The Medieval World, C. 400–1300

India and Southeast Asia

What does Jain art look like?

Jainism is an important religion in India, in addition to Hinudism, though only a small percentage of Indians are Jainists. Jainists believe in the cycle of death and rebirth, called samsura, and attempt to live pure, ascetic lives by looking inwards, avoiding material possessions, and acting kindly to others. At first glance, it may be difficult to distinguish Jain art from Buddhist and Hindu art, but one of the key types of Jain art is monumental nudes of meditating warriors, known as jinas. The Ascetic Gommata in Karnataka, India, is an example of this. At around sixty feet tall, this tenth-century, colossal sculpture represents Gommata, who was famous for meditating for years without stopping. The figure of Gommata stands at attention with poised shoulders, confident chin, and stoic face. The sculpture’s nudity, along with images of tree branches and creepers that curl around his limbs, are meant to emphasize the jina’s focus on spiritual, rather than material needs. Sculpture such as the The Ascetic Gommata is used to aid Jainists in their own meditations.


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