Jaina paintings in the illustrated manuscript
tradition have been invaluable in the unraveling of historical
developments in medieval Gujarat. But its ultimate contribution has
been towards the development of Indian miniature painting.
Jainism originated in
India around the same time as Buddhism. While the latter traveled
wide and became established in far corners of Asia, the Jain faith
flourished on native soil, keeping alive artistic traditions that
flowered from Buddhism, and further integrating them into newer art
forms. Miniature Jain paintings executed as illustrations in
manuscripts belong to this rich tradition.
Between the 9th
and 11th centuries, Jainism flourished in western India.
This was also the period when caves in Ajanta and Ellora were
painted, marking a grand finale to the technical artistic brilliance
developed in the 6th century under the School of
Ancient West. These and other paintings executed in Jain
shrines inspired the new school of Western Indian Miniature
Painting. This school developed in the medieval period whose
style was characterized by angular faces, painted noses and peculiar
In the medieval period
starting around the 12th century, Gujarat extended to
regions in present Maharashtra and Rajasthan. It was the region where
Jainism finally established a stronghold, dictating artistic trends
in religious and secular spheres. Dr. G.K. Coomarswamy first used
Jaina paintings to refer to the entire medieval art of Gujarat as it
mainly appears in Jaina manuscripts, most of which are located in
Jaina bhandaras or libraries.
The development of
manuscripts, is believed to owe much to the institutions of bhandaras
from the 2nd to the 8th century. Jainism spread
in popularity, receiving vast properties in donation. The clergy was
increasingly weighed down by the management of these. Those in close
contact with the laity, began encouraging donations in icons for
worship or manuscripts of spiritual enlightenment shastradaan.
The devotees often had a manuscript copied for different centers,
getting them sometimes decorated with illustrations. This was a
sacred task, never undertaken for personal whims.
The reverence for
knowledge reached obsessive proportions as the libraries accepted
texts on various non-religious topics mathematics, astrology,
. Between the two main sects of the Jain faith, the
Shvetambaras were more prolific in commissioning manuscripts, though
the Digambara work has also contributed amply to miniature art in
The manuscripts consisted
of square palm leaf panels, later executed in rectangular panels when
paper became the popular material. The scribe first demarcated areas
for the text and illustration. Once the text was written, the panel
was given to the artist who worked very methodically, completing each
one before moving on to the next. Occasionally a panel was left next.
Occasionally a panel was left empty. The completed manuscript was
inserted between richly decorated wooden covers.
illustrations in a manuscript usually served as invocations and
featured the Jain pantheon or the Brahmanical Goddess of learning,
Saraswati. Stylistic difference in execution often arose from
hierarchic considerations, spelt out in the pictorial representation
of the Tirthankaras, the clergy and the devotees. Donors were
sometimes included in the illustrations, shown in a group with their
wives, and differentiated from other worshippers by the prominence of
their position in the overall composition of the folio.
Illustrations in the
folio were often unrelated to the text, their presence apparently
being of a magical value. The wooden covers patlis
orpattikas remained liberated from the stylistic
considerations that governed the miniatures in the folio. The covers
reveal great variety in exquisite compositions of floral designs
entwining animal and human form.
Besides the manuscripts
and their covers, the pictorial treasure of medieval Gujarat contains
a few portraits, letters of apology and invitation, and Tantrik and
non Tantrik works. Together they record the landscape, architecture,
people, lifestyle, costumes and traditions of that period.
The kshmapana patra
or letter of apology, like the vijnapati patra (letter of
invitation), was a heavily decorated scroll presented by the laity to
their gurus or religious guides at the end of an eight day festival
of fasts. The former sought forgiveness for all wrong doings in the
past year, and the latter invited the guru to spend the forthcoming
monsoon with them. The letters normally illustrated the kalpa
sutra, 14 dreams of the mother of Mahavira before childbirth, and
the ashtamangalas, the eight auspicious symbols of Mahavira.
Details of the dreams
find full description in another set of manuscripts called kalpa
sutras. The most common pictorial composition is of Jainas
mother asleep with the dreams illustrated above her in two to three
rows. All miniatures in this instance conform to the text.
Vasanta vilasa is
a manuscript of a poem set in phagun the month of spring, and
describing the love between husband and wife. One of the best known
secular works of the Jaina paintings, it was composed for the
education of one Shah Chandrapal. The illustrations keep up with the
narrative, resembling abridged versions of wall frescoes.
Painting in the Western
Indian style was not flexible to regional influences. Variations in
composition and representations in local lifestyles notwithstanding,
integral tenets of the style remained unaltered from the 12th
New artistic awareness in
the mid 14th century was projected in the fluency of
lines, a wider choice of colors and an overall beauty hitherto
lacking in the miniatures. By 1425 A.D. this phase gave in to an
uninspired repetition of formulate. Even the palette narrowed to 2
main colors, red and gold. Around 1450 A.D., ultramarine was
introduced, and combined with gold, it gave the miniatures a grand
look. The overall appearance was also altered. The diamond shape was
introduced in line with the style used in Persian manuscripts, and
margins were embellished with ornate decorations. These were the last
notable developments in style.