About the Book
The jain temples at Dilwara in Mount Abu evoke a sense of awe for their sculptural artistry. Unnamed artists who had, for years, created exquisite pieces who had, for years, created exquisite pieces in ivory, now worked with marble, sculpting ceilings and domes, columns and walls, creating works of unparalleled beauty. They carried forward, and deepened, a rich tradition of temple building in India, with their plethora of images from Indian myths and legends. Numerous gods and goddesses, yaksas and yaksis, dancers and musicians, apsaras and nagins, as well as flowers and trees - mythic and real- adore every nook and corner of these temples. The most outstanding feature of these temples are the thousand- pettalled lotuses that decorate the domes in the rangamandapas, signifying a very highly evolved technical and artistic achievement.
Some 200 kms away and 500 years later, in Ranakpur, the Adisvara temple is an achievement of a different kind. It is renowned for its architectural splendour; a thousand columns that define its wondrous spaces are all unique, as no two are alike.
Using these temples as nodal points for a photographic and a reflective study, Professor Sehdev Kumar explores the artistic nuances of these temples in the context of the rich tradition of temple architecture and iconography in India.
About the Author
Sehdev Kumar is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo, Canada. A long-time student of Indian artistic and spiritual traditions, he is also the author of The Vision of Kabir and The Lotus in the Stone. He has also made several films including Outside In, Symmetry-Symmetry, Love Suzanne, Ivory Tower.
Photographic exhibitions of these temples have been held in many countries.
Sehdev Kumar's next forthcoming book is Visions from Wilderness about the great literary naturalist Loren Eiseley.
The length and breadth of India is dotted with great architectural monuments: the temples at Belur and Halebid, the Sun Temple at Konark, the Kailash Temple at Ellora, the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi are all expressions of an abiding artistic exuberance that is part of the cultural heritage of India.
As the birthplace of several major religious traditions, India is a natural sacred ground for a stone or a rock to be transformed into a work of art. For centuries, the sumptuous Indian mythology- of the Hindus, the Buddhists and the Jains -enriched the imagination of the artist in a thousand different ways, inspiring him to create works that are at once earthy and heavenly, like a lotus flower. In the splendour of architectural spaces, any column, or a ceiling, or a wall served for the artist as a canvas, to be painted upon, to be chiseled, and to be sculpted, for celebration, or worship, or adoration. Gods and goddesses, yaksas and yaksis, dancers and musicians, apsaras and nagins, trees and flowers, all revealed a drama that was endlessly human and mythic. An Indian temple thus is a veritable art gallery, a theatre and a museum.
The Jains have been the great temple builders in India particularly in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Their temples are marked by the same aplomb that is evident in other Indian temples. Many consider the Jains or their rituals, at times, to be somewhat otherworldly; however, as temple-builders they evince all the earthiness of a stone-cutter, or a jeweler. There is thus a great sense of detail and precision in their craft. The Jains are rooted in an arthodox tradition but they are far from unwilling to try new tools and new materials.
The history of construction of jain temples in Rajasthan and elsewhere is well-documented by a number of distinguished scholars. The present work explores, somewhat impressionistically, the iconographic and architectural details of two sets of Jain temples in Rajasthan, one at Dilwara in Mount Abu and the other at Ranakpur, within the larger tradition of Indian arts and temple architecture. These two sets of temples are separated from each other by some five hundred years and two hundred kilometers. Yet there is an unbroken continuity of icons and images in these temples that is part of a still larger continuous tradition of temple architecture in India. Over a span of five hundred years, there is an artistic growth and a movement, but all within an abiding cultural stillness that can be perhaps best understood with a certain mythopoeic reference that goes beyond the mere facts of history.
This work has been in the making since 1980; the photographs and the reflections on the iconography and architecture- with numerous stories that are enfolded in them- needed much defining and refining at many stages. In this process I am beholden to many in several places: at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla, during my Fellowship in 1986-87, and at the Universities of Waterloo and Toronto in Canada for discussions with Dr. Michael Aris, Dr. S.C. Malik, Dr. Sukrita Kumar, Professor M.M. Agrawal, Professor Rekha Jhanji, Professor Joseph O' Connell and Professor Frank Thompson. My gratitude is also to Shastri Indo-Cnadian Institute, Ontario Arts Council, Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts for supporting this work in numerous ways.
This work could not have been completed in the present form without the support and guidance of Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan at all stages. I express my profound gratitude to Kapilaji for seeing it through.
I am also much thankful to Dr. L.M. Gujral, Consultant, IGNCA, and to Mr. Shakti Malik of Abhinav Publications for their support and dedication for this work.
Above all I am beholden for a certain reflection on these temples to the immensely gifted artists and the artisans who created works of such grandeur many centuries ago.
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