In ancient times the jaina monks went about completely naked, having put away all those caste marks and particularizing tokens that are
of the essence of Indian costume and symbolize the wearer's involvement in the web of human bondage. Later on, in Mahavira's
period many assumed a white garment as a concession to decency and termed themselves svetambara, " those whose garment (ambara) is
white (sveta)." This raiment denoted their ideal of alabaster- like purity, and so was not too great a departure from the heroic
mode of the conservatives, who continued to style themselves Digambara, "those whose garment (ambara) is the element that
fills the four quarters of space (dig). " The Tirthankaras are therefore sometime depicted naked, and sometimes clad in white.
Rsabhanatha, in the alabaster monument under discussion, wears a thin silken robe, covering his hips and legs.
But there is a special problem that arises in Jaina iconography as a result of the drastic purity of the ideal of the Tirthankara. The
sculptor cannot be allowed to damage the sense of his representation by modifying in any way the perfect isolation and non-particularity
of the released beings. The pristine life-monads are to be represented without fault. How, then, is the worshiper to
distinguish one of these "victors" from another, since all- having transcended the sphere of time, change, and
specification- are as alike as so many certified eggs? The solution to the difficulty was the simple one of providing every image with
an emblem that should refer either to the name or to some distinctive detail of the legend of the Tirthankara intended. This
is why the statue of Rsabhanatha- literally "Lord (natha) Bull (rsabha)"- shows a little zebu-bull beneath the savior's feet.
The effect of such juxtaposition is that in dramatic contrast to these accompanying figures, which are reminiscent of the world, and
life from which the Tirthankara has withdrawn, the majestic aloofness of the perfected, balanced, absolutely self-contained
figure of the saint become emphasized in its triumphant isolation. The image of the released one seems to be neither animate nor
inanimate, but pervaded by a strange and timeless calm. It is human in shape and feature, yet as inhuman as an icicle; and thus
expresses perfectly the idea of successful withdrawal from the round of life and death, personal cares, individual destiny, desires,
sufferings, and events. Like a pillar of some supraterrestrial, unearthly substance, the Tirthankara, the "Crossing-maker," the breaker of the path across
the stream of time to the final release and bliss of the other shore, stands supernal motionless, absolutely unconcerned about the
worshiping, jubilant crowds that throng around his feet.
At Sravana Belgola, Hashan District, Mysore, is colossal figure of this kind that was erected about 983 AD by camundaraya, the minister of
king Rajamalla of the Ganga dynasty. It is hewn from a vertical rock needle, a prodigious monolith, on a hilltop four hundred feet above
the town. The image measures fifty-six and one-half feet in height and thirteen feet around the hips, and is thus one of the largest
freestanding figures in the world; the feet are placed on a low platform. Vines clambering up his body indicate the savior
represented, which refer to an episode in the biography of Gommata (also called Bahubali, "strong of arm"), the son of the
first Tirthankara, Rsabhanatha. He is supposed to have stood unflinchingly for a year in his yoga posture. The vines crept up to
his arms and shoulders; anthills arose about his feet; he was like a tree or rock of the wilderness. To this day the entire surface of
this statue is anointed every twenty-five years with melted butter, as a result of which it still looks fresh and clean. There is legend to the effect that the image goes back to a date much
earlier than 983 AD, and that for ages it was forgotten, the memory of its location being completely lost. Bharata, the first of India's
mythical Cakravartins is supposed, according to this account, to have erected it; Ravana, the fabulous chieftain of the demons of
Ceylon, paid it worship; and when it passed, thereafter, from the memory of man, it became covered with earth. The old legend tells us
that Camundaraya was informed of its existence by a traveling merchant and so made a pilgrimage to the sacred place with his
mother and few companions. When the party arrived, a female earth-divinity, the yaksini Kusmandi, who had been an attendant of
the Tirthankara Aristanemi, manifested her and pointed out the hidden site. Then with a golden arrow, Camundaraya split the hill
and the colossal figure could be seen. The earth was cleared away and craftsmen were brought to cleanse the image and restore it.
The emblems of the Tirthankaras are as Follows:
1. Rashaba, bull 2. Ajita, elephant 3. Sambhava, horse 4. Abhinandana, ape 5. Sumati, heron 6. Padmaprabha, red lotus
7. Suparsva, swastika, 8. Candraprabha, moon, 9. Suvidhi, dolphin 10. Sitala, srivatsa (a sign on the breast), 11. Sreyamsa,
rhinoceros, 12. Vasupujya, buffalo 13. Vimala, hog, 14. Ananta, hawk, 15. Dharma, thunderbolt, 16. Santi, antelope, 17. Kunthu,
goat, 18. Ara, nandyavarta (a diagram), 19. Malli, jar, 20. Suvrata, tortoise, 21. Nami, blue lotus, 22. Aristanemi, conch shell, 23. Parsva, serpent, 24. Mahavira, Lion.
