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Image: Māridatta honours the Śaiva ascetic

Title: Māridatta honours the Śaiva ascetic

Source:
Wellcome Trust Library
Shelfmark:
Beta 1471
Author:
Raïdhū
Date of creation:
perhaps 15th century
Folio number:
7 recto
Total number of folios:
36
Place of creation:
probably Madhya Pradesh
Language:
Apabhraṃśa Prākrit
Medium:
watercolour on paper
Size:
27 x 12 cms
Copyright:
Wellcome Library, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information

Description

There are two panels showing separate scenes on this page. In the left-hand panel a richly decorated woman sits on a flower seat. The standing woman holds a fly-whisk. The intricate patterns on three sides of the panel indicate it is an indoor scene.

The second, bigger, panel depicts a man sitting on a lion-footed throne under a green parasol, both symbols that represent royalty. Before him is a crowned man with flowing garments, who is raising his hands in front of him. To the right of this man an identically dressed figure lies on the ground. They all face a blue-clad figure on the right, who wears a strange hat and garment and raises a dark stick.

The lady represented on a flower seat on the left is difficult to identify. It does not seem likely that she is the Goddess Caṇḍamāri, who should have a terrifying appearance and is depicted differently on subsequent folios.

The second scene pictures the meeting of King Māridatta with the Śaiva ascetic Bhairava. Māridatta has learned that this Śaiva ascetic could bestow magical powers on his devotees, such as the ability to fly. The literary descriptions of the ascetic and of this news are on the missing folio, number 6.

When Bhairava, the supreme ascetic – parama-joi – hears that Māridatta is keen to meet him, he hastens to the royal palace. When the king sees him arrive, he greets him enthusiastically. This enthusiasm is symbolised here by the three successive depictions of the king, who:

  • is first seated on his lion-footed throne
  • then gets up with folded hands, signifying respect
  • finally lies down on the ground, making himself as horizontal as a stick – daṃḍu vva kiyau paṇavāu – which expresses the highest respect.

In this way the painter represents the extreme devotion of the king to an heretical faith.

The ascetic, shown on the right, is always represented as he is in this manuscript. The missing folio in this manuscript details his identifying characteristics, which are also described in the text as:

  • a kind of cap that covers his ears
  • a long staff
  • the distinctive robe he wears.

Satisfied by the king's hurry to honour him, Bhairava extends his blessings to him.

The long protruding eye is a typical feature of western Indian painting. Its origin is unclear.

Other visual elements

This is a good example of an average manuscript. A red background is used for the painting but there is no use of gold, intricate design elements or elaborate script.

Script

The script used for the main text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here Apabhraṃśa Prakrit.

Background

The 15th-century Digambara poet Raidhū composed a version of one of the most important Jain tales – the Story of Yaśodhara. Called the Jasahara-cariu, which means 'the story of Yaśodhara' in Apabhraṃśa Prakrit, Raidhū’s version has the subtitle of 'having the characteristic of compassion' – daya-lakkhaṇa. This underlines the main teaching of the story, which is a manifesto against violence of all types and a defence of non-violence.

A story with several episodes, the tale of Yaśodhara is a good representative of religious teaching in narrative form – dharma-kathā. Its importance comes from the fact that it shows very clearly the working of karma and rebirth and refers to key concepts, such as:

  • violence – hiṃsā – both factual and intentional
  • desire or greediness.

Ultimately, all the protagonists become pious Jains and will be emancipated.

The text is divided into four sections called sandhi, which go into detail about all the rebirths that are recounted in the story within a story:

Sections of the Jasahara-cariu

Section

Events

1

  • King Māridatta and the search for proper sacrificial victims
  • Birth of Yaśodhara

2

  • Yaśodhara's youth and death
  • His son Yaśomati ascends to the throne

3

  • Parallel rebirths of Yaśodhara and Candramati

4

  • Last rebirth as Abhayaruci and Abhayamati
  • Final conversions

This version of the story has not yet been published. It is known from very few manuscripts, which are all illustrated and in India. However, not a single manuscript is complete. So this one, held in the Wellcome Trust in London, is a precious document, even though it is only the first half of the story. It is probable that the second half of the document is a manuscript originally kept in Delhi, dated 1454 CE. It is also very likely that a single folio in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is part of the same manuscript (see Balbir, forthcoming).

Like other versions of the tale of Yaśodhara, Raidhū's narrative poem is a major inspiration for illustrations in Digambara manuscripts.

Glossary

Common Era
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
Digambara
'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
Hiṃsā
Violence, the fact of harming in any way.
Jain
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Kathā
Story, narrative literature.
Saṃsāra
Cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth caused by karma binding to the soul as a result of activities. Only by destroying all karma can this perpetual cycle finish in mokṣa – liberation. The karma gained in life affects the next life, and even future lives, for example:
  • in which of the three worlds the life is lived out
  • which of four conditions – gati – the body takes, namely human, divine, hellish or as a plant or animal.
Ascetic
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land. Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
Deity
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
Devotee
An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.
Śaivaism
One of the four main Hindu sects, in which the faithful worship Śiva as the supreme being. There are various strands of Śaivism but many devotees daub sacred ash on their foreheads and other parts of their bodies. Some Śaivites may also use cannabis as a sacred offering or smoke it as part of a spiritual experience.
Apabhraṃśa
Apabhraṃśa is an umbrella term for the dialects that were the forerunners of modern Indian languages. Taken from the Sanskrit term apabhraṃśa, which literally means 'corrupt' or 'non-grammatical language', Apabhraṃśa was used to write a large number of Jain texts. Though Apabhraṃśa developed over the 6th to 13th centuries, literary works date back to the 8th century.
Heresy
A believer in a system of beliefs, usually religious, that differs from established dogma. A heretic does not normally think his beliefs are heretical, often asserting that his heresies are correct while the orthodoxy has become corrupted from the original.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
Carũrī
Usually written as 'chowrie' in English, the Hindi carũrī is a fly-whisk or fan. It is probably descended from the Sanskrit term cāmara, which means a 'yak-tail fan'. Like the cāmara, the chowrie is used to fan royalty or priests and thus signifies high status in Indian art.
Folio
A single sheet of paper or parchment with a front and a back side. Manuscripts and books are written or printed on both sides of sheets of paper. A manuscript page is one side of a sheet of paper, parchment or other material. The recto page is the top side of a sheet of paper and the verso is the underside.

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