Article: Kunthu

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Events, stories and hymns

The life of Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is almost eventless. In the ninth-century Lives of the 54 Jain Great MenCauppaṇṇa-mahāpurisa-cariya – written in Prakrit by the Śvetāmbara monk Śīlānka, the chapter about the 17th Jina is just one page, containing the main outline and basic information.

The same is true for the standard sectarian versions of Kunthu’s life:

  • the 12th-century Śvetāmbara Sanskrit text Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritra, written by Hemacandra
  • Guṇabhadra’s Uttara-purāṇa, for the Digambaras.

Kunthu is mainly praised alongside other Jinas in hymns dedicated to the 24 Jinas. One instance is the devotional song dedicated to this Jina in the Gujarati set of hymns composed by Yaśo-vijaya in the 17th century. This example can be found among the manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia.

Temples and images

A brass figure of the 17th Jina Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu dating from the 17th to 18th century. The plain style, nudity and closed eyes are typical of sculptures of Jinas produced for the Digambara sect.

Figure of Kunthu
Image by Brooklyn Museum Collection © CC BY-NC

Kunthunātha or Lord Kunthu is not one of the most popular Jinas. Yet he is known through at least a few temples dedicated to him or isolated images. He seems to have been more popular in south India, at least in medieval times.

One of the most ancient temples dedicated to this Jina is in Karandai, about 15 kms from Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. This place, also known as Munigiri, was an important Jain centre until the 13th century.

One of the main temples to the 17th Jina is the Kunthunatha Jinalaya at Kamalapur, a village south of Hampi, in the Bellary district of Karnatak. This temple complex is also known as the Ganagitti temple. An inscription found on the pillar – māna-stambha – in front of the building records that it was buiIt by Iruguppa Daṇḍanāyaka, the minister of Bukkarāya II, in the reign of the Vijayanagara king Harihara II and that it was dedicated to Kunthunātha (Suresh 2004: 325; 2011: 185–188). However, the cella that originally housed the image is now empty. Jina sculptures are found in other parts of the temple, though. ‘It is one of the earliest Jina temples of the Vijayanagara period, well preserved and in good condition’ (Suresh 2004: 326).

This 19th-century watercolour from the Mackenzie Collection kept in the British Library probably depicts this temple.

Another temple in Karnatak is the Sri Kuntunatha Basadi in the Indira Nagar or Ittegegood area of Mysore. This is a modern temple, which was inaugurated in 1997. The main idol of Kunthu is flanked by images of the:

  • 12th Jina, Vāsupūjyanātha or Lord Vāsupūjya, on the left
  • 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, on the right.

Instances of stone sculptures of Kunthu are:

  • a seated figure with emblem in the caves 8 and 9 of Khandagiri, Orissa
  • a big 12th-century standing image at Bajrangagadha, Guna in Madhya Pradesh (Shah 1987: 157)
  • a 7th- to 8th-century figure with emblem at the Bharata Kala Bhavana in Varanasi (Shah 1987: 157) and other images, mostly of Digambara style, in north Indian museums
  • 12th- and 13th-century images in the Vimala Vasahi on Mount Abu, identified through inscriptions.

Examples of metal images in various collections are:

  • bronze images from the 11th century found in the Aluara hoard, now in the Patna Museum (Shah 1097: 157).
  • a bronze image dated 1470 in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where the Jina is identified in the inscription at the back
  • a bronze figure produced in 1476 in Vasantgarh, Rajasthan, kept in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where an emblem, which should be the goat, is visible
  • a small idol in the Brooklyn Museum, New York
  • a 12th-century image in the Huntington collection, based at Ohio State University.
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