Jaina Art and Architecture

Posted: 23.06.2008
Updated on: 02.07.2015

Jaina Art and Architecture

1.0 Introduction

Three Fundamental needs of human life are food, clothing and shelter. In today's session, I am inclined to utilize this opportunity to discuss the last basic requirement of our's i.e. shelter (I prefer to call it residence here). Spiritual texts have mentioned residence as the source of attachment. Attachment provides the impetus for the improvement of energy. According to Jain thinkers, there are two types of conduct:

  1. Attached to home
  2. Detached from home.

The first category is of our concern as it brings out the relevance of architecture i.e. Vāstuśāstra. To overcome the difficulties of life, householders need a house of their own. For a housewife is indispensable. No householder is complete without his wife. A householder's life is steered by activity. Activity is of two types:

  1. Sinful
  2. Holy / sacred

No institute has ever been opened for the teaching of sinful activities. Because of the accumulation of the previous conducts, people engage themselves into sinful activities. No preaching is required for this. On the contrary, the tendency of acquiring knowledge is a sacred activity. This generates the great virtues like compassion, sympathy, beneficence for others, brotherhood, etc. These virtues are always present in the conscience of the person engaged in sacred activities. By leading a householder's life, one gets energy, peace and piousness. Therefore it is essential that any residence must have pious resources, superior art examples and, above all, non-violent behaviour should be its foundation.

1.1 The Relevance of Architecture

Architecture means ''the art of house construction''. In Prakrit Language it is known as 'Vatthu-vijja' and in English it is called 'Architectonics'. Religion, astrology, rituals, etc. combined to relate vāstu to spirituality. Due to this, Vāstuśāstra spread like a code of conduct. With it, the belief of society is associated. This is the reason why Vāstuśāstra is more a thing of present although it belongs to the past.

The attraction towards architecture has constantly increased from past to the present. The present day skyscrapers, vast dams, etc. are constructed according to the prevalent norms of the past. It seems that on these ancient doctrines of architecture, in comparison to the present day scenario, large-scale constructions couldn't materialize in the past.

Today Vāstuśāstra has developed as the science of architecture, which is an independent field of study. In many Universities autonomous departments and colleges have been established for its study. Scientific facilities and industrial requirements have developed a very advanced form of Vastushastra. Today the miraculous effects of this learning or knowledge are awaited in a normal manner. This alone is the proof of the importance of Vāstuśāstra.

1.2 Architects in Jaina Belief:

Lord Ŗşabhadeva's son Bharata was a world conqueror. He was the first of the twelve emperors of Jaina tradition. An emperor had fourteen jewels of which seven were living and other seven non-livings. The names of the non-living jewels are chakra a divine circular weapon possessed by the emperor, parasol, sword, rod, gem, kakini i.e. a unit of measurement, and amour. The living ones are the chief person of the house, Commander-in-chief of army, chief of elephant, chief of horses, architect, priest and jewel of women.

The fifth jewel among the living ones is an architect who performs the role of present day engineers in the construction of Jaina-temples, houses, cities or towns, attic, garden, etc. according to the desire and taste of emperors. This has been discussed in detail in the middle of Mahāpurāna by Jinasena. Māghnandi has depicted this in the first chapter of Śāstrasāra Sammucaya.

1.2 Architecture in Jaina Belief:

In ancient India significant development has taken place in Vāstu or architecture. In Jaina Canons one finds the mentioning of analyzer of architecture. These analyzers use to travel from one place to another for the purpose of town-constructions. The ritualistic description of towns, houses, palaces, royal pathways, etc. in Padmapurāņa reveals the contemporary greatness of architecture during this period. It is to be mentioned that even non-Jaina texts provide a vivid description of the word 'Vāstu'.

Referring to the multidimensional fame of Vāstu with appropriate examples, Dr Prasanna Kumar writes in Vāstu Encyclopedia: In a palace, auditorium, court, school and colour, all are included.

By Yāna i.e. ship or aircraft that served as a vehicle for deities, we come to know about pulsation or vibration, palanquin and chariot. Architecture implies villages, towns, forts, ports, residence, etc. and at the same time it could be said to be the companion of Iconography as well. Texts like Arthaśāstra, Agnipurāņa and Garudapurāņa confirm this meaning of architecture.

