New Developments in Aniconic Jaina Iconography
- Publisher: Centre of Jaina Studies, SOAS
The article analyses for the first time the phenomenon of burial ad sanctos and of the necropolis in the aniconic Jaina traditions, which in certain respects serves as a functional equivalent of the temple city as the principla pilgrimage site, tīrtha, in the Mūrtipūjaka and Digambara traditions. Many originally anti-iconic traditions came to accept and worship certain aniconic images, such as relic shrines, empty thrones or stylised footprint images, that is, real or simulated relics of contact, and hence have become, to varying degrees, “image-worshipping” traditions in their need and desire to establish networks of abodes and of sacred sites, whether labelled tīrtha, dhām or aitihāsik sthal. A problem for the cult of the multi-shrined necropolis is that it invokes primarily the example, values and powers of a particular deceased mendicant and of his or her lineage or monastic order, not of the Jaina tradition in general. This limits the potential for symbolic universalisation within the aniconic traditions and draws them back towards either idol-worship or imageless meditation – or both as the example of a new ecumenical shrine featuring for the first time multiple three-dimensional portrait statues of prominent Sthānakavāsī mendicants in the Panjab shows. Only in combination with representations of the Namaskāra Mantra, the "Jaina prayer", can relic shrines, footprint images or photographs of individual Jaina saints can gain universal appeal.