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Pilgrimage and Painting: Analysing Jain Art through the Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas

Jain Pata Painting: The Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas

For many years, art has provided people with a means of devotion. From the ultra-portable Kavads of Rajasthan to the extremely popular religious lithographs of the Ravi Varma Press, people strive to make objects of faith accessible.

Such objects are both reminders of a steadfast belief and a way to make worship more accessible to those who did not have the means to fulfill all their religious duties. In Jain Pata painting, the Shatrunjaya tirth patas fulfilled a similar purpose.

We’ve previously touched on the Jain Kalpasutra Manuscripts: ancient illustrated texts painted on dried palm leaves. Jain Pata paintings are another important part of Jain art. Jain Pata or Jain Scroll Painting traces its roots to Gujarat, India. ‘Pata’ means cloth, hence ‘pata painting’ means cloth painting. However, sometime artists would also apply the Jain style of Pata painting on paper.

An Ode to a Sacred Site

Every year, millions of pilgrims travel to holy sites to strengthen their faith or carry out their religious duties. In Jain culture, the holy sites are typically associated with the lives of the 24 Tirthankaras. These pilgrimage sites are often situated on hills. They are isolated sites that are closely related to the Jain ideals of meditation and self-reflection.

Though there are many such sites, only five are considered highly sacred. In Jainism, pilgrimage symbolises the act of moving closer to the state of enlightenment. As they move closer to the temple of the Tirthankar, people recount their leader’s spiritual journey to enlightenment.

Shatrunjaya: The Temple Town

Mount Shatrunjaya, Gujarat. Image credit: Khan Academy via Flickr)

Shatrunjaya is a hill temple town in Palitana, Gujarat, that is sacred in Jain belief due to its association with the first Tirthankara Adishvara. His principal temple is situated here. Though Shatrunjaya had been revered since the 5th century C.E., it became even more important during t he mediaeval period due to a series of building projects that took place here. Built, rebuilt, and revered for many years, it is an essential part of the chronicles of Jainism.

Shatrunjaya is mainly significant for the Shvetambara Murtipujak Jain community. The temples here are based on 13th century temple architecture rather than the styles popular in the 19th century. However, much of the site was constructed during the 19th century, when a religious trust began to oversee and maintain the site in an effort to emphasise its sacredness.

The Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas of the 19th century are the most accurate, as they depict the isolated site and its hilly terrain in a somewhat realistic manner. This may have been partly due to the colonial writings and surveys that made an effort to map out the site accurately.

Themes and Purpose of the Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas

Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas
Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas, 1967. Image credit: Sarmaya Arts Foundation

Jain Pata painting included mainly religious themes, such as the stories of the Tirthankars (Jain spiritual leaders), historical events, philosophical depictions, and religious ideals.The painters were not always Jains; in fact, many Jains weren’t artists as they would have to work with animal-hair brushes, which was strongly against the Jain principle of non-violence towards all creatures (ahimsa). It is likely that artists who practiced other religions also painted Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas.

Much like most major religions, pilgrimages to holy places are also very important in Jainism. The act of ‘darshan’ or worshipping an image or idol was of great importance to the Shvetambara Murtipujak Jains. Many ‘holy sites’ actually demarcate the place where a Jain Tirthankar died. So the faithful believe that by visiting this place, they can too achieve enlightenment.

The Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas were not just mementoes. They also served the purpose of a pilgrimage banner. Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas were displayed in many Shvetambara temples so that devotees could see the sacred sites through artistic representation.

The Evolution of the Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas 

Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas
Jain Pilgrimage, ca. 1750. Image credit: Brooklyn Museum

Though we do not know the exact timelines, scholars estimate that Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas had become fairly popular by the 15th century.

In the 18th and 19th century,  some Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas could focus on a single site. During this period larger tirth patas also became quite popular. The hills of Shatrunjaya, that artists earlier painted stylised or abstract versions of, assumed a larger-than-life form. Artists began to place greater emphasis on recreating the geographical and topographical features of the hilly site and accurately painting them in the Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas.

Many Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas also include Palitana, the town adjacent to Shatrunjaya. These patas would typically feature bright colours. Artists often used natural pigments, gold and silver foil, and Gujarati or Sanskrit calligraphy.

Characteristics of the Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas

Shatrunjaya Tirth Pata, ca. 1800. Image credit: MAS Antwerp

Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas functioned both as a souvenir and a shrine. They were not only a commemoration of the pilgrimage but also a guide map and a means of worship for those who could not undertake the journey.

These patas were made from woven cotton and linen fabric. Artists would use a process of painting which involved four main steps. In the first step, they washed the canvas (dhauta). Then they were burnished (ghattita) and the artists would begin the drawing process (lanchchhita). Finally, they would start painting (ranjita).

It is likely that some artists relied on their firsthand experiences rather than the actual architecture of the site. Furthermore, if many artists used the same source to copy from, certain inaccuracies would become widespread. Many 19th century Shatrunjaya Tirth Patas feature the Elephant Gate (Hathi Pol), but very few include the Tigress Gate (Vaghan Pol). Some patas were extremely similar to each other; they could have been made in the same workshop or have been copied from the same source.

To learn more about Indian art forms, download the rooftop app from Google Play or App Store to stay updated on our upcoming art events and workshops. Stay tuned to rooftop blogs and follow us on @rooftop_app.

By Melissa D’Mello

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