Dr. Shubha Majumder
The present discourse is a brief empirical attempt to explain some important iconographic features of a Jaina Tirthankara image presently housed in a village called Babladiha located in the Mangalkot Police Station in the Bardhaman district of West Bengal. This is an image of Tirthankara Santinatha, the sixteenth Jaina Tirthankara of Jaina ideology. Presently this image is worshiped as Nyantesvara Siva. This type of religious practices is commonly observed in different parts of radha Bengal. In most of the cases the Jaina temples and images have been forcibly transformed into Saivite or Vaisnavite religious ideology. Jainism failed to receive the royal patronage during the Pala as well as Sena times and it became a religious ideology for the downtrodden people of the society. However traders from very early times supported this ideology and constructed temples as well as sculptures, as noticed from different parts of this radha region. It is assumed that during the time of the migration of the utkala Brahmins from Orissa towards the western parts of Bengal they converted the Jaina temples into Brahmanical temples and they started worshipping the Jaina images as Brahmanical deities. This type of example of assimilative process can be cited from several religious centers still extant, in different parts of radha region which have been successively used by the Jaina and the followers of the Brahmanical ideology alike for the practice of their respective faiths.
The present image was discovered from the nearby river bed of the Ajay by one of the forefather of the present Brahmin custodians of the deity. Some scholars1 had already discussed about this image though they did not pay much attention on the iconographic details of the image. During the recent visit author, observed some important features of this image which were most probably overlooked by the previous scholars. The paper will try to highlight three different aspects related to the Jaina art and archaeology of the region as well as of early Bengal. 1) A detailed description of the iconographic features of the concerned Babladiha Jaina image will emphases a comparative stylistic analysis with other Jaina Tirthankara images having depiction of planetary deities discovered from the same district 2) The other Jaina Tirthankara images from ancient Bengal having representation of planetary deities particularly in the pedestal will also be discussed here with brief iconographic details of those planetary deities. 3) The present paper also attempts to understand the nature of the site as well as its relation with the other Jaina sites in the adjoining region so as to understand the somehow whole picture of Jainism in early Bengal.
The present image (Pl. 1) was carved out of fine-grained black-basalt, probably quarried from the neighboring hills of Rajmahal of Bihar2. The detail measurements of the images are given below:
i) Total height: 132 cm
ii) Centre width: 19.4 cm
iii) Centre thickness: 5 cm
iv) Height of the Central figure: 92.8 cm
v) Height of the pedestal: 18.5 cm
vi) Height of the pedestal with lotus: 23 cm.
The mula-nayaka bears a svelte figure and the carving of the image is very sophisticated. The central figure stands in kayotsarga posture on a visvapadma placed on a saptharatha pedestal. Both the arms of the Tirthankara hang down vertically along the stiff torso and the finger tips touching the thigh on both side and his both legs come close to each other. The hair style of this image shows schematic curls and his lips are thick. The image has elongated ear-lobes touching the shoulder of the Tirthankara and his facial expression is more lucid. The chest of the Tirthankara has the depiction of nipples. In the image the composition of space is well integrated and the Yogic or spiritual power of the mulanayaka is reflected by the skillful carving. The central figure is flanked by two male cauri-bearers standing in abhanga postures on the double petalled lotus. Both of them wear highly bejewelled mukuta, ratna-kundalas, necklace and is clad in a diaphanous uttariya and dhoti. The dhoti reaches up to the knees and is tied by a girdle with a knot in its both side and from the former hangs the tassels. The two cauri-bearers are holding a fly-brush in one hand and the other rests on thigh. The embellishments and physical features of the cauri-bearers show a much higher degree of artistic proficiency and their representations are quite lively and are in graceful
The stele of the image is rectangular and is surmounted by an arched top. The head of the Tirthankara is covered with the usual sacred trilinear umbrella. Caityavrksa, the tree associated with the kevala knowledge of the Tirthankara Santinatha is Nandi Vrksa3 stylistically depicted below the chhatra. On both sides of the usnisa of the mula-nayaka the heavenly musician-couple playing drums are just below the kevala vriksa, while gandharvas with garlands are occupies the space on the both side of the oval-shaped halo or prabhamandala. Other characteristic features of the image are four miniature Jinas depicted on either side of the central figure or mula-nayaka.
