Almost exactly 2 years ago, two Jain sculptures from the 10th century AD were found in the southern Indian state of Telangana. Now history almost repeats itself, as two square pillars adorned with sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras – savior and spiritual teachers – have been unearthed on the outskirts of the capital city of the Telangana state, Hyderabad. Lying in neglect and near ruin, one of these pillars was carved out of granite and the other of black basalt!
Adorning the Pillars: Keerthimukhas
Intricate carvings of four Jain religion Tirthankaras – Adinatha, Neminatha, Parsvanatha, and Vardhamana Mahavira (the founder of the faith himself)—in a seated meditation posture, with each of the four sides of the pillars featuring a different sculpture. The pillars are adorned with the fierce, gaping mouth of Keerthimukhas on their upper sections, adding to the overall aesthetic and artistic value, reports The Hindu .
Detail of the Keerthimukha on the top portion of the Jain sculptures. Keerthimukhas meaning “glorious face”, is the name of a swallowing fierce monster face with huge fangs, and gaping mouth, very common in the iconography of temple architecture in India and Southeast Asia. ( E. Sivanagireddy/ The Hindu )
Keerthimukhas are decorative motifs commonly found in Indian art and architecture. They are often depicted as ferocious faces, typically located at the topmost portion of temple gateways, pillars, and other architectural elements. The term “Keerthimukha” is derived from the Sanskrit words “keerthi” meaning “glory” or “fame,” and “mukha” meaning “face”.
They are often portrayed as half animal and half human faces, displaying a combination of divine and animal attributes. In South Indian temple architecture, Keerthimukhas are often depicted as part of the gopuram (temple tower) or vimana (main shrine) entrances, while in North Indian temples, they are commonly seen on arched gateways, known as toranas.
Uncovering the Finds: Local Preservation and Upkeep
The discoveries were made specifically in Enikepalli village, located in Rangareddy district’s Moinabad mandal. These awesome artifacts, lying in neglect, were brought to the world’s attention by P. Srinath Reddy, a young archaeologist and heritage activist, leading to an inspection conducted by E. Sivanagireddy, an archaeologist and CEO of Pleach India Foundation.
Both slabs bear inscriptions in the Telugu-Kannada script, a writing system used in southern India. Unfortunately, due to their attachment to the masonry walls of the sluice of the village tank, some of the inscriptions have become undecipherable. However, the visible portion of one inscription makes reference to a Janina Basadi (a monastery or Jain temple) that once stood near Chilukuru, a prominent Jaina center during the Rashtrakuta and Vemulawada Chalukyan eras (9th-10th centuries AD).
To gain a more comprehensive understanding of these slabs, it will be necessary to remove them from the sluice. According to Mr. Sivanagireddy, it is believed that the Jaina Tirthankara slabs were brought from a dilapidated Jain temple in the vicinity and subsequently affixed to the sluice approximately 100 years ago, reports The Siasat Daily .
Recognizing the archaeological significance of these Jaina sculptural pillars and inscriptions, Mr. Sivanagireddy made an appeal to the villagers, urging them to safeguard these treasures. This is also to encourage a healthy culture of archaeological preservation wherein the local communities are involved in their historical and cultural heritage. He suggests that the slabs be removed from the sluice and placed on a pedestal, accompanied by proper labeling containing historical details.
Jainism in Southern India: A Storied Trajectory
Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that originated in the 6th century BC. It is characterized by its emphasis on non-violence (ahimsa), truth (satya), non-stealing (asteya), non-possession (aparigraha), and celibacy (brahmacharya). Jainism teaches a path of spiritual purification and liberation of the soul, aiming to attain moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) by following a disciplined way of life.
Jain painting explaining Anekantavada with Blind men and an elephant. It is particularly used in Jainism to explain the doctrine of multi-sidedness (anekantavada) of Ultimate Reality, Absolute Truth. It is also called the theory of non-onesidedness, non-absolutism, manifoldness, many pointedness by scholars. (romana klee from usa/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Jainism has had a profound historical presence in southern India. The religion received patronage from ruling dynasties, flourished through the establishment of monastic centers, and left an indelible mark on the region’s cultural and architectural landscape. Till today, Jainism continues to thrive in southern India, with numerous temples, pilgrimage sites, and a vibrant Jain community preserving its rich heritage.
Jainism’s roots in southern India can be traced back to ancient times, with historical evidence suggesting its presence as early as the 3rd century BC. The Mauryan Emperor Chandragupta Maurya , after renouncing his kingdom, is believed to have embraced Jainism and spent his final years as a Jain ascetic in Shravanabelagola, in present-day Karnataka.
During the rule of the Satavahanas and Ikshvakus in the Deccan region, Jainism flourished, with patronage from rulers and the establishment of monastic centers. Just like the spread of any religious faith anywhere in the world, Jainism too relied on the patronage and legitimacy it provided (and received) from various ancient dynasties. This symbiotic bond, along with the messages it preached, allowed for a healthy spread of Jain influence.
Top image: The Jain sculptures found at Moinabad, Hyderabad, India. Figures show a spiritual teacher of the dharma, seated in meditation and the top part adorned with Keerthimukhas. Source: E. Sivanagireddy/ The Hindu
By Sahir Pandey