The standing attitude in which they are commonly shown exhibits a characteristic, puppet like rigidity that come of- and- denotes-
inner absorption. The posture is called "dismissing the body" (kayotsarga). The modeling avoids details and yet is not
flat or incorporeal; for the savior is without weight, without throbbing life or any promise of delight, yet is a body - an
ethereal reality with milk in its veins instead of blood. The empty spaces left between the arms and the trunk, and between the legs,
are consciously intended to emphasize the splendid isolation of the unearthly apparition. There is no striking contour, no interesting
trait of individuality, no cutting profile breaking into space, but a mystic calm, an anonymous serenity, which we are not even invited
to share. And nakedness is as far removed as the stars, or as bare rock, from sensuality; for in Indian art nakedness is not intended
to suggest either sensuous charm (as it is in the Greek images of the nymphs and Aphrodite's) or an ideal of perfect bodily and
spiritual manhood, developed through competitive sport (as in the Greek statues of the youthful athletes who triumphed in the sacred
contests at Olympia and elsewhere). The nakedness of Indian goddesses is that of the fertile, indifferent mother earth, while
that of the stark Tirthankaras is ethereal. Composed of some substance that does not derive from, or link one to, the circuit of
life, the truly "sky-clad" (digambara) Jaina statue expresses the perfect isolation of the one who has stripped off
every bond. He is an absolute "abiding in itself," a strange but perfect aloofness, a nudity of chilling majesty, in its
stony simplicity, rigid contours, and abstraction.
The from of the image of the Tirthankara is like a bubble: at first
sight seemingly a bit primitive in its inexpressive attitude-simply standing on its two legs- but actually highly conscious and rather
sophisticated in its avoidance of all the dynamic, glamorous, and triumphant achievements of the contemporary Hindu art-the wonderful,
vital sculpture of Elude, Badami, and elsewhere.
Lord Bahubali 6th centuary image in Jaina cave, Badami
By the Jaina saint- and - artist - the restless vitality both of the Hindu gods and of their mythical cosmic display is ignored deliberately, as though in
protest. Through a translucent alabaster silence the great Passage- breaking doctrine is revealed of the jaina way of escape from that universal manifold of enticement and delusion.
For it is important to bear in mind that the Tirthankaras and their image belong to a totally different sphere from that of the orthodox
Hindu devotions. The Hindu gods, dwelling in the heavens that Parsvanatha transcended, still are accessible to human prayer, whereas the supreme release attained by the Tirthankaras places them
beyond all earthly solicitude. They can never be moved from their eternal isolation. Superficially, their cult may resemble that of
the Hindu deities, who not only graciously heed the prayers of man but even condescend to come down into the lifeless temple images-as
to a throne or seat in response to consecrating rituals of conjuration and invition; for the Jainas pay profound respect to the
statues of their Tirthankaras and recount legends of their miraculous origin. Nevertheless the attitude is not precisely that
of worship. The following story, told of the Lord Parsva in his next to last earthly life, gives the clue to the special character of the Jaina attitude.
The savior's name then, it will be remembered, was King Anandakumara. When he had defeated the rulers of the surrounding nations and
become a Cakravartin, his minister suggested that he should hold a religious celebration in honor of the Tirthankara Aristanemi; but
when the king enter the temple to worship he was disturbed by a doubt. "What is the use," His thought, "of Bowing
before an image, for an image is unconscious?" there was a saint in the temple at the time, how age," He told the king,
"Affects the mind. If one holds a red flower before a glass, the glass will be red; if one holds up a dark blue flower the glass
will be dark blue. Just so, the mind is changed by the presence of image. Contemplating the form on the passionless Lord in Jaina
Temple, the minds become filled automatically with a sentiment of renunciation; whereas at the sight up courtesan it became restless.
No one can regard the peaceful; absolute from the lord without recalling the noble qualities of the lord; and this influence is the
more forceful if one worships. The mind straight way becomes purified. But given purity of mind, one is already on the way to final bliss.
The sage Vipulmati then illustrated his lesson for the king with a metaphor that has many counterparts in the various traditions of
India, non-Jana as well as Jaina. "In a certain town." He said, "there was a beautiful public women who died, and her
body was brought to the cremation ground. A certain licentious man who chanced to be there looked upon her beauty and thought how
fortunate he would have deemed himself could he, but once in his lifetime, have had the opportunity of enjoying her. Simultaneously a
dog that was there, seeing the corpse going into the fire, thought what dainty meals it would have made for him had they not determined
to waste it in the flames. But a saint, also present, thought how regrettable that anyone endowed with such a body should have neglected to make use of it in difficult yoga exercises.
"there was but one corpse in that place," said Vipulmati, "and yet it produced three sorts of feeling in three different witnesses.
An external thing will thus have its effect according to the nature and purity of the mind. The mind," he concluded, "is purified by the contemplation and worship of the
Tirthankaras make one fit, therefore, to enjoy the pleasures of heaven after death - and can even prepare one's mind to experience nirvana."