INDIA AND SRI LANKA
Western India, Karnataka
H. 48.5 W.13.0 D. 13.5
Collection C. D. M., Belgium
Detail: close up of head
The previous description (cat. no. 22) provided a very brief background for the Jain images in the exhibition. The schism that in its earliest history split Jainism into Shvetambaras, or ‘whiteclad’, and Digambaras, or ‘sky-clad’, also brought about a geographical division of the followers. The white-clad Shvetambaras still live mostly in north-western India. The naked Digambaras can be found in Bihar, for instance, but Karnataka in the south-west of India has always been a centre for this sect. The shilpa shastras, the manuals for sculptors, provide guidelines for creating Jain images as well as Hindu gods. They stipulate that ‘the Jinas must have long arms that reach to the knee. On the breast a symbol, shrivatsa, must be visible. On the head are small rightwards-turning curls. The earlobes are long, the nose is long and straight, the limbs delicate, and the naked body is beautiful and young.’
This image is that of the third Tirthankara, Sambhavanatha. We can be sure of this as his cognizance, the horse, is clearly engraved on the pedestal. According to the iconographic texts Sambhavanatha is gold in colour and sits beneath a shala tree (shorea robusta). This Tirthankara is rarely portrayed. It is clear from an initial glance that the figure originates from the sky-clad Digambaras. Here, Sambhavanatha is a slender naked saint standing with arms and legs straight. In Hindu iconography one would speak of samapadasthanaka, which describes only the position of the legs. In Jainism, this pose is termed kayotsarga, which also means that the man who has adopted this position is deep in meditation. The figure emanates an intense peace and stability, enhanced by the tranquil facial expression. An unbroken line runs below the eyebrows. The prescribed curls and the long earlobes are rendered with great clarity. Although the arms do not extend to the knees, they are long, slender at the wrists and broadening towards the shoulders. Together with the narrow waist the limbs and hips provide a very fluid play of line that is further accentuated by the smoothness of the bronze skin. For the sake of strength, the maker of this sculpture has left short struts between the hands and the thighs, albeit discreetly.
In addition to the general stylistic hallmarks, other details too are typical of Jina images from Karnataka. On the shoulders and chest are three concentric circles, the two outermost being interrupted at the centre of the chest. The three arcs engraved below the navel and the double circles on the kneecaps are also consistent traits. The imposing figure of Sambhavanatha acquires still more stature by the high double lotus. The petals are crisply engraved, offering a distinct contrast to the smooth volumes of the naked body. The image has a presence that is simultaneously spiritual and sensual, and confirms the mastery of its creator.
all text & images © 2005 The authors, the photographers and the Ethnographic Museum, Antwerp