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Jina Mahavira

Asian Art

This sculpture depicts the Jina Mahavira, the founder of the Jain religion and a historical contemporary of the Buddha. Here, Mahavira is shown as a Digambara, or “person clothed by air.” The Digambara sect of Jainism practices nudity as a form of asceticism. His nudity reflects his commitment to the most extreme and highest level of Jain practice. Additionally, the Jina is depicted engaged in standing meditation. This form of meditation is performed motionless and upright with hands at the sides as a method of gaining control of the body and thoughts. Ultimately, this work is centered on the idea of denying the power of the body and, despite its use of nudity, has no sexual connotations. It is actually an act of religious devotion.
  • Possible Place Made: Karnataka, India
  • DATES 11th-12th century (image); 16th century (base and halo)
    DIMENSIONS 24 1/2 × 18 1/2 × 7 7/8 in. (62.2 × 47 × 20 cm)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 34.752a-b
    CREDIT LINE Brooklyn Museum Collection
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Brass image (murti) of the twenty-fourth Jina, Mahavira, standing on a low square pedestal. The figure and pedestal rest on a rectangular base (bhadrapitha), which supports a large, arched screen (torana) behind. The figure is completely nude, indicating that the ascetic is of the Digambara sect. He stands in the characteristic Jaina pose with the body erect (samabhanga) and arms pendant, but with the hands not touching the thighs. The hair is spirally curled and the earlobes pendant. The torana (markara torana) is a high arched screen back. The lower part is of the simple architectural throne back type with supporting columns on each side, terminating in figures of lions in full relief. The arch rests on 2 small figures: reliefs of elephants with markara heads. The arch itself is comprised of an incised double row of projecting flame tongues (jvala) and is surmounted by a large grotesque head called a kirtimukha. The niche within the arch directly behind the figure is plain, with an incised border of diamond-shaped motifs. The front of the base upon which the figure stands bears an incised figure of a lion, the cognizance (cihna, identifying emblem) of Mahavira. On the lower projection of the base there is an inscription in Kanada script in three rows. The brass has darkened. Sculpture comprised of two parts: figure and base
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