B.C. Holland, Chicago, acquired in 1986
Elegant in its simplicity, this polished torso of a Jina (which at one time would have been a complete standing tirthankara figure) is a beautiful example of Jain sculpture in India. From an aesthetic point of view, the object even calls to mind the classical lines of early Greek and Roman carving. The highly-refined stone (the only type of sandstone in India fine enough to be burnished in this manner) that has been used is unique to the region of Chunar near Varanasi, where some of the most masterful Gupta artists worked in the same material. Given its coloring and surface, it is clear that the Jina hails from the same area as some of these iconic Gupta works (compare Joshi, M.C., L’Age d’Or de l’Inde Classique: L’Empire des Gupta, Paris, 2007, p. 49, fig. 13). Stylistically, another interesting comparison can be made between the present example and one of the earliest-known sculptures of a Jina in the collection of the Patna Museum, which dates to 300 B.C.E. The Jains were the first to personify their deities in sculpture, and a clear continuity in their interpretation from the beginning is evident; the figures remain pure, bereft of adornment, and transcendent beyond the human realm.
Here, the torso is marked only by a richly-detailed srivatsa that has been carved in high relief and swirls that are etched on either side of his chest. Although he cannot be identified specifically, he can be attributed to the Digambara order of Jainism. Members of the Digambara, or “sky-clad” sect, forsake all possessions, including clothing—which they believe to be a hindrance to liberation. Thus the monks do not wear clothes, and in representations their Jinas are always shown nude, whereas the Svetambara (“white-clad”) Jinas are depicted wearing a thin draping of cloth.
Jainism is the third major world religion that originated on the Indian subcontinent, where it has been practiced since as early as the sixth century B.C.E. Like Hindus and Buddhists, Jains believe the soul suffers from an endless cycle of birth and rebirth that can only be broken when a state of liberation has been achieved. Where Jains differ, however, is that they assert the importance of much more rigorous practices of asceticism and austerity (for example the Digambara renunciation of clothing).