This is a yantra, a type of meditation aid. This one is a victory banner, which is extremely rare. It was probably produced to help gain victory in battle for the meditators. It consists of a central panel with two rows of smaller illustrations at the top and bottom. There is a heavily faded inscription in the narrow white band beneath the top row of deities.
The figures in the top row are deities, from left to right:
In the next row from the top, the focal point is the central parasol under a pot and two peacocks. This is a royal symbol. Under the parasol is a kind of column with a banner, which could be a victory pillar.
The main part of the painting consists of a grid pattern divided into quadrants by two columns crossing in the centre. These two columns include both numerals and sacred formulas or mantras. All the other tiny squares contain only numbers.
At the four cardinal points and in the centre are larger squares in blue with mystic syllables:
Two borders of stylised flowers adorn the vertical sides.
The two bottom rows contain delicate and refined paintings.
The first row has a sequence of nine figures, which are difficult to identify. They are possibly personifications of the nine treasures – nidhi – of a cakravartin.
The second row has a line of elephants and horses on the right. Both are royal animals and traditional components of an Indian army so their presence on a victory banner is not out of place. Elephants and horses are also associated with the movements of planets in Jainism. The other animals linked to planetary motion are bulls and lions.
On the left side of the second row is a chain of nine figures. They are the nine celestial elements – nava-grahas – which are frequently shown on Jain yantras. From left to right they are:
the sun – sūrya – a seated figure carrying two discs
the moon – candra
Mars – maṅgala
Mercury – budha
Jupiter – guru
Venus – śukra
Saturn – śani – coloured grey or black
Rāhu, who causes eclipses, is the easiest to recognise even though only his head appears in a chariot, which represents the movements of the moon
Ketu, a half-human, half-snake figure, is shown with a trident and a bird.
This Jain yantra is a rather rare painting from two viewpoints.
Firstly, it is very old, dating back to around 1447 CE. Not many paintings from such an early period have survived.
Secondly, it is a rare example in terms of content. Yantras are formed of complex diagrams combining all or some of the following:
Yantras are either paintings on paper or cloth or metal objects. Very few have survived.
The earliest surviving yantra paintings date from the 15th century and come from Śvetāmbara environments. Three main varieties are known from a rather large number of artefacts:
the sūri-mantra-paṭa, which shows a religious teacher seated in the centre and 24 Jinas in surrounding concentric rings
the vardhamāna-vidyā-paṭa, depicting Mahāvīra or Vardhamāna in the centre.
the ṛṣi-maṇḍala-paṭa – the ‘Circle of Sages’ – with the tantric syllable Hrīṃ at the centre of the 24 Jinas and usually one or more surrounding concentric circles showing various religious teachers.
Not all yantras fall into one of these groups. There are yantras centred on other Jinas or other religious figures. This yantra seems to be very unusual in not focusing on religious figures and in being a meditation aid to help gain victory in battle.
The three types are associated with particular rites. The sūri-mantra is connected with the initiation ritual of a new ācārya and it is likely that monks used the vardhamāna-vidyā-paṭa in connection with the rank of upādhyāya. However, the ṛṣi-maṇḍala-paṭa does not seem to have such a specific association. Even so, mendicants use it for other rituals.
The narrow white strip below the top row of deities contains a red inscription in Devanāgarī script. The red ink has faded so much it is hard to make out. It seems to say:
In the year 1504 of the Vikrama era [= 1447 CE] on the day of the Festival of Lights [= Dīvālī] [Ji]nabhadra-sūri, the head of the Kharataragaccha[,] consecrated this magical diagram called ‘victory banner’. May it bring victory, may it fulfil all desires of …. and his family. Svāhā.
Although the name of the religious teacher is incomplete, it can be guessed as Jinabhadra-sūri. He was one of the most famous leaders of the Kharatara-gaccha, a Śvetāmbaramonastic order especially powerful in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Jinabhadra-sūri established a large number of religious institutions and temple-libraries. He is mentioned in many manuscriptcolophons as having encouraged lay people to commission manuscript copies. He also consecrated numerous Jain images. He was extremely active in Jaisalmer and Patan, from where this object may have come.
The lay donor for whom this victory banner was made is unknown. His name would have been written in the blank space. The unfilled space could mean that it was 'a readymade painting awaiting a donor' (Granoff, Peaceful Liberators, catalogue number 99).