1.3 Residential Architecture:

Jaina texts give comprehensive accounts of residential houses. The main entrance should be in the east, the kitchen in the southeast corner, the bedroom in the south, the lavatory in the southwest, the dining room in the west, the treasury in the north and the room for performing rituals in the north-east. In case the house does not face east, the direction, whatever it be, should be taken to be the east as to maintain this order.

A window or even a small hole in the rear wall may not be made at all. The window may be built at a height so that it comes not lower than the one in the wall of the neighbouring house. In multi-storyed buildings a door having two doors above it and a column having a door above it are not advisable. The courtyard may not be planned with three or five corners. Cattle may be kept in a separate room outside the house.

There is another type of classification of houses specifically meant for kings. It is the king only who is allowed to have a house round on plan, if he so likes. The house of a learned person should be built in (dhvaja) flag āya (dimension), that of an industrialist and a politician in (simha) lion āya , of a businessman in (vŗşabha) bull āya , of the third and fourth class people in (gaja) elephant āya. The caves of the monks and the cottage of saints should be built in (dhvankşa) crow āya. The fuel stations are to be made in (dhumra) smoke āya; the house for the security guards should be in (śwāna) dog āya; the house for transportation should be in (khara) donkey āya. From the eight āya that we have discussed just now, four are considered to be auspicious and other four inauspicious. Dhvaja āya is considered symbolic of benefit, simha āya as symbol of power, vŗşabha as symbol of peace and gaja āya of prosperity.

There can be four gates in four directions in (dhvaja) Flag āya , in (simha) Lion āya there can be three gates except in the west direction; in bull āya the gate should be in east direction and in gaja āya doors should be in east and south directions. The house of those people who deal with fire such as the ironsmith would be in dhumra (smoke) aya; people who are uncultured (mlechha) should build their house in dog āya and the house of that of the prostitute should be in donkey āya.

Nail in the centre of the frame of the main entrance, pillar over the door, two doors over one door in multi-storyed buildings, etc. are considered inauspicious and for that matter should be removed. Other's architectural articles such as stones from temple, well and cremation ground and wood items from the palaces, etc. should not be brought to one's own house.

While painting the walls of one's house, pictures of vultures, crows, pigeons, and monkeys and of war should not be painted, as they are all disturbing and inauspicious.

Except in the case of Royal palaces, the painting of wild animals like lion and elephant and of wild birds for the purpose of adornment is not advisable. These may show inauspicious results.

Sleeping Position:

One must not sleep keeping his legs towards images of gods, idols of gurus, treasury, etc. Also one must not sleep keeping his head towards the north direction and without clothes or naked. While getting up in the morning one should touch his right arm to the bed, which enhances good health. One must always take hot food with the right hand, cold drinks with the left hand and should sleep on his left side. These are indicators of a disease-free life. After taking meals one should walk down at least 100 steps and warm his hands with heat. These formulae prevent hundred diseases.

Mansion construction:

High mansions were built for wealthy and prosperous people. There is even a mention of seven-storied mansions. The tops of these mansions seemed to touch the sky and in their white glory, they looked as if they were laughing and since they were studded with gems, they presented very peculiar pictures at times. The pillars, platforms, attics, floors and basements of mansions have been mentioned. The city of Rajgriha was known for its stone and brick mansions. The mansion of Bharat Cakravarty was famous for its Śiśamahal. Winter house constructed by Vardhaka Ratna was free from any influence of heat, cold and rains. In Bhumigrha, there is a mention of trap doors, tunnels and lac houses. Jatugrha is known for being constructed on pillars and having an almost inaccessible entrance.

In the ancient days, architecture was a fully developed art and the professions of mason and carpenter were main professions of the day. Masons and carpenters used to work for houses, mansions, palaces, basements, ponds and temples. Kokkas carpenter of was a skillful sculptor and he made a mechanical pigeon by using his sculpture skills. On the request of Kalinga king, he constructed a mansion of seven storey. Bricks, clay, sugar, sand stone, etc. were needed for construction work. Brick houses were painted generally with lime. Houses were made out of stone too.

The Mandapa i.e. auditorium made for Draupadi's Swayamvara (an ancient tradition of choosing a bridegroom by a bride) was erected on hundreds of pillars and it looked beautiful due to many pockets. The floors of the bath chambers of kings were studded with stones, Pearls and gems.