Among these the two depicted on the lower part, standing in kayotsarga posture on double petaled lotus besides the cauri-bearers, are without their usual lanchanas. The other two miniature form of Tirthankaras are also standing in Kayotsarga posture on double pettaled lotus on either side of the upper part of the main image and are identified as third Tirthankara Sambhavanatha in the right side of the mula-nayaka and twelve Tirthankara Vasupujya in the left side, identified on the basis of their respective lanchanas horse and buffalo. Beside this the upper part of the stele also depicts vyala figures couchant elephants on the both sides of the main image, holding some objects in their trunks and just above of the elephants are a pair of lions. As a whole iconographic features of this Jaina image is closely similar with the other Visnu images discovered from this district as well as other parts of West Bengal. The Visnu image from Itahar police station in south Dinajpur district and the Visnu image of Nak-kati in Bardhaman district are iconographically very close to the Babladiha Jaina image. This hypothesis is based on the fact that the contours of the Visnu images with respect to their back-slabs are very much similar to the contour of the Babladiha Jaina image. The composition of the back-slab that is if the back-slab is divided into different compartment that the organization of the entire space allotted to the back-slab is very much similar in the above three cases.
In the center of the pancharatha pedestal (Pl. 2) deer, the lanchana of the sixteenth Tirthankara Santhinatha is depicted4. The lanchana is flanked on either side by the figures of nine planetary deities (Navagraha). The row of the planetary deities starts from the extreme left with a figure of a devotee is depicted with namaskaramudra and seated in padmasana posture followed by the first group of four grahas, started with Surya, Candra, Mangala and Budh. In this sculpture Surya (Sun) is seated in padmasana posture and holding two lotuses in both the hands. His head is partially damaged According to the Jaina scriptures he has been described as the deity of the East and husband of Ratna Devi. The next image is the Moon – god, Candra (Moon) who is said to be the master of stars and ruler of the north – west Quarters. In this image Candra is seated in samparyankasana, with a pot in his left hand and right hand is in varada mudra. Followed by the image of Candra, the image of Mangala (Mars) is depicted. In the Jaina texts Mangala is described as the son of the earth and ruler of the South. Here he holding the shaft of a spear (sakti) in his left hand and right hand is in varada mudra. Budha is the last image among the four grahas of the left section (Mercury). In this sculptures he is recognized by his voluminous hair style (some portion of his leg is completely damaged) and by the arrow held obliquely in front of his chest. According to the Jaina texts he is the ruler of the North region. The four grahas are seated on cushion without embellishments.
On the right, next to the cihna the remaining five grahas are depicted and the row started with Brhaspati(Jupiter) followed by Sukra (Venus). Both of them seated in samparyankasana and their right hand placed in front of their chest as depicted the teaching attitude. Unfortunately their left hands are resting over their thigh and holding indistinct objects, may be kamandalu. According to the Jaina conical texts Brhaspati is the ruler of the north –Eastern Quarters and Sukra is the ruler of the south- Eastern region and teacher of Demons. Sani (Saturn) is clearly distinguished by his peculiar sitting pose and the staff with a roundish top. None of the Jaina texts refer to the terrific form of last two un-auspicious planetary deities Rahu and Ketu who have only been referred to as ruler of south-Western and ruler without any region respectively. In the present sculpture both Rahu and Ketu are present. Rahu is identified with his robust like head and his hands are in the tarpana mudra same as in the Brahmanical Navagraha sculptures and snake-tailed Ketu holding a swore in his right hand and a fire pot in his left hand. On stylistic grounds the image may be assignable to 10th – 11th century CE.
In this context it will be necessary to explain the representation of planetary deities on Jaina images5, though this type of representation started earlier in the Brahmanical context (in and around 7th– 8th century CE or the post Gupta period). In this connection we may refer to one of the work of Mevissen6. He cited a figure of Neminatha from Rajgir of Bihar as one of the earliest examples of such representation. In one of his works he shows the geographical distribution of the Jaina sculptures with grahas and we can notice four distinct regions. The most important area is Bihar and then south western part of the Chotanagpur plateau and ancient Vardhamana region, i.e., the southwestern districts of present day West Bengal as well as adjoining north eastern districts of Orissa. The third and very productive centre lies in central India and the fourth region comprises parts of Gujrat and Rajasthan7.