The narrow white strip below the top row of deities contains a red inscription in Devanāgarī script. The red ink has faded so much it is hard to make out. It seems to say:
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and Patna, Bihar in India; 1974
Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India John E. Cort
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2001
The Jains Paul Dundas
Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices series; series editor John Hinnels and Ninian Smart; volume 14 Routledge Curzon Press; London, UK; 2002
The Jain Saga: 63 Illustrious Persons of the Jain World, Brief History of Jainism Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson edited by Muni Samvegayashvijayji Maharaj Acharya Shrimad Vijay Ramchandra Suriswarji Jain Pathshala; Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; 2009
Jaina Iconography Jyotindra Jain and Eberhard Fischer
Iconography of Religions – Indian Religions series; volume 13: 12 and 13 Institute of Religious Iconography, State University of Groningen; E. J. Brill; Leiden, Netherlands; 1978
Jainism: A Pictorial Guide to the Religion of Non-Violence Kurt Titze
Motilal Banarsidass; Delhi, India; 1998
Jaina Art and Aesthetics Maruti Nandan Prasad Tiwari and Shanti Swaroop Sinha
Aryan Books International; New Delhi, India; 2011
Yantra in human form
Although this 19th-century yantra is damaged, the richly bejewelled figure in this drawing is clear. Inside his body is a diagram intended to help devotees meditate. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, USA, provides this zoomable photograph on its website.
This colourful 19th-century miniature painting depicts Śvetāmbara monks on one side and a yantra or auspicious diagram on the other. The 24 monks are named and sit in meditation. The yantra represents the samavasaraṇa – universal assembly – in which an omniscient Jina preaches to all sentient beings. The zoomable photograph of both sides of this artwork is on the website of the auctioneer Christie's.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts presents this colourful sūri-mantra-paṭa dating to the second half of the 17th century. Click on the picture to view the image in more detail.
Sūri-mantra-paṭas are yantras used only by Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjak monks, especially the Kharatara-gaccha and the Tapā-gaccha, when they reach the rank of sūri. Typically, this example depicts Indrabhūti Gautama, the first disciple of Mahāvīra, in the centre.
The siddhacakra or navapada mahāyantra is the most popular Jain yantra, believed to be highly auspicious. It is a mystical diagram representing the major parts of the path to liberation from the cycle of rebirth. With a key role in worship rituals, the siddhacakra has a central position in the Āyambil Oḷī festival. The picture is found on the HereNow4U website.
Namaskāra-mantra and Bhaktāmara-stotra with yantras – part one
This YouTube slideshow features a recording of the Namaskāra-mantra followed by the Bhaktāmara-stotra, a famous Sanskrit hymn of praise to the first Jina, Ṛṣabha.;
Also known as the Navkār-mantra or Namokār-mantra, the Namaskāra-mantra is a very old mantra in Prakrit. It can be sung to different tunes and is chanted daily to honour the 'five types of beings worthy of worship' or Supreme Beings':
Bhaktāmara-stotra means Devoted Gods. This title comes from the first verse, which describes how all the gods offer homage to Ṛṣabha. The slideshow includes colour-tinted yantras and mantras to help listeners meditate.
This is the first of four parts of the Śvetāmbara hymn, which has 44 verses. This part contains stanzas 1 to 12.
This YouTube slideshow features a recording of the Bhaktāmara-stotra, a famous Sanskrit hymn of praise to the first Jina, Ṛṣabha. The title Devoted Gods comes from the first verse, which describes how all the gods offer homage to Ṛṣabha. The slideshow includes colour-tinted yantras and mantras to help listeners meditate.
This is the second of four parts of the 44-verse Śvetāmbara hymn, covering stanzas 13 to 25.
A 16th-century cloth maṇḍala features the composite seed mantra at its centre, which combines the sacred syllables of hrīṃ and auṃ – also known as oṃ. This colourful maṇḍala also contains numerous other auspicious symbols, including a pair of eyes, Jinas and deities. The auctioneer Christie's provides this zoomable photograph on its website.
A 'great yantra' honouring the Bhaktāmara-stotra on the HereNow4U website. A very popular Jain hymn of praise, the Bhaktāmara-stotra is closely associated with mantras – auspicious syllables – and mystical diagrams – yantras. Reciting the mantras and meditating on the yantras is part of the Bhaktāmara-stotra worship ceremony. Each verse has developed its own mantra and yantra, but there are also yantras designed to be contemplated when chanting the whole hymn.
Preceptor, teacher. A title given to a Jain religious teacher, usually one who is a head monk.
Sanskrit for 'universal monarch'. There are 12 in the continent of Bharata in each progressive and regressive half-cyle of time. They have 9 treasures and 14 jewels they can use to conquer their enemies and become 'universal monarchs'. The cakravartin form one of the five groups of '63 illustrious men' in Jain mythology.
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.
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over
and teaches the way to achieve
. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching
through asceticism. The most famous 24 –
– were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the
, but more are found in other continents. There have been
in the past and there will be some in the future.
Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century.
A sacred sound, syllable, word or phrase that is believed to produce spiritual change if recited correctly. A mantra can be recited aloud or silently, and is often repeated. Mantras are closely associated with religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Jainism. The chief Jain mantra is the Namaskāra-mantra, which is recited daily, while another mantra very popular in Indian culture generally is Auṃ.
Release from the bondage of neverending rebirths, in which an enlightened human being undergoes his or her final death, followed immediately by salvation instead of rebirth. Note that this differs from the Buddhist concept of the same name.
