Jain Architecture and Sacred Spaces
About Jain Sacred Spaces
While some of these spaces are easily accessible to ordinary human beings, others lie in distant regions of the vast Jain cosmos. The enormity of the Jain universe is in the shape of a man. The small sector at his waist depicts only places where humans live and may achieve liberation. Circular in shape, this area comprises three land masses or "continents." Each ring-shaped continent is surrounded by an ocean. Humans live in two-and-a-half of these three continents. Being born as a human being has a particular significance in Jainism, for it affoards the best opportunity to follow the Jain teachings. This may be one of the reasons why depictions of the human world of two-and-a-helf continents became so popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The maps of the two-and-a-half continents shown in this section of the exhibition provide details of the rivers, mountains, and even the cities in the various continents. The central continent is called Jambudvipa, and Bharata, which contains India, lies at its south end. This is where the twenty-four Jinas of our time period preached in the past. Mount Meru, the hub of Indian mythic geography, lies at the center of Jambudvipa. On the maps can be seen a series of parallel lines to either side of Mount Meru. This is the wonderful land called Mahavideha, where it is believed several Jinas continue to preach. Visible at the corners of such maps are temples that lie outside the continents depicted, suggesting the existence of Jinas, their sanctuaries and images, even in the remotest regions of the cosmos where humans cannot reach.
Also in the exhibition are maps of a pilgrimage site closer to home, Mount Satrunjaya in the state of Gujarat. All but pone of the twenty-four Jinas of our time period are said to have visited MountSatrunjaya and numerous saints achieved liberation there. Part record of a real pilgrimage, part imagined re-creation of an ideal sacred realm, these richly detailed paintings embody the spiritual intensity of those who undertook the arduous pilgrimage to such a holy site.
A very different kind of space sanctified by the presence of the Jina is exemplified by the ritual diagram, or yantra, with the Jina Mahavira in the center and a mantra. Diagrams like this were given to monks at the conclusion of the ritual through which they were installed in a position of authority int he monastic community. Both the image of the Jina in the center and the words of the mantra empower the diagram with a special force. Few examples of these "Vardhamanavidya patas," or "Paintings with the Mantra of Vardhamana (Mahavira)," have survived, and scholarship on the ritual use of yantras and mantras in medieval Jainism in in its infancy.
In the exhibition we have tried to create an intimation of the vast scope and power of the Jain vision of its sacred cosmos, a place where the viewer may encounter the Jinas as they have been represented by devotees across the Indian subcontinent throughout history.
From The Curator's Preface (p13-14) The Victorious Ones: Jain Images of Perfection, edited by Phyllis Granoff. Used with permission by the Rubin Museum of Art.