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Framing the JinaNarratives of Icons and Idols in Jain History$
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John Cort

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195385021

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385021.001.0001

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The Lifetime “Living Lord” Icon of Mahavira: Anxiety about the Authenticity of Icons

The Lifetime “Living Lord” Icon of Mahavira: Anxiety about the Authenticity of Icons

(p.155) 4 The Lifetime “Living Lord” Icon of Mahavira: Anxiety about the Authenticity of Icons
Framing the Jina

John E. Cort (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Narratives of the miraculous or otherwise special origin of icons betray anxiety about the authenticity of icons. This chapter investigates the Shvetambara narratives of a sandalwood icon of Mahavira, the twenty‐fourth and final Jina of this period, that was carved during his lifetime. Because it portrayed the Lord while he was still alive—and in fact before he renounced the world and was still a prince, not yet a monk—it is known as the Living Lord (jivantasvami) icon. The existence of both narratives and actual Living Lord icons from the mid‐first millennium CE indicates that we are dealing with a regional icon tradition, one that lasted in western India into the medieval period. Since the icons all derive their legitimacy (and, in many cases, their iconography) from a single icon, and so all are copies of the single original icon, this is analyzed as an example of a “replication cult.” The iconography of the Living Lord icons—standing with unbent body and arms at side, and wearing a crown and royal robes—bears strong resemblances to the contemporaneous iconography in western India of Vishnu, Surya, and some Buddha icons. Further, the fact that the Jains, Buddhists, and Pancharatra (P_ñcar_tra) Vaishnavas all developed sets of twenty‐four deities further indicates the ways these traditions interacted. The Living Lord replication cult is an example of one of the several ways that the Jains expanded their pantheon beyond the standard icons of the twenty‐four Jinas. Other examples are the Digambara cult of Gommateshvara (Gommate_vara) B_hubali, the Shvetambara cult of Simandhara Svami, and the worship of either anthropomorphic or footprint icons of deceased monks. A central character in the narrative of the lifetime icon of Mahavira was King Udayana. This same king figures prominently in a Buddhist narrative of a lifetime icon of the Buddha Shakyamuni. The Buddhist narrative duplicates itself, and involves also the story of King Prasenajit and another lifetime icon of the Buddha. Analysis of narratives of lifetime