Sacred syllable commonly written as 'Oṃ' or 'Om', which is also used in Hinduism and Buddhism. Jains use it, for instance, in the Namaskāra-mantra. The letters in the word are significant:
'A' refers to Arhats, siddhas and ācāryas
'U' refers to preceptors or teachers
'M' refers to mendicant.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. 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.
Preceptor or tutor. One of the Five Supreme Beings, who is worthy of being worshipped by ordinary Jains.
Often abbreviated, Vikrama-saṃvat is the calendar associated with Emperor Vikramāditya. It begins in about 56 BCE so the equivalent date in the Common Era can be calculated by subtracting 57 or 56. Based on Hindu traditions, it is a lunar calendar often used in contemporary India.
of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his
or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main
of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.
Hindu goddess of learning who presides over the teaching of the Jinas, and is worshipped on the day of the festival devoted to scriptures. As goddess of knowledge, music and the arts, Sarasvatī is one of the most popular deities in India and has followers among all the Indian religions.
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.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
The chief creator god in Hinduism, who has red skin and four heads and four arms. One of the triad of principal gods along with Śiva and Viṣnu.
A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.
A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.
The elephant-headed Hindu god, who is popular among believers in many Indian religions. He is known as the remover of obstacles, a god of new beginnings and patron of arts and sciences, intellect and wisdom. He is commonly invoked by Jain authors and scribes.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
A sacred symbol or mantra that controls the false world that people experience.
A script for writing in different Indian languages, still used today. In Devanāgarī each letter has a horizontal line above it.
A city in the northwestern state of Rajasthan in India.
The ninth celestial element in Hindu mythology, frequently termed the 'shadow planet'. Ketu is associated with sorrow and material loss that foster spiritual development. The tenth element, Rāhu, is the head of the snake that swallows the sun or moon, causing eclipses, while Ketu forms the tail. Ketu is associated with spirituality, material prosperity, good health, antidotes to snake venom and poisons. He may be represented as a half-human, half-snake figure, with a trident and a bird.
A small town in Gujarat that was a capital city in medieval times, a Jain centre of learning and art with beautiful temples. Some of these and remains of other structures can be seen today. Old name: Aṇahilla Paṭṭaṇa.
The snake or dragon that causes eclipses by swallowing the moon or the sun in Hindu mythology. One of the nine celestial elements in Vedic astrology, Rāhu is associated with deception, manipulation, cheating, lying and poisons. He is also strongly connected with material ambition and success. He works with the 'shadow planet', Ketu, to swallow the sun or moon. He is the head of the snake while Ketu forms the tail.
The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.
The principal destroyer or transformer deity in the Hindu religion. One of the triad of major Hindu gods, along with Brahmā the creator and Viṣṇu the preserver or protector. Śiva is often depicted with a third eye, a crescent moon on his forehead, matted hair and smeared with cremation ashes.
The chief protective god in Hinduism and one of the triad of major deities, along with Brahmā the creator and Śiva the destroyer or transformer. Viṣṇu is the preserver or protector, and is often shown as dark blue, with four arms, holding a lotus, mace, conch and wheel. He has a thousand names and ten avatārs, the best known being Rāma and blue-skinned Kṛṣṇa.
A ritual in which an item or place is declared to be holy. A person may also consecrate a specific time or activity or be consecrated, which means becoming dedicated to a religious purpose.
Sanskrit for 'instrument' or 'machine', a yantra is a mystical diagram used in religious rituals. Yantras are typically formed of symmetrical, concentric circles and may also have the diagram of a lotus in the middle of numerous squares. Containing the names of the Jinas and sacred mantras, such as oṃ, yantras are meditation aids.
Falling in late September or October, the annual 'Festival of Lights' is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, though they have different understandings of it. Jains of all sects commemorate the liberation of Mahavira and the omniscience of his chief disciple Indrabhūti Gautama. The festival also marks a new religious year for Jains.
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future.
A system of contemplative prayer, meditation and complete detachment from worldly affairs in the hope of gaining direct spiritual experience of the divine. In Jainism those who practise mystical techniques hope to gain true self-realisation and thus destroy karma and be liberated.
Found at the end of a Jain manuscript, a colophon is similar to the publication information at the beginning of modern books. It usually contains the title and sometimes details of the author, scribe and sponsor. The colophons of Jain manuscripts may also include the names of owners, readers and libraries where they have been stored. They frequently have decorative elements and very commonly contain a wish for good fortune for any readers. Written mainly by the scribes who copy texts, Jain colophons are often written in Sanskrit.
Jain Tantric worship aims to control other people or counter evil influences. Tantric rituals try to placate the aggressive side of a
's nature, encouraging the divinity to behave benevolently. If not
correctly, the vengeful deity may cause harm. The devotee invokes the deity under his or her various names, places images of the deity on yantras – mystical diagrams – and meditates, repeating mantras.
An expression invoking good luck or blessings. It is often found in manuscripts and yantras.