Category Archives: Gwalior

Jain tirthankaras : depictions in art


       The term tirthankara in Jainism refers to a saviour who has crossed the samsara or cycle of birth and rebirths and made a path for others to follow. Jain cosmology mentions that the 24 tirthankaras grace this part of the universe in each half of the cosmic time cycle. A tirthaankara teaches dharma, the righteous path,organises sangha with sravakas and sravikas, male and female monastics. There teachings are similar and their blessings are available to all beings. The teachings are found in the Jain canons.

 The tirthankaras are arihants  or jinas meaning conquerors of one’s inner enemies such as anger, attachment, pride and greed. They attain kevalajnana or pure infinite knowledge.  Then they guide others through their darshana or divine vision and deshna or divine speech towards kevalajnana and moksha or liberation.

  A tirthankara is usually depicted in the seated padmasana or lotus position and in kayotsarga if depicted in standing posture. One can recognise them through their symbols because they look similar. The two sects of Jainas depict the tirthankaras differently. The Digmabara sect depicts them unclothed while the Svetambara sect depicts them with clothes and  some ornaments.

Rishabhanatha, 1st Jaina tirthankara,7-8th century, Uttar Pradesh.

By I, Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Parshvanatha,15th century,Ranakpur,Rajasthan.

By Gérard Janot – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

 The 24 Jaina tirthankaras are Rishabhnatha,bull symbol,Ajitanatha,elephant symbol,Sambhanatha, symbol horse, Abhinandananatha,monkey symbol, Sumatinatha,goose as symbol, Padmaprabha, lotus symbol, Suparshvanatha,swastika, Chandraprabha, moon symbol, Pushpadanta, makara or crocodile symbol, Shitalanatha , srivatsa symbol, Shreyanasanatha, rhinoceros symbol, Vasupujya, buffalo symbol, Vimalanatha, boar symbol, Anantanatha, porcupine or falcon, Dharmanatha, vajra symbol, Shantinatha deer or antelope, Kunthunatha, goat symbol, Aranatha, fish symbol,Mallinatha ,kalasha  symbol, Munisuvrata, tortoise as symbol,Naminatha,blue lotus as symbol, Neminatha, conch as symbol, Parshvanatha, snake as symbol and Mahavira with the lion symbol.

Naminatha,Mathura,12th century, Government Museum,Uttar Pradesh.

By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0,


      The statues depicted below are on the Gopachal Hill in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh which were carved around 15-16th century A.D. by the Tomar dynasty rulers.  These colossal  statues were built during the reign of Tomar Kings  :Viramdev, Dungar Singh and Kirti Singh. the front side of the hill has 26 caves having rock cut carvings. The Parshvanatha  image is 47 feet in height, present in one of the caves, the Rishabhnatha one is 58 feet tall, outside of the Urvahi Gate,the Suparshvanatha image is 35 feet high in a cave in the padmasana posture. The images have survived in spite of invasions. Parshvanatha is believed to have delivered a deshna or discourse on Gopachal Hill where the Gwalior Fort also stands.

File:247 Gwalior.jpg

 Jain tirthankaras, 15th-16th century,Gwalior,Madhya Pradesh.

By YashiWong (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

        As per Jain beliefs time has no beginning and end. The tirthankaras were royal figures and Jaina texts have their past lives’ records.  The first tirthankara Rishabhanatha is believed to have founded the Ishkavaku dynasty from which 21 other tirthankaras also rose over time. Two tirthankaras; Munisuvrata, the 20th, and Neminatha, the 22nd belonged to the Harivamsa dynasty.

File:Lord Mahavir Gold.jpg

Mahavira, gold statue.

By Sidparakh (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The 24 Jain tirthankaras, painting,19th century,Jaipur.

See page for author [Public domain ], via Wikimedia Commons




References :

  • The peaceful liberators : Jain art from India/Pal, Pratapaditya, Los Angeles : LACMA,1996.


Posted by :


Soma Ghosh



Symbol of the trinity : panel in Gwalior fort

            Art is an expression of the human spirit and depicts both sensory and abstract feelings. Art and religion are frequently inter-woven by time, experience and content. Religion finds artistic expression in sculpture,painting and architecture. in India, religion underlies many aspects of human life. Religious worship is an activity to appease powers beyond human control. It is a surrender to existence and a contemplation of the divine, from which arises peace and trust.

