Article: Sacred pavilions

Contributed by Julia A. B. Hegewald

Pavilions on pillars

A māna-stambha – 'pride pillar' – outside the entrance of the Jain temple in Rishabh Anchal, UP. At the top of the pillar is a small pavilion, which contains four adorsed Jina statues – figures with their backs to one another and looking outwards.

Māna-stambha in front of a temple
Image by rajkumar1220 © CC BY 2.0

Sacred pavilions usually raise the objects of veneration a metre or so from the ground. In south India, pavilions can also be positioned on short pillars, which raise them to eye level. Much smaller pavilions on very tall pillars are found throughout India and are called māna-stambhas. There are also brahmadeva-stambhas, which contain statues of the protective deity Brahma or Brahmadeva. Visible from some way off, these tall columns serve as identifiers of Jain temples as well as elements in ritual practice.

Sometimes the pillars are relatively short, only about one to one and a half metres high. This raises the shrines to a comfortable height for a standing devotee to venerate the images inside the small structure. Such pillars are particularly widespread in the south of India. A famous example is the column in the Digambara Pārśvanātha Temple at Hassan, in Karnataka.

Other pavilions, however, have clearly been elevated far above human level on columns which are about five to ten metres tall. These are not immediately accessible to worshippers on the ground. This is related to the common south Indian Jain practice of erecting pillars topped by images, symbols and lamps.

There are two major forms of these tall pillars topped by small pavilions. Particularly common are māna-stambhas – ‘pride pillars’. These are votive columns, usually at the front of Jain temples. Māna-stambhas are topped by a small pavilion, which usually houses four adorsed Jina statues – figures with their backs turned towards one another and looking outwards – or simply a single image of a Jina. Māna-stambhas are found throughout the Indian subcontinent, especially in Digambara temples.

Closely related in design are pillars dedicated to the yakṣa Brahma or Brahma-deva, who functions as the kṣetra-pāla, the guardian of the sacred area, in Jain temple complexes. He is particularly popular in the south of India. Brahma-stambhas or brahmadeva-stambhas are surmounted by a figure of Brahma. In most instances, he is seated in a small raised pavilion, as may be seen at Halebid and Shravana Belgola, both in Karnataka.

Elevating the holy items means they are visible from afar. Consequently, they do not act only as objects of veneration at the site, but also gain a more symbolic value, so that a place is recognised as Jain from a distance.

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