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In general Jain art broadly follows the contemporary style of Indian Buddhist and Hindu art, though the iconography, and the functional layout of temple buildings, reflects specific Jain needs. The artists and craftsmen producing most Jain art were probably not themselves Jain, but from local workshops patronized by all religions. This may not have been the case for illustrated manuscripts, where many of the oldest Indian survivals are Jain.
Jains mainly depict tirthankara or other important people in a seated or standing meditative posture, sometimes on a very large scale. Yaksa and yaksini, attendant spirits who guard the tirthankara, are usually shown with them.
Earliest depictions of Jain deities (3rd-2nd centuries BCE)
Figures on various seals from the Indus Valley Civilisation bear similarity to jaina images, nude and in a meditative posture. Lohanipur torso is the earliest known jaina image is in the Patna museum. It is approximately dated to the 3rd century BCE. Bronze images of the 23rd tirthankara, Pārśva, can be seen in the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, and in the Patna museum; these are dated to the 2nd century BCE. Kankali Tila architrave with Centaurs worshipping a Jain Stupa, Mathura art, circa 100 BCE
Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, a number of finely and ornately carved caves built during 2nd-century BCE excavated by King Kharavela of Mahameghavahana dynasty. Chausa hoard is the oldest of bronzes to be found in India dating them between the Shunga and the Gupta period, (from 2nd to the 6th Century AD).
Early reliefs (1st century BCE)
Chitharal Jain Monuments is the earliest Jain monument in the southernmost part of India dating back to first century BC.
Jain art at Mathura under the Guptas
A sandalwood sculpture of Mahāvīra was carved during his lifetime, according to tradition. Later the practice of making images of wood was abandoned, other materials being substituted. The Chausa hoard, Akota Bronzes, Vasantgarh hoard are excavated groups of bronze Jain figures.
Jain art between 5th-9th century
Medieval period (8th-16th century)
Modern and medieval Jains built many Jain temples, especially in western India. In particular the complex of five Dilwara Temples of the 11th to 13th centuries at Mount Abu in Rajasthan is a much-visited attraction. The Jain pilgrimage in Shatrunjay hills near Patilana, Gujarat is called "The city of Temples". Remnants of ancient jaina temples and cave temples can be found all around India. Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, and the Jain temples at Dilwara near Mount Abu, Rajasthan. The Jain tower in Chittor, Rajasthan is a good example of Jain architecture.
Decorated manuscripts are preserved in jaina libraries, containing diagrams from jaina cosmology. Most of the paintings and illustrations depict historical events, known as Panch Kalyanaka, from the life of the tirthankara. Hansi hoard is the bronze hoard dating back to 8th-9th century.
Sculpture seems to have been part of Jain tradition since the last centuries BCE, but probably was mostly in wood, which has not survived. The earliert known examples of Jain sculpture are stone architraves of the 1st century BCE, found in the Art of Mathura, particularly from the Jain mound of Kankali Tila.
Perhaps the most famous single Jain work of art is the Gommateshvara statue, a monolithic, 18 m statue of Bahubali, built by the Ganga minister and commander Chavundaraya around 983. It is situated on a hilltop in Shravanabelagola in the Hassan district of Karnataka state. This statue was voted as the first of the Seven Wonders of India.
Smaller bronze images were probably for shrines in homes. A number of medieval collections of these have been excavated, probably deposited when populations fled from wars. These include the Vasantgarh hoard (1956, 240 pieces), Akota Bronzes (1951, 68 pieces, to 12th century), Hansi hoard (1982, 58 pieces, to 9th century), and the Chausa hoard (18 pieces, to 6th century).
Jain temples and monasteries had mural paintings from at least 2,000 years ago, though pre-medieval survivals are rare. In addition, many Jain manuscripts were illustrated with paintings, sometimes lavishly so. In both these cases, Jain art parallels Hindu art, but the Jain examples are more numerous among the earliest survivals. The manuscripts begin around the 11th century, but are mostly from the 13th onwards, and were made in the Gujarat region. By the 15th-century they were becoming increasingly lavish, with much use of gold.
The manuscript text most frequently illustrated is the Kalpa Sūtra, containing the biographies of the Tirthankaras, notably Parshvanatha and Mahavira. The illustrations are square-ish panels set in the text, with "wiry drawing" and "brilliant, even jewel-like colour". The figures are always seen in three-quarters view, with distinctive "long pointed noses and protruting eyes". There is a convention whereby the more distant side of the face protrudes, so that both eyes are seen.
Rishabha, the first tirthankara, is usually depicted in either the lotus position or kayotsarga, the standing position. He is distinguished from other tirthankara by the long locks of hair falling to his shoulders. Bull images also appear in his sculptures. In paintings, incidents of his life, like his marriage and Indra's marking his forehead, are depicted. Other paintings show him presenting a pottery bowl to his followers; he is also seen painting a house, weaving, and being visited by his mother Marudevi.
Ayagapata (Hindi:अयागपट्ट) is a type of votive slab associated with worship in Jainism. Numerous such stone tablets discovered during excavations at ancient Jain sites like Kankali Tila near Mathura in India. Some of them date back to 1st century C.E. These slabs are decorated with objects and designs central to Jain worship such as the stupa, dharmacakra and triratna.
A large number of ayagapata (tablet of homage), votive tablets for offerings and the worship of tirthankara, were found at Mathura.
These stone tablets bear a resemblance to the earlier Shilapatas - stone tablets that were placed under trees to worship Yakshas. However, this was done by indigenous folk communities before Jainism originated suggesting that both have commonalities in rituals. A scholar on Jain art wrote about an Ayagapata discovered around Kankali Tila,"The technical name of such a tablet was Ayagapata meaning homage panel."
A monolithic manastambha is a standard feature in the Jain temples of Mudabidri. They include a statue of Brahmadeva on the top as a guardian yaksha.
The 58-feet tall monolithic Jain statue of Bahubali is located on Vindhyagiri Hill, Shravanabelagola built in 983 A.D. was the largest free standing monolithic statue until 2016, 108 feet monolithic idol Statue of Ahimsa(statue of first Jain tirthankar, Rishabhanatha) was erected at Mangi-tungi.
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