    Indian art borrows heavily from religion and through visual form many aspects of the Indian deities like Shiva, Vishnu,Brahma,Buddha, Mahavira have been depicted. Art in India exists from prehistoric times to the present day. It can be found manifest on temples, stupas, chaityas, viharas,sculpture,metal icons, paintings,terracottas,wall paintings,pottery,textiles and jewellery.

     Representation of deities in art is done in interesting ways. symbols and their language has been used for decoration but can also depict the divine. Symbols are used to represent nature, deities and to communicate ideas. Symbols can be used to convey abstractness and myths.

     An excellent symbolic representation can be seen in the famous fort of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. The fort at Gwalior has a long history. It stands at 300 feet above the plain lands on Gopachal Hill; it is believed to have been King Suraj Sen of the Kacchhappa dynasty who was cured of leprosy by being directed to a pond by Sage Gwalip after whom the town is named. The King enlarged the water body for common benefit. Gwalior fort is a solid structure, massive, spectacular and very impressive. The fort consists of Badal Mahal, Jehangir Mahal, many gates,water sources including Surajkund, Jauhar taal, Mansarovar,Rani Taal, and Cheri taal. A gurudwara has also been built where the 6th  Sikh guru Hargovind used to meditate.


Pic : Soma Ghosh

       Man Mandir is however the most awesome  in the entire fort of Gwalior. Emperor Babur visited this palace in 1528. The entrance to the palace is Hathi por, made of four pillars supporting a dome. Two towers flank the entrance mounted by domes. The Man Mandir is the palace of the king which also housed the attendants.

The Maharaja of Gwalior entering his palace,1887.

By Edwin Lord Weeks –, Public Domain,

        Inside the palace are courtyards in square shape. To the west of the first is a dance and music hall. On the east is a living room which opens to the inner courtyard. This is large and to its east  and west are the rooms for royalty. From the courtyards staircases go downwards to lower rooms. This palace has beautiful pillars,screen work, ornate ceilings, inlay work,coloured tiles and brackets. The pillars in the first courtyard are placed in four tiers divided into four segments from base to the abacus. The inner courtyard is the larger one and two panels of false screen work exist on the northern and southern side. The false screenwork/panel  in the shape of a chakra is very symbolic and representative from a Hindu point of view of the cosmos. These panels on either sides of the pillars are very interesting and the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is represented here.

     At the centre of the chakra is a lotus which is a symbol of the Brahma, the creator. The lotus also suggests expansion of the soul,rooted in infinite reality and represents concept of primordial birth from the cosmic waters of creation. As per Hindu philosophy the universe or cosmos is always in flux, constantly changing. it is created, maintained and destroyed and created again. The chakra motif which is used can also be understood to refer to the cycles of time.IMG_20151206_155520

Pic : Soma Ghosh

       Vishnu who is also called Padmanabha is believed to rest on the eternal ocean and out of his navel comes out Lord Brahma who takes up creation. It is said that Shiva takes up the duty of destruction at the end of eras or epochs. in this panel Vishnu is seen as a symbol resembling the Srivatsa present in concentric circles in spaces between the lattice surrounding the lotus. Srivatsa is a symbol on the chest of the Vishnu believed to have been created by the blow of Shiva’s trident (trishul) or by the wet hand of sage Bharadwaja. This symbol has been seen in caves, cave inscriptions, stupas,terracottas, seals, pottery and coins. Srivatsa is thus an auspicious mark which also occurs on the chest of Jain Tirthankaras. It has been used as a decorative element from Sunga period.

          In this panel the trident is represented in four concentric circles in triangular shapes to represent Shiva.They are found in circles after the Srivatsa shapes as ejecting triangles. This design with cosmic annotations thus captures the paradigm of the universe. Cosmic reality thus portrayed in Hinduism with the Trimurti principle gets depicted and by looking and meditating on this, one can sense a oneness with self and creation!


  • Gwalior Fort : art, culture and history, Kalyan Kumar Chakravarty, 1984,New Delhi: Arnold Heinemann.
  • History of the fortress of Gwalior,Srimant Balwantrao  Scindia,1891, Byculla: Education Society Press.
  • The dance of Shiva, Ananda Coomaraswamy, 1924 New York: Sunwise Torn-Inc.


Posted by :

Soma Ghosh




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