Article: Royal Asiatic Society

Contributed by Kathy Lazenbatt

Paintings on cloth

The rare sūri-mantra-paṭa in the collections of the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Dated 1499, it is one of the oldest surviving examples and, being mainly textual, looks quite different from contemporary ones.

Sūri-mantra-paṭa
Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London

The Royal Asiatic Society holds two Jain-related paintings on cloth – a rare yantra or meditation diagram and a cosmological map.

The first cloth painting is a meditation diagram, of a type known as sūri-mantra-paṭa. It was intended for use by members of the Kharatara-gaccha sect.The diagram consists of concentric circles within which are formulas of homage to various deities, types of Jain monks, sacred knowledge and so on, along with magical syllables. If the date on the piece is correct, it was created in 1449 CE, around the time the Kharatara-gaccha was flourishing particularly in Rajasthan. This type of diagram is hardly ever found outside India and it is a particularly early example, making this an exceptionally rare and interesting piece.

The provenance of the yantra is not clear cut. It was found among the papers of Sir Henry Miers Elliott (1808–1853), a civil servant and historian. Miers Elliott worked for the East India Company in various parts of the subcontinent and was interested in Indian culture and history. He died at the Cape of Good Hope on the way home from India and his manuscripts and papers were passed on to various scholars. It seems likely that one of them gave some material to the RAS, including this yantra, although there is no record of the donation.

During the conservation process undertaken for JAINpedia digitisation, two further diagrams were revealed on the back of the yantra's fabric. They are small labyrinth-shaped squares without any text inscribed.

The other painting on cloth is a map of part of the Jain universe, known as an aḍhāī-dvīpaTwo and A Half Continents – which is an artwork depicting Jain cosmography. It represents in the form of concentric circles three areas of land with two oceans in between. These areas of land represent the realm of human beings, and the diagrams include many details of specific rivers and mountains found on the continents. This painting is of particular interest because it includes information about:

  • the pandit who wrote it
  • his monastic lineage
  • the pandit who owned and used it
  • the date it was created, which is 1816 CE.

The aḍhāī-dvīpa was presented to the RAS by Major General William Miles on 17 June 1837. It had been given to him 'by a Jain priest of the Province of Marwar'. Miles was the author of an article called ‘On the Jains of Gujerat and Marwar’, published in the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1835.

Baxter Collection of paintings

Śvetāmbara painting of the worship of an image of Naminātha or Lord Nami, the 21st Jina. The blue lotus emblem identifies the figure in the lotus pose of meditation, wearing jewellery and fanned by richly dressed lay people.

Worship of Nami
Image by Royal Asiatic Society © Royal Asiatic Society Images / RAS, London

Comprising painted works of art, the Baxter Collection at the Royal Asiatic Society contains 19 examples of Jain religious art. The 24 Jinas are frequently portrayed in art and can usually be identified only from their personal emblems.

Born in 1793 in Calcutta, Nadir Baxter was the son of a British merchant and his wife. He grew up in India and came to England in 1825. Shortly after his arrival, Baxter donated to the Royal Asiatic Society 47 Indian miniature paintings dating from the early 19th century. The Baxter Collection comprises:

  • 19 paintings from a series depicting the 24 Jinas
  • 24 paintings from an incomplete ragamala set
  • 3 paintings of Hindu gods
  • 1 painting of Sri Nathji, with 7 images of the Vallabha sect.

There is no information about the provenance of the artworks.

The Jinas represented in the paintings are given in the table. The Sanskrit term nātha means 'Lord' and is usually shortened to nath in modern Indian languages. It is added to the end of a person's name and is frequently used for deities.

Jina paintings in the Baxter Collection

Jina number

Name given in painting

Name in romanised Sanskrit

1

Sri Risabha

Ṛṣabha

3

Sri Sambhava Nath

Saṃbhava

4

Sri Abhinandan

Abhinandana

5

Sri Sumati Nath

Sumati

6

Sri Padham Prabhu Nath

Padmaprabha

7

Sri Suparsa Nath

Supārśva

8

Sri Candra Prabhuji

Candraprabha

9

Sri Subhadji

Puṣpadanta

10

Sri Sitalji

Śītala

14

Sri Anantji

Ananta

15

Sri Dharam Nath

Dharma

16

Sri Santi Nath

Śānti

17

Sri Kutha Nath

Kunthu

18

Sri Ara Nath

Ara

19

Sri Malli Nath

Malli

20

Sri Mansubuta ji

Munisuvrata

21

Sri Nemi Nath

Nami

22

Sri Nema Nath

Nemi

24

Sri Mahavira ji

Mahāvīra

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Related Manuscripts

  • Full view

    Full view

    Royal Asiatic Society. 065.001. Unknown author. 1449

  • Front cover

    Front cover

    Royal Asiatic Society. Tod MS 34. Unknown author / Bhavadeva-sūri. 1404

Related Manuscript Images

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