Mahavira, The Victorious One

Posted: 28.10.2015
Speaking Tree


The akriti of Mahavira is the perfect yantra for contemplation by Jains and Hindus alike, writes Harsha V Dehejia, Editorial.

The Jain tradition is prehistoric and some claim that it may even predate Hinduism. Rishabha is the first of 24 Jain tirthankaras.The Kalpasutra, the Jain canonical text, gives accounts of only the last four tirthankaras, namely Naminath,Aristenemi, Parshvanath and Mahavira. An icon of a snakehooded tirthankar of the Kushan period is probably the earliest extant Jain image. The Kalpasutra gives an elaborate account of the birth of Mahavira and how the embryo in the womb of a Brahmin woman, Devananda, was transferred to that of a Kshatriya woman,Trishala,and this led to the birth of Mahavira.

Lokapurusha Of The Jains

When it comes to the human akriti or form of Mahavira, it is used to great advantage in the Jain tradition. Standing and sitting figures of Mahavira are found in stone and metal alike. However, it is the Lokapurusha of the Jains which is a composite figure of Mahavira, where the human body is divided into many registers which is the most arresting. It contains the adhaloka or the lower world, the madhyaloka or the middle world and the urdhvaloka or the celestial world.Within this format and within the frame of the human body, the Jain world view is beautifully represented. The body is that of Mahavira, the 24th tirthankara, and displayed within it is the human condition,from the fallen nether worlds to the ethereal celestial spheres and everything in between. The upper and the lower worlds are divided into registers showing human beings in various activities appropriate to the level of mental and spiritual attainment of the individual. Divided into seven layers, the hells that form the lower half of the figure house progressively worse sinners who suffer greater tortures as one descends from the waist downwards, punishments such as being eaten by animals to being burnt by demons. Thus, in the lower world, one sees crocodiles,fish,demoniac figures,while in the upper registers, one sees worshipping figures in front of small temples, luxuriant trees, the sun and the moon and celestial beings in aerial cars.

The middle world which is that of the humans is shown as the Jambudvipa or the rose apple island in the form of concentric circles. In addition to this, there are a lot of dhyana mantras that are to be read in conjunction with the visualisation. The Jain lokapurusha is essentially a yantra and is used as an aid to meditation for the Jains. If the lokapurusha is the akriti of the human condition in its totality,the iconic representation of the Mahavira is one of elegant asceticism,simple nobility, glorious nonattachment and loving ahimsa.Through all of this,the icon represents Mahavira as the victorious one,for he is not subject to the disease, death and decay of the human body, nor is he touched by the bondage of the phenomenal world,but he lifts himself above and beyond the limitations of both the sharira and samsara.He needs no outer glorification.

As the Kalpasutra says:“There under the Ashoka tree, the Mahavira stopped his palanquin, took off his ornaments, garlands and finery with his own hands,and plucked out his hair in five handfuls.After fasting for two-and-ahalf days without drinking water, he put on a robe and entered the state of homelessness.” For the Mahavira who is also a teacher, the best asana is the samavasarana, and when he sits on this, his teaching spreads in all four directions.The akriti of Mahavira is the perfect yantra for contemplation by Jains and Hindus alike.

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