There was a tradition of constructing Catuśālā mansions in the older days. Sanghadāsa Gani has mentioned about Catuśālā mansions.

A block of four houses or a quadrangle surrounded by four mansions on all four sides is called a Catuśālā. Sanghadasa has also mentioned Sarvatobhadra palaces. Anything that has gates on all four sides is called Sarvatobhadra. Sarvatobhadra really hints towards the sculpture charisma of ancient vāstu knowledge. In first century B.C., Varāhmihir has given the method of building Sarvatobhadra in Brihadsamhita. Buildings which have no gates in the direction of west and which have platforms in four directions built in circumambulatory manner are called Nandyāvartya.

In the second Javanika of Karpurmanjari the description of the ornamentation of the heroine expressed in the dialogue between the King and far seeing is actually done in terms of sculpture science. In the first act of Mudrarākśasa, when Cānakya himself expresses the wish for a place to sit in front of his disciple, then the disciple directs to him to a chamber consisting of Vetrāsana (shape of lower world). Similarly, we find hints towards several points of sculpture science and the art of Vāstu in the incidents of reference to Nanda Bhavana, Rajbhavana-dvāra, Kanakatorana, Sugangaprasāda, Kusumpura,, etc.

Establishment of Towns:

Form the ancient times, the construction of towns has remained important in architecture. The terminology of architecture has been used in ancient texts like Rāmāyana, Mahābhārata, Jātakas, Yugpurāņa, Māyāmata, Manasara, Samarāngasutradhāra, etc. For architecture and the construction of houses there used to be architects or engineers. 'Architect' is mentioned even in non-Jaina texts like Manasara, Māyāmata and Samarāngasutradhāra, and many others.

According to the critiqued Jaina texts, towns are fifty-four Kms wide and extend from East to West whereas in length they are 72 Kms. extending from South to North. Their entrance is towards East direction. In these towns 1,000 crossroads, 12,000 lanes, big and small 1,000 doors, 500-planked doors and 200 ornamented or decorated doors are seen. In Padmapuran it is mentioned that because of these towns being whitewashed with lime, they appeared to be like a row of palaces. In Jaina texts, the prosperity of towns is mentioned. According to Padmapurāņa, during the reign of emperor Bharata, towns were full of great resources as that of heavens. There in the Southern range of Vijayardha Mountain matchless towns, consisting of different sorts of countries and towns, narrow like Matamb i.e. an area of 500 villages and having the expanse of areas surrounded by mountains, rivers and villages are present. The soil of this region is like the soil of the land worthy of worldly enjoyment. Sweet juices, milk, ghee (butter) and other rasas i.e. sweet juices constantly flow from its fountains. At this place heaps of grain appear like mountains. Never ever the granary is empty. Wells and gardens have the smell endowed with luminosity. Paths are comfortable and devoid of any thorn or dust. The drinking pots or the water tanks are under the shade of green and huge trees and are full of sweet juices.

Architectonics has been mentioned in Samarāngasutradhāra, elaborately in various texts of Jaina tradition. In Yaśastilaka, a text of 10th century, by Somadevasuri various objects related to architecture are mentioned. Various types of attired or dome-shaped Jaina temples, palaces, kings' courts, residence of kings, stadium, recreation gardens, fountains, elephant's training centre, military houses, and places to enjoy the first rain of the season, etc. are described elaborately in various contexts.

Architecture is also a type of fine art. The study of craft enhances aesthetic sense along with fulfilling the requirements. As the pinnacle of human emotions is music, similarly the extended and vivid meaning of craft is the construction of house. To give a unanimous definition or explanation of craft is as difficult as that of art.

Professor Mulkaraj Anand defines craft as, "craft is that one constructs form the available resources on the lofty foundations of imaginations. Such a craft is to be considered matchless whose art and imagination affects human lives". This definition increases the responsibility of the artist. To present an organized pattern of the pictures on mental canvas is art, as it is accepted by the critics. In such a case, artist is not just a craftsman; rather he is seen as an able philosopher and the expert of art. For example, to witness the greatness of ruins of great monuments with an artist is an unbelievable experience. In such a situation one witnesses truth in those ruins. Afterwards, a mental base is formed. It indicates that in the development of human civilization, the role of artist has remained to be on a high pedestal. The history of Indian architecture is considered to begin from Mohenjodaro and Harappa civilization. Before this period, it was the age of huts and cottages made up of bamboo, wood and leave. In this life, too, was civilization. But the appropriate source for the study of this civilization has always been absent. And consequently the knowledge of architecture of these periods, too, remains insufficient and unsatisfactory.

