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Marcel Nies

1. Jina Padmaprahba
North India
8th century
height 164 cm.

Jina Padmaprahba

The Jina Padmaprahba, the 'lotus splendour', can be identified by the Padma (red lotus with seven leaves) depicted in both of his hands. This open lotus flower is the symbol of his divine origin, purity and spiritual elevation. In Jain iconography, Padmaprahba is the sixth Tirthankara and is associated with red blood. Jain philosophy mentions a number of 24 Jinas, also known as Tirthankaras or conquerors, all of them involved with the immortal and indestructible soul (jiva) which resides within every living being. Jainism has been continuously practised since at least the eighth century B.C. and together with Buddhism and Hinduism, it is one of the three major world religions to have emerged in India. Like Buddhism, Jainism holds all members of the community as equal, and advocates a life of detachment with a view to escaping the birth cycle; via a chain of rebirths they try to attain a state of liberation. The Tirthankaras and in particular this Jina represent the higher ideal of the ascetic, that of self-denial.

Padmaprahba is depicted naked, standing in samapada; his long arms in a free posture at his sides. Both his hands are holding a disk-shaped lotus blossom, the Padma, which is his attribute. His hair is arranged in finely incised thick locks over a raised ushnisa, the symbol which denotes his ultimate spiritual wisdom. Behind his head is a shallow relief carved lotus nimbus, referring to the name and appearance of this Jina. At the top is a depiction of two garlands bearing apsaras, set against a shallow leafy canopy; they hold a protecting umbrella above the god's head. Probably this Jina was originally surrounded by 23 Tirthankaras, 15 of them remain; a representation of all the Jain Tirthankaras, the Chaturvimsati, the Jinas of the past, present and future.

In comparison to many more common and later central Indian images of Jinas, this extremely rare temple sculpture of Padmaprahba exhibits many elements of early sculptures from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, revealing stylistic and artistic similarities with Gupta works of art. This classic period can be considered as the highlight of the Indian cultural heritage, and had a major influence on the art of Southeast Asia. The typical characteristics are the full face with fleshy cheeks, the almond shaped eyes, the circular padma nimbus displaying large open lotus leaves and the imposing volume of his body. In addition, he is distinguished from later mediaeval examples by the long locks of hair curling elegantly over his shoulders and by his finely divided hairstyle in contrast to curls. A sculpture depicting a Jina and displaying a similar hairstyle and monumental full volumes and a padma-nimbus to the present example, which may also be dated to the 8th century, is published in; 'De trap naar de verlossing', 2500 jaar kunst en religie van het Jainisme, J.van Alphen, nr. 60.

This monumental temple sculpture of Padmaprahba is depicted with imposing shoulders and full elongated body features which are associated with his superhuman powers. It is among the few sculptures in Indian art, realising the ideal Yogi in such a perfect manner; portrayed with striking natural and well modelled volumes, the divine god appears alive, his face expressing total harmony and inner happiness. With a mystic silence the Jina radiates an intense energy of peace, serenity and relaxation, revealing his prominent role as an important peaceful liberator.


all text, images © Marcel Nies
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