beside an areca tree or sometimes with areca leaves decorating her crown. Kannada epigraphical records found in Dharmapuri, Vallimalai, Tirumalai, Pechchipallam etc., bear testimony to the successive Jaina contacts between 74
Tamilnadu and Karnataka during medieval and late medieval times.27
South Indian bronze images of gods and goddesses are exquisite specimens of a divine art, noted for their fine execution, charm and grace and they form a class by themselves.
Tamilnadu has arich collection of more than five thousand Jaina metal images adorning the temples under worship and some on display in the State Museums. They represent the Tirthankaras, Yakshas, Yakshis, Vidhyadevis and some minor deities. Besides, certain symbols like Ashtamangalas, Mahameru, Sarvadobhadra, Srutaskanda,
Panchaparameshtis, Navadevatas etc., are also included under this category. These bronze icons, no doubt, serve as mirrors of the successive growth of religious ideas and often bear testimony to the cultural level of their worshippers.
Although only a few research articles have been published on selected Jaina bronzes, no sincere effort has ever been made to systematically document and study the metal images available in Tamilnadu. Such an earnest attempt is expected to come up in future.
Such a study will undoubtedly bring to light the enormous contribution of the Digambaras to the icono-plastic art of Tamilnadu down the centuries. It may also help to identify Jaina images and recover them incase of theft. Scientific methods are now evolved to protect and preserve them to the posterity, and to find out the date of their casting.
(Published in Spectrum of Jainism in South India, (ed.) Geetha metha, Mumbai, 2009).
1. A.Ekambaranathan, Jaina Inconography Tamilnadu. Lucknow, 2002, p.22.
2. K.R.Srinivasan, “Some aspects of religion as revealed by early monuments and literature of the South”, Journal of the Madras University”,, 1960, pp.21-22.
3. A.Ekamabaranathan, op.cit., p. 15.
4. R.Chamapakalakshmi, “An unnoticed Jaina cavern near Madurantakam”, Journal of the Madras University, 1969,pp.111-114.
5. Annual Report on Epigraphy, (ARE) 10/1895
6. Ibid, 400/1922-23.
7. A.Ekambaranathan, The History of Chittamur (in Tamil), Melchittamur, 1985, p.40.4.04
8. ARE, 6 & 7 /1895
9. Ibid., 251 & 252/ 1936-37
10. Travancore Archaeological series, Vol.II, p.126.
11. ARE, 603 / 1915.
12. Jaina Art & Architecture Vol. II, p.209.
13. ARE, 215/ 1940-41
14. Ibid, 70-72 / 1905
15. Ibid,68-69 / 1905
16. Ibid, 61-62/ 1910
17. Ibid., 725-730/ 1905
18. Ibid, 141 / 1939-40
19. ARE, 141 / 1939-40.
20. Tirumerrisai Anthalhi, verses, 35, 45, 60. Appandainathar Ula, 169-175.
21. P.B.Desai, op.cit., pp.25-27. R.Champakalakshmi, Jainism in South India, (unpublished M.Litt. Thesis), 1958, Madras University, pp. 16-18.
22. I.Mahadevan. Corpus of Tamil-Brahmi /«.s’cr//?//o«.v,Sittannavasal – I.
23. ARE., 7,8,9/1895,244,1950-51
24. A. Ekamabaranathan, Tirumalai and its Jaina temples, (in Tamil), p.48.
25. Ibid, p.49.
26. A.Ekamabaranathan, Jaina temples of Tondainadu, (in Tamil), p.121
27. ARE, 304, 305/1901, 7-9/1895, 244, 1950-51.