The second purpose of the present paper is to highlight the representation of planetary deities in Jaina images. In modern West Bengal particularly from Purulia, Bankura, Bardhaman and Midnapur we found a good number of Jaina Tirthankara images and in many of the cases the Tirthankara image bears the planetary deities in different positions. In our concerned district till today except the above image we have found two other Jaina Tirthankara images where planetary deities are present but the position of the deities are different from the Babladiha Jaina image.
An image of the sixteenth Tirthankara Santinatha (Pl. 3) was discovered from the village known as Ujani, very close to Babladiha, district Bardhaman and is presently displayed in the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad Museum, of Calcutta8. In this image the mulanayaka stands in kayatosarga posture on a double petalled lotus placed on the panca-ratha pedestal. The Tirthnakara is flanked by two male cauri-bearers standing in tri-vanga postures on the full lotus placed on the same pedestal. Both the cauri-bearers wear highly decorative ornament along with a mukuta and their dresses are of very fine quality. The figure of the mulanayaka is bulky in nature though his facial expression shows a smile coupled with a yogic appearance. The mulanayaka has extended ear-lobes and his hair is arranged in small curls with a protuberance. The back portion of the head of the Jina is embellished with an ovoidal sirascakra and above it a trilinear chatra is depicted. On both sides of the head of the Jaina a flying Vidyadhara is carved on cloud forms and above it on both side musician are playing drums from heaven. On both sides of the stele we find the representation of nine planetary deities (four in the right side of Jaina and five in the left side of Jaina) in seated posture. The eight planetary deities are the clockwise disposition is Candra, Budha, Sukra, Rahu, Sani (abraded), Brhaspati, Mangala and Surya9.
Another Jaina image (Pl. 4) of this district bearing the planetary deities is now found in the village known as Punchra situated under the Kalejora police station10. Presently the image is kept under a nima tree in the center of the village and is locally worshiped as devi Sasti. Only the upper part (above the chest) of the image is visible and it is badly dilapidated. The image is made of sand stone and measures 40cm x 44 cm x 7cm. On the left side of the image only two planetary deities could be traced. Among these two images one image could be identified as Rahu, because of his large head.
In the usual manner, we find the presence of planetary deities in seated or standing postures in both sides of the Jina figures. However the arrangement of the planetary deities in the pedestal or above the trilinear umbrella of the Tirthankara is not very common in eastern India11. The presences of planetary deities, particularly in the pedestal of Jaina Tirthankara images are very rare from West Bengal. In the present paper we briefly discussed the Jaina Tirthankara images associated with planetary deities similar to the Babladiha image. However it obviously reflects the important and uniqueness of this particular variety of Jaina Tirthankar images in Bengal. Similar to the Babladiha variety of Jaina image we have found till date five Jaina images from ancient Bengal and among them three are from Bangladesh and two are from West Bengal. Their iconographic details are given below.
The Jaina Tirthankara image (Pl. 5) of Candrapabha which was discovered from the Govindopur in early Bengal (presently located in Bangladesh) and is now displayed in the Bangladesh National Museum, Dhaka, belong to this above variety12. In this image the principal image of Jaina Tirthankara is standing on a double-petalled lotus in kayotsarga posture. The mulanayaka is flanked by two male camara- bearing attendants standing in abhanga posture. Beyond the attendants and on both sides of the stele miniature figures of Jaina Tirthankaras, each seated on a visvapadma have been carved. Only seventeen seated figures of Tirthankaras are visible now because the upper part of the main image is damaged. In this image the pancharatha pedestal (Pl. 6) is decorated with different miniature sculptures. The crescent moon, lanchana of the Jina is depicted on the left side of the central projection of the pedestal and there is another figure of a twelve armed goddess seated on a double-petalled lotus. The nine planetary deities are flanked on both sides of the central part of the pedestal. The line starts with Surya and followed by Candra, Mangal and Budha. On the right of the panel starts with Brhaspati and followed by Sukra, Sani, Rahu and Ketu13.
In this panel except Ketu all the planetary deities are seated on visvapadma. Here we also found the same placements, posture as well as same attributes of the planetary deities like the Babladiha image.