From the remains of Maurya and Śunga period (3rd century B.C. to 2nd century A.D.), a rich tradition of architects is seen. If we consider Mānsara to be a text of Gupta period, then we could say that during this period not only architecture, but also literature flourished. Great poets like Kalinga and Harśa have mentioned fine art in their literary works. In such a case, the relevance of Vāstuśāstra ought to be accepted.

Though no written proof of these great works of architecture is available, yet one couldn't deny the great examples of Indian Architecture, like Ajanta and Ellora, Jogimasa, Siddhanvad, Chanvad and many others. The flow of Vāstuśāstra tradition followed the flow of time energy. Due to this, great changes took place in the method and tools of architecture. It is well known that any tradition survives only if its true followers are present. So is the case with the great tradition of Indian architecture.


According to Rajprasniyasutra’s description, the theatre there was built upon several pillars and it was adorned by Vedikā (platform), Torana (ornaments of gates) and Putthikās (Puppets). It was embellished with beautiful sapphire gems and pictures of bulls of keen desires, etc. There were many golden and gem-embellished stupas and then tops or summits were decorated with colorful bells and flags. There were mechanically operated couples of Vidhyādhara (learned kings) and the theatre was kept clean and tidy by constant scrubbing and smearing.


In one of his philosophical couplet Saint Kabir says that in order to have a healthy body one must take his meals with right hand, must drink water with left hand and also must sleep on left side.

The upliftment or downfall of human beings is determined by their good or bad deeds respectively. Avoiding bad habits, householders should build their house according to the doctrines of Vastushastra so that they attain peace in life, fame in society and infinite prosperity.

According to the great thinkers, and as I have mentioned in the beginning, the true companion of a householder is his wife. Also the life of a couple is considered successful only when they have worthy children. A Flawless house is needed not only for householders who desire long-lived parents and to have the fortune of husband-wife symbiotic relationship, children, vehicles, land, servants, etc. but also for saints these rules of Vastushastra apply. For the accomplishment of their meditations hermits should build their caves, Matha, Schools of religious teachings, etc. according to the norms of Vāstuśāstra. Any building constructed according to Vāstuśāstra provides dharma, prosperity, fulfillment of desires and, above all salvation.

One should understand that Vāstuśāstra is the learning or knowledge of construction. Buildings like temples, residences of kings and his subjects, etc. devoid of the rules of Vastushastra are considered inauspicious. To live in such a house is not auspicious. Jaina temples are the places to provide shelter for human beings. This place, which is possessed by those great persons who have conquered their senses, enhances dharma, wealth, fulfillment of desires and liberation. These four endeavours of a worthy man are attained by the positive effects of such a place. Such a place fulfils our desires. Temples, Mandapas, houses, shops and basements constructed against the norms of Vastushastra give opposite results, like death, loss of children and mental agony. Therefore, it becomes essential to follow the doctrines of Vāstuśāstra in the construction of houses and other buildings.


Ghosh, Amlananda. Jain Art And Architecture. New Delhi: Bhartiya Jnanpith, 1974.

Jain, C.R. The Householder's Dharma. Meerut: Veer Nirvan Bharati, 1975.

Jain, Gokulchand. Yashashtilak Ka Sanskritik Adhyayan. Amritsar: Sohanlal Jain Dharma Pracharak Samithi.

Jain, J.P. Religion And Culture Of The Jains. New Delhi: Bhartiya Jnanpith, 1999.

Jinasena, Acharya. Adipuran. New Delhi: Bhartiya Jnanpith, 1998.

Kantisagarji, Muni. Khandaharon Ka Vaibhav. Kashi: Bhartiya Jnanpith, 1953.

Khoj Ki Pagdandiyan. Kashi: Bhartiya Jnanpith, 1953.

Pheru, Thakkar. Vathusar Payarana. Jaipur: Jain Vividh Granthmala, 1963.

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