Contributed by Audrey Truschke
Iconoclasm, literally 'image-breaking' in Greek, is hostility towards religious objects, often resulting in their destruction. Muslims periodically damaged Jain idols and temples in India, usually for either commercial or political reasons. Enmity did not characterise overall relations between the two communities, and other Indian religious groups also practised temple destruction at times. Nonetheless, Islamicate iconoclastic ideas and behaviours were a repeated feature of encounters between Jains and Muslims.
Raids by Central Asian Muslims on the wealth of India started in the eighth century. These early Muslim attacks targeted both Hindu and Jain temples, particularly in Gujarat, over the next several hundred years. Reconstructing these events can be difficult because Jain texts often do not dwell on such attacks. Scholars estimate that temple destructions were far less frequent than often assumed by contemporary writers.
Reactions to such experiences differed among Jains. Many believed that violence and suffering were signs of the overall moral deterioration to be expected in the present cycle of time. Others treated episodes of destruction as an opportunity to prove Jainism's resilience in the face of danger. Only from the 19th century onwards does evidence emerge that Jains began to think of Muslim iconoclasm as springing from specifically Islamic principles.
Violent and ideological iconoclasms were recurring features of encounters between Jains and Muslims, yet a few comments are helpful to avoid misunderstandings. Muslims practised iconoclasm for a mix of reasons that often had little to do with religious values. Moreover, while Muslims damaged Indian religious images and buildings periodically, the scope and frequency of such attacks remain unclear. Last, the variety of Islamic thought and practices undermines any simplistic notion that Islam required the destruction of Indian sacred objects.
First, iconoclasm was not always or even primarily inspired by Islamic religious ideology. Rather Muslim rulers and communities practised iconoclasm for complex political, social and commercial reasons. Thus, while attacks on Jain and Hindu temples are often described in the language of religious conflict in Islamicate sources, they are best understood in their specific historical contexts.
Additionally, much of the data regarding Muslim iconoclastic activities towards Jains has yet to be properly analysed. Both scholarly and popular writers have long exaggerated the frequency of Islamic destructions of Indian temples. In 2000 Richard Eaton published a careful study of alleged Muslim demolitions of Hindu temples and settled on a notably low number of confirmed events. Nobody has yet made a parallel effort regarding Jain places of worship. Thus the prevalence of Muslim attacks on Jain temples remains uncertain.
Last, Islam is an incredibly diverse tradition, and many of its followers lack the staunch rejection of idol worship that is often falsely assumed to pervade the entire religion. Unsurprisingly, then, many Muslims who interacted with Jain individuals or communities raised no objections to the worship of images. In one instance, Akbar and Jahangir are even reported to have participated in idol worship at a Jain ceremony. Some Muslims also expressed fascination at the power attributed to Jain images and the devotion of Jain worshippers.
Beginning in the eighth century, Muslims conducted numerous raids on South Asian centres of wealth. These activities impacted Jains from the start, with the 782 sack of Vallabhi in Gujarat, which had been a hub of Jain intellectual culture.
Evidence that such incursions included Jain houses of worship surfaces only in the 11th century when the Ghaznavids started targeting Jain temples in Gujarat. These raids were largely motivated by financial gain, and Muslims simultaneously sacked temples devoted to Hindu deities. They sometimes championed their success by removing religious idols and displaying them in their Central Asian homelands, in modern-day Afghanistan.
As Islamicate rule became more entrenched in South Asia, assaults on temples continued, often for political reasons. In some cases, regional officials were involved in destructive activities, and Jains later appealed to Muslim governors and rulers for restoration funds. For instance, Khalji soldiers damaged some temples at Shatrunjaya in 1313, which were repaired with the joint support of a merchant from Patan, Gujarat, and the local Khalji governor. In 1645, while governor of Gujarat, Prince Aurangzeb desecrated a temple dedicated to Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, the 23rd Jina. His father, Shah Jahan, later returned the temple to Jain control.
In South India, Islamic officials occasionally banned Jains from acts of idol-veneration. For example, they blocked the anointing of the large statue of Bāhubali at Shravana Belagola in Karnataka in the 17th century.
Armies of the Bhavanavāsin gods
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Jain traditions offered numerous material and cultural responses to Muslim iconoclasm. They responded practically by changing the materials used to carve religious icons. They also produced monumental statues intended to withstand the inevitable apocalypse of this cycle of time, which was being brought about by Islamic attacks.
Jains also cultivated a myriad of literary responses. Many Jain thinkers pass over instances of violent iconoclasm in pre-modern texts and instead focus on other topics. Others interpreted iconoclastic episodes according to Jain concepts of regressive time or as an opportunity to showcase the durability of their faith.
Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, third Mughal Emperor of India from 1556 to 1605. Akbar's long reign is often thought of as beginning the peak of the Mughal Empire, as it grew and became rich and powerful, witnessing a cultural and intellectual flowering, and degrees of religious tolerance.
The belief and practice of avoiding the representation of divinities or other religious figures, which may also include human beings or living creatures. Aniconic followers may use images of abstract shapes or symbols, such as pillars, as the focus of religious worship. Aniconic Jains are opposed to the worship of figures of Jinas and deities.
The sixth Mughal ruler extended the empire to its largest, controlling most of the Indian subcontinent at one point. He took the title of Alamgir – ‘Conqueror of the World’ – and reigned from 1658 to 1707.
The regressive or descending half-cycle in the Jain conception of time. With the second half, the progressive one, avasarpiṇī forms a complete cycle of time.
Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1483–1530) overthrew the Lodi dynasty and founded the Mughal Empire in India in 1526. Descended from the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan and the Turkish sovereign Timur, Babur wrote his memoirs in Chaghatai Turkish.
(1903–1980). Author of many theological works and an important figure in the 20th-century Tapā-gaccha.
(1874–1925) Jain monk credited with over a hundred books, who became heavily involved in debates about idol worship.
A follower of Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ or Anointed One. Among other key principles, Christians believe in a creator God, that Jesus is the Son of God, who suffered and died to redeem the sins of the world and was restored to life after three days in the Resurrection. Also an adjective for concepts, people and objects related to Christianity.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
Tapā-gaccha monk who died in 1596. He wrote polemical texts challenging the validity of other Jain sects, especially the Kharatara-gaccha.
'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.
A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.
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.
Turkish dynasty based in Central Asia from 977 to 1186, which periodically controlled parts of the Indian subcontinent.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
From the Greek for 'image-breaking', iconoclasm is hostility towards items of religious or political importance, which may lead to their destruction. Iconoclasts hold iconoclastic beliefs.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
The monotheistic religion founded by the Prophet Muhammad in the sixth century CE. A believer in Islam, which means ‘peace’, is a Muslim, ‘one who submits to God’ in Arabic. Islamic practices and beliefs are based on the Qu’ran and the hadiths or stories about the Prophet Muhammad. A diverse faith, most Muslim sects accept the Five Pillars of Islam:
Term for cultural patterns and practices that are common in Muslim societies but are not overtly religious in nature. In contrast, the adjective 'Islamic' often refers to things directly connected with the religion of Islam.
Prince Salim adopted the title of Jahangir – 'World Conqueror' – when he became the fourth Mughal emperor. His reign from 1605 to 1627 was characterised by political stability, artistic production and generous patronage.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
(1261–1333) Kharatara-gaccha monk famous for writing Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa – Guidebook to Various Pilgrimage Places. He also visited the court of the Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq.
(1880–1955) Sthanaka-vāsi mendicant who became a mūrti-pūjaka and spent the rest of his life defending image worship.
(1888–1975) Mūrti-pūjak monk who devoted his life to studying manuscripts and inscriptions.
State in south-west India.
Second dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate, which ruled from 1290 to 1320.
The holiest city for Muslims. In modern Saudi Arabia, Mecca is the birthplace of Muhammad, and where he received some of his divine revelations. Muslims perform the hajj – pilgrimage – to Mecca as one of the five 'pillars' or duties of Islam.
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.
The Mughal Empire lasted from 1526 to 1858, a period noted for its wealth, overall religious tolerance, and cultural and intellectual achievements, particularly in art and architecture. Originally Muslims who swept down from Central Asia, the Mughals' best-known ruler is probably Akbar the Great (1556–1605).
Generally considered founder of the religion of Islam (approximately 570–632), who converted the Arabian peninsula into a Muslim region. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the last and greatest in a line of prophets, who reformed a corrupt tradition. The complete word of Allah or God was revealed to Muhammad and set down in the Arabic Qur’an or ‘recitation’.
Jains who venerate and worship images of Jinas in temples.
A Muslim, or ‘one who submits to God’ in Arabic, follows the religion of Islam, which means ‘peace’. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the last in a line of prophets. The complete word of Allah or God was revealed to Muhammad in the sixth century CE and set down in the Arabic Qur’an or ‘recitation’. Nearly all Muslims belong to either the Shia or Sunni sects, with Sunni Muslims comprising around 90% of Islamic believers.
The Digambara mendicants are 'sky-clad' because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers went nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This vow entails renouncing all possessions, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white saris and are thus technically spiritually advanced celibate laywomen. Śvetāmbara mendicants of both sexes, however, wear white clothing. The difference of opinion over whether the vow of non-possession includes clothing was one reason for the Jain community's split into these two major sects early in the Common Era.
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.
Term for the period before the 'modern' age, which began around the 1500s in Western Europe. The pre-modern era was characterised by general belief in the divine and a strong sense of tradition and social order. In contrast, the modern period witnessed the spread of:
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
Holy book of Islam. Muslims believe that the Qur’an, meaning ‘recitation’ in Arabic, contains the word of God as heard by Muhammad. The Qur’an is also widely praised as fine Arabic poetry.
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.
Prince Khurram was given the title of Shah Jahan – 'King of the World' – by his father, Emperor Jahangir. Succeeding in 1628, he became the fifth Mughal emperor and ruled until 1658, when his son, Aurangzeb, imprisoned him. Shah Jahan presided over the zenith of Mughal architecture, including the Taj Mahal, built in honour of his dead wife, Mumtaz Mahal. He died in 1666.
The Indian or South Asian subcontinent is a term for the geographical area roughly covering modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
'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.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
The wealthy city of Valabhī – now Vallabhi – in Gujarat was a major centre of Jain intellectual life in the early medieval period. The final version of the Śvetāmbara canon was written down there under the supervision of the religious teacher Devarddhi-gaṇi Kṣamāśramaṇa in the fifth century CE.
In line with the key principle of ahiṃsā – non-violence – Jains are traditionally vegetarian. They do not eat meat, fish, eggs or anything that contains potential life, such as onions, potatoes and aubergines. They do generally eat dairy products.
(1624–1688) Śvetāmbara Tapā-gaccha monk who wrote extensively on Jain philosophy.