Another Jaina Tirthankara image of this verity is presently displayed in the Varendra Research Museum, of Rajshahi, Bangladesh14. This is an image of Sixteenth Tirthankara Santinatha (Pl. 7) and discovere from the Mandoli in Rajshahi. The image made of black basalt and measured 67 cm in height. The Jina stands in kayotsarga posture against an architectural throne-back. His head is encircled by a
slightly pointed nimbus, from which rises the shaft of a triple umbrella. The space beneath the umbrellas is embellished with the foliage of a tree and two musicians playing a drum and cymbals, flanked by Vidyadhara couples. Along the border are depicted 24 miniature Jina figures. The Jina is accompanied by two nimbate camara-bearing attendants. In the upper part of the pedestal containing the wheel flanked by two deer, which are identified as the lanchana of the Tirthankara. In the center of the lower part of the pedestal depicts a four-armed goddess seated in padmasana within a ring, flanked by two elephants and two adoring figures, perhaps the donor couple. Both the side of the lower part of the pedestal (Pl. 8) containing the depictions of nine planetary started with Ganesa, followed by Surya, Candra, Mangala and Budha in the right side and rest are in the left side (Brhaspati, Sukra, Sani, Rahu and Ketu).
The Parsvanatha image (Pl. 9) of Dinajpur Museum of Bangladesh15 also shows similar representation of nine planetary deities in the
pedestal of the concerned Tirthankara image. In this image the back stele of the Tirthankara depicts with the representation of Dikpala and at the bottom of the pedestal (Pl. 10) carved with nine planetary deities, started from Ganesa. The positions and the attributes of the nine deities are common like the earlier images.
Pakbirra, in Purulia district, an important Jaina site of West Bengal possesses two Jaina images of these varieties16. In both the cases only the pedestals are left and the planetary deities are present in those pedestals. The first one is a panca-ratha pedestal (Pl. 11) having planetary deities within a band and distributed on all the facets are eight Jyotiska–devas. Here Ketu is missing and the other planetary deities are seated in their usual posture and holding their respective weapons/attributes. Four deities are seated in each side of the circular disc embellished with lotus petals. In the right side we found Surya, Chandra, Mangal and Budh and left side we found Brhaspati, Sukra, Sani, Rahu. The upper register of the pedestal has pilastered compartments on all its facets. An eight armed goddess riding on peacock placed on the central part of the upper portion of the pedestal and just above the circular disc. This damaged pedestal has some iconographic interest. The circular disc decorated with lotus petals may be identified as the padma, which is the lanchana of Tirthankara Padmaprabha. So it may be call that this is a broken pedestal of Tirthankara Padmaprabha however the eight armed
deity creating problem because the iconic description of the Yakshi of Padmaprabha does not correspondence with the present image. On the other hand the goddess betrays strong resemblance to Prajnapati, the Yakshi of Sambhavanatha.
The other Jaina image from Pakbirra also represented the similar type like the earlier image. In this case we may identify that this is a dhyanasana variety of Tirthankara image though only the triratha pedestal and some portion of the lotus seat are survived. In the center of the pedestal eight armed goddess is seated over a peacock like the earlier image. In the lower part of the pedestal eight planetary deities are depicted in a row on the all facets. On the extreme end of the both side of the lower part of the pedestal a keeling devotees are depicted. In the extern right of the band of planetary deities started with Surya seated in dhyanasana and holding the two lotuses in his two hands; then Chandra seated in rajlilasana and holding a pot; Mangal is in same posture like Chandra and holding an unidentified object; then Budh holding a bow and arrow with his right and left hand respectively. In between Budh and Brhaspati a circular disc, like the earlier image, embellished with lotus petals occupies the center of the projection of the lower part of the pedestal. The left side of the wheel started with Brhaspati, who seated in rajlilasana and holding a water port and his potbelly followed by the Sukra are also observed. Sukra seated in similar posture and also holding a water pot in his left hand; Sani with his peculiar seating posture and holding a staff and at the last of this band Rahu is depicted and he holding a half crescent. The positions and the attributes of these planetary deities are very closely resemblances with the planetary deities of Babladiha Jaina image.
