Indian art in close-up detail, £14.99
Height: 43.180 cm
Gift of Sir Walter Elliot
Asia OA 1882.10-10.26
Room 33: Asia
Bronze figure of a tirthankara
From the Deccan, India, 11th-12th century AD
The Indian faith of Jainism arose at approximately the same time as Buddhism. Its followers believe in a series of twenty-four tirthankaras, the last of whom was Mahavira (about 540-468 BC), a contemporary of the Buddha. The title Tirthankara means 'ford-maker' and refers to these individuals making 'fords' that allow their followers to cross over from suffering and pain to happiness and perfect knowledge. They are also called Jinas, or 'conquerors' because they have conquered and controlled their desires and attained a state of inner enlightenment.
The figure probably comes from a shrine of the Digambara ('sky-clad'), sect of Jainism, and probably represents Mahavira. Naked and self-possessed, the bronze figure illustrates two of the common features of Jain imagery. His shoulders are exceptionally wide and strong while his long arms hand loosely by his sides almost down to his knees. The nude body, elongated arms, broad shoulders, extended earlobes and the tight curls on the head are all standard characteristic of an image of a tirthankara.