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Lectures on Jainism

The Ritual Culture Of Temples And Icons in Jainism

Shivdasani Conference 2007
Professor John E. Cort
21 Oct 2007

Session 15 of the 2007 Shivdasani Conference.

As part of his mendicant vows, a Jain monk is committed to total non-possession.*  He owns nothing.  He is dependent upon the laity for even his robes , bowls, staff, and other ritual insignia and paraphernalia.  These are, so to speak, "loaned" to him by the laity.  In theory he should not ask even for these, and if the laity choose not to provide them, he should do without.

Jain temples are the sites of great wealth and display.  Wealthy patrons vie with each other to see who can spend the most money building and renovating the most temples, and in other ways be seen as prominent supporters of Jainism.  Jain temples are grand architectural creations, filled with hundreds of carved stone and cast bronze icons.  In the Åmbara case, many of these icons are ornamented with expensive gold and jewelry.  In both Åmbara and Digambara temples one sees extensive and expensive ornamentation of the temple itself, as it is understood to be the divine palace of the true king of kings, the true lord of lords.
One might expect, therefore, that mendicancy and temples are two discrete realms of Jain practice, with little to connect the two.  Surely the ritual, visual, material, and devotional culture of temples and icons is a lay creation, grafted onto an original mendicant, renunciatory core of Jainism.
This is not the case, however. Mendicancy and temples are integrally intertwined, and the resistance to those few instances in Jain history when critics have attempted to uncouple the two indicates just how strong are the ties that bind the two together for the majority of Jains.
In this paper I explore four facets of the mendicant promotion of temples and icons.
1.  Some of our earliest evidence of icons in Jainism--and in South Asia in general--comes from Mathura.  Most of the many Jina icons from Mathura are inscribed, telling us information about the donor.  While in all cases the donor is a layperson--and in this the Mathura Jain evidence differs from the Mathura Buddhist evidence--in almost all cases we also find that a mendicant played an integral in the dedication and installation of the icon.
2.  Common to both the Åmbara and Digambara traditions is an ancient conception of mendicant practice as structured around six required daily ritual activities.  While five of these--equanimity , veneration of the mendicant superior (vandana), confession (pratikramana), vowed asceticism , and meditative renunciation of the body --are clearly of a more renunciatory, non-material nature, the sixth--veneration of the icons/temples (caitya-vandana) shows that icons and temples are essential to mendicant practice.
3.  Ritual manuals for the consecration and installation of icons date only from the medieval period.  But they show that mendicants play an essential, in many ways even irreplaceable, role in consecration.
4.  Both medieval and contemporary evidence shows that mendicants have frequently promoted the ritual culture of temples and icons to their devotees.  Monks preach that building temples and donating icons earns a great store of merit.  Monks encourage their lay devotees to restore old and dilapidated temples.  Monks organize consecration festivals, and distribute new consecrated icons to many temples as a way of spreading their institutional charisma.
Most accounts of Jainism pay attention largely to Jain asceticism and renunciation.  Temples and icons appear largely in the illustrations to the accounts, not in the text.  But an accurate portrayal of Jainism needs to keep both mendicants and temples firmly in the centre of focus.  Further, that accurate portrayal needs to see how mendicants have been central to the culture of temples and icons, and vice versa.
* While there have always been large numbers of Jain nuns, for the most part they have not played the same role in the ritual culture of temples and icons as monks, and so I intentionally use the male pronoun here.

Related: Jainism, Temple and Text

Absence and Presence: Worshipping the Jina at Ellora

Shivdasani Conference 2007
Dr Lisa Nadine Owen
21 Oct 2007

How does one worship a liberated being who is technically inaccessible?  This is the fundamental question that I propose to answer within the context of Ellora’s Jain cave-temples.  In the early ninth through tenth century, temples with shrines containing a life-sized Jina image were hewn out of rock.  Among the earliest of these temples is a monument known today as the Chota Kailasa.  As its appellation suggests, this temple resembles the site’s larger and more famous Kailasanatha temple in terms of its execution, architectural components, and designation of sacred space.  Although Ellora’s Kailasanatha temple has long been recognized as a divine residence for the Hindu god Shiva, similar ways of looking at the Chota Kailasa and its Jina image have not yet been conducted.  One reason for this neglect may be the simple fact that the liberated Jina is not considered to be “present” within the main shrine image and so the temple is not thought of as a “residence” per se.  Though this is technically the case, similarities between these two monuments at Ellora, especially in some of their external imagery, suggest more nuanced connections.

In this paper, I examine the similarities and differences between these two monuments and address important issues regarding “absence”, “presence” and “residence” in early medieval Hindu and Jain religious art and practice.  While I highlight some of the similarities between Hindu and Jain articulations of “presence” at Ellora, I argue that Jain visual expressions of this notion are particular to its own religious tradition.  Furthermore, I suggest how conceptions of a Jina’s samavasarana (as articulated in Ellora’s artistic programs and in Jinasena’s Adipurana) might serve as a framework from which to view and understand Ellora’s Jain cave-temples as powerful places of “presence” and worship.

Related: Jainism, Temple and Text

From Ontology to Taxonomy: the Jaina Colonisation of the Universe

Shivdasani Conference 2009
Will Johnson
11 Oct 2009

This paper explores the shift in Jaina thought from categorization (the ontological dualism of jiva and ajiva) to classification (the universe as a map of the Jina's mind), and reflects on a corresponding alteration in soteriological and sociological concerns.

Related: Categories, Jainism, Philosophy

Jaina-Hindu Syncretism in Gujarat: The Trimurti-Temple of the Akram Vijnan Marg

Majewski Lecture
Dr Peter Flugel
16 Feb 2010

The Akram Vijñān Mārg, or Stepless Path to Salvific Knowledge, is a highly innovative religious movement. It originated in the 1960s in Bombay and is slowly spreading throughout Western India and the Gujarati diaspora in East Africa, North America, and the United Kingdom. The founder of the Akram Vijñān Mārg was Ambalal Muljibhai Patel (1908–1988), a contractor, who experienced enlightenment while waiting for his return train to Mumbai at Surat. His new religious movement offers a new synthesis of Hindu and Jain ideas and practices. The lecture will explore ways in which his teachings are enacted in the context of the rituals at the trimūrti temples of the movement in India.

Dr Peter Flügel (MA Dr Phil (Mainz)) is a lecturer in the department of the study of religions at SOAS. He is an expert in Jainism and has done textual work and fieldwork. He is the Chair of the Centre for Jaina Studies and a member of the Centre for South Asian Studies and the SOAS Food Studies Centre. Apart from Jaina studies, he has broad interests in religion and society, social anthropology, sociology, philosophy and Indology more broadly.

Related: Jainism