The last issue of this present paper is to highlight the antiquity of
the village and as well as to trace the Jaina establishment in the nearby region of the present district. During our exploration we observed that the modern temple where the present Tirthankara image of Babladihi, is now kept stands over an old low structural mound. Though the nature of this mound is not very clear but the scattered brick bats and potsherds indicate that the mound carries some early medieval and medieval occupational debris. In different areas of the village we also notice the other habitational remains
mainly the potsherds and brick bats assignable to the early medieval to medieval period. This site did not survive in isolation but in relation to other early medieval and medieval sites in the adjacent region. These sites were definitely associated with the spread of the Jaina ideology. One of the important sites is Ujani not very far from the present site exhibiting the Jaina connection. An image of Tirthankara was discovered from the site. Another important Jaina site of this region is Kundo, 10 km away from Babladiha. This is a classic early medieval site in this region that has yielded two Jaina Tirthankara images along with other sculptural fragments related to the Jaina ideology. In this village some low habitational mounds are observed and the natures of these mounds are not clear. The Early medieval potteries are also found from this site. The other temple site related to the Jaina ideology known as Satdeuliya is not very far from the site of Babladiha. The ruined temple and Jaina sculptural remains speak some forgotten religious story associated with Jaina ideology. All these early medieval sites of this region and the nearby district of Bankura shows the Jaina antiquities and it reflect that the present religious ideology which is Brahminism had been proceed by Jainism17.
This site is also very close to the site of Mangalkot where archaeological excavation revealed a long cultural sequence starting from the early village farming stage up to the medieval period. During the excavation of the site incidentally, a terracotta Naigamesha was found from the Kushan level and it may indicate the Jaina association with the site18. The textual reference also highlighted the Jaina connection in this region, from a very early time. Acarangasutra records that Mahavira’s itinerary included Ladha (i.e., Radha) comprising Vajjabhumi (Vajrabhumi) and Subbhabhumi (Suhmabhumi)19. In all probability, his visit received tremendous support of the local people to spread Jainism and the up-gradation of the downtrodden people of ancient Bengal. All these archeological and textual records confirm that the region has a long association with Jainism and this religious ideology penetrated in the local label from very early times. During the early medieval period Buddhism was very strong holds in north Bengal and adjoining parts of present Bihar. However, western and south-western parts of ancient Bengal along with parts of Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa were retainers of the Jaina faith during this period along with other ideologies (as betrayed by the available archaeological database). Interestingly from this period onwards almost sudden appearance of Jaina temples and stone images in large numbers in a number of sites associated with ancient Radha indicate a peculiar nature of patronage most probably associated with the socio-economic perspectives of the settlement parameters of this ancient geographical unit. After the 13th century CE the popularity of Jaina ideology gradually diminished. It was replaced by a popular weaves of Brahmanical ideology that gradually converted most of the Jaina temples into Brahmanical ones. From 13th century onwards Brahmanism gained a strong foothold in different parts of ancient Bengals.
It may be assume from the above study that the study region witnessed the spread of Jainism before the arrival of the Brahamanical mode of religious belief and practices. The actual provenance of the present image is doubtful, but it was definitely made somewhere in the region concerned. The image was discovered from the river Ajay which flows very close to the present study area and the site Ujani is also very close to Babladiha. It may possibly to conclude that a large number of archaeological database from the present region (temples and sculptures) belong to both Jainism and Brahmanism indicating a long period of assimilation of both these religious ideologies.
- Roy, A. 1989, ‘A Unique Jaina Image from Sankarpur, Burdwan’, Jaina Journal, 24/2 (October), pp. 44-47; Mevissen, Gerd J.R. 2000, ‘Corpus of Jaina Stone Sculptures Bearing graha.s as Subsidiary Figures’, Berliner Indologische Studien (Reinbek) 13/14, pp. 343-400; 2008, North Bengal (Ancient Varendra): An Innovative Sub-Centre of Jaina Sculptural Art. Paper presented at Jaina Art & Architecture. 10th Jaina Studies Workshop at SOAS, 7th March 2008. Published online in two parts. Part 1 with figs. 1-25: http://www.herenow4u.net/index.php?id=76355; Part 2 with figs. 26- 55: http://www.herenow4u.net/index.php?id=76356. Majumder,S. 2018 ‘Jainism in Ancient Bengal: A Study of its Archaeology, Art and Iconography’, Unpublished PhD Thesis submitted in the University of Calcutta.
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