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Revolution in Jain Manuscript

During the 16th century, manuscript illustration thrived due to its widespread admiration, which turned into a revolution in Jain manuscripts. Wealthy Jain families sought satisfaction by commissioning updated copies of old manuscripts using advanced color-making techniques that elevated their overall composition. The availability of financial support allowed for the use of costly materials such as Lapis lazuli, tourmaline, and gold, which further enhanced their aesthetic appeal. Ornamental designs featuring many colors and patterns were popularly incorporated into the edges of each manuscript page. At the same time, figurative depictions of devotees and monks added to their visual allure. This trend was heavily influenced by Persian traditional art, which emphasized intricate detailing and sophistication in design. As a result, artists began exploring social events and landscape painting beyond spiritual subjects.

The Lokavibhaga (Kalpasutra) 5th century
The Lokavibhaga (Kalpasutra) 5th century

The art of manuscript creation has transcended beyond the spiritual realm of Jainism. It has now entered the Vaishnava[1] community, resulting in the magnificent redesigning of Vaishnava scriptures such as Geeta Govinda[2] and Balagopala Stuti[3]. Although the style of Jain illustration influenced these manuscripts, they still exude a new vivacity that effectively captures the devotional sentiment of human beings.

Vasant Vilas 1451 CE
Vasant Vilas 1451 CE

This revolution gave rise to a new form of the manuscript known as "Pad Painting," comprising serially composed storytelling paintings presented in rolled form. The oldest example in this style was created in 1451 and titled Vasant-villas. This marked not only a significant milestone for Indian illustration culture but also produced several Pad Paintings that spread throughout Gujarat, Rajasthan, and even Uttar Pradesh.

Introducing the trend of illustrated manuscripts marked a departure from traditional illustration practices. In Jain manuscripts, Mahavira[4] and other Tirthankars[5] were the principal subjects depicted in profile angle with one eye placed outside the face drawing. However, this style evolved to revert to its original form, where the farthest eye was merely represented as a reference point. The exact timing of this shift is difficult to ascertain; nonetheless, historians have estimated it occurred around 1500 century AD. Concurrently, Persian poetry themes also found their way into Jain manuscripts during this period. Indian artists of that era adeptly blended both cultures, resulting in stunning paintings on display today. The new illustration trend is sprayed in eastern India, even up to Nepal and Chennai in southern India.

A page of text from a Jain Manuscript. 15th century
A page of text from a Jain Manuscript. 15th century

In the court of Akbar, numerous artists hailing from Gujarat were bestowed with the highest honor. As a result, several artists from Rajasthan also received invitations to contribute to Mughal Kalam art at the emperor's court. For these artists, it was crucial to have permanent financial compensation for their livelihoods. This led to a new era in Indian miniature painting that employed a novel method and style. While Mughal tradition influenced background and figure composition, Jain tradition informed color preparation and treatment. Some paintings even incorporate Jainism's background concept - simplifying both traditions. 

From 1512-1675, manuscript illustrations uniformly adopted the Persian Mughal style in traditional Jain illustration methods. This resulted in awe-inspiring miniature paintings that elevated Indian miniature art to new heights through an interchange between styles that led to prosperity.   



1. Vaishnavism (Vaishnava dharma) is one of the major traditions within Hinduism, along with Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smarthism. It is also called Vishnuism (paternal), its followers are called Vaishnavas (maternal), and it considers Krishna as the Supreme Lord. The tradition is notable for its avatar doctrine, wherein Krishna is revered in one of many distinct incarnations. Of these, ten avatars of Vishnu are the most studied. Rama, Krishna, Narayana, Kalki, Hari, Vithoba, Kesava, Madhava, Govinda, and Jagannath are famous names used for the same supreme being. The tradition has traceable roots in the 1st millennium BCE, as in Bhagavatism, also called Krishnaism. Later developments led by Ramananda created a Rama-oriented movement, now the largest monastic group in Asia. The Vaishnava tradition has many sampradayas (denominations, sub-schools) ranging from the medieval era Dvaita school of Madhvacharya to the Vishishtadvaita school of Ramanuja.

The tradition is known for its loving devotion to an avatar of Vishnu (often Krishna), and it was key to the spread of the Bhakti movement in South Asia in the 2nd millennium CE.Key texts in Vaishnavism include the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Pancaratra (Agama) texts, and the Bhagavata Purana.

2. The Gita Govinda (Sanskrit: गीत गोविन्द) (Song of Govinda) is a work composed by the 12th-century Indian poet Jayadeva. It describes the relationship between Krishna and the gopis (female cow herders) of Vrindavana, particularly one gopi named Radha.

The Gita Govinda is organized into twelve chapters. Each chapter is further subdivided into twenty-four divisions called Prabandhas. The Prabandhas contain couplets grouped into eights called Ashtapadis. It is mentioned that Radha is greater than Krishna. The text also elaborates on the eight moods of the Heroine, the Ashta Nayika, which has inspired many compositions and choreographic works in Indian classical dances.

3. Balagoplastuti is about the Sanskrit chant of praying to Lord Krishna in the form of a child. It describes Lord Krishna's childhood, which played several roles in bringing common people the knowledge of theology.

4. Mahavira, also known as Vardhamāna, was the twenty-fourth Tirthankara (ford-maker) who revived Jainism. In the Jain tradition, it is believed that Mahavira was born in the early part of the 6th century BC into a royal Kshatriya family in present-day Bihar, India. He abandoned all worldly possessions at the age of 30 and left home in pursuit of spiritual awakening, becoming an ascetic. Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities for 12 years, after which he is believed to have attained Kevala Jnana(omniscience). He preached for 30 years and is believed by Jains to have died in the 6th century BC, although the year varies by sect. Scholars such as Karl Potter consider his biography uncertain; some suggest that he lived in the 5th century BC, contemporaneously with the Buddha. Mahavira attained nirvana at the age of 72, and his body was cremated.

5. In Jainism, a Tirthankara is a savior and spiritual teacher of the dharma(righteous path). The word Tirthankara signifies the founder of a tirtha, which is a fordable passage across the sea of interminable births and deaths, the saṃsāra. According to Jains, a Tirthankara is a rare individual who has conquered the saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth, on their own and made a path for others to follow. After understanding the true nature of the Self or soul, the Tīrthaṅkara attains Kevala Jnana (omniscience), and the first Tirthankara refounds Jainism. Tirthankara provides a bridge for others to follow the new teacher from saṃsāra to moksha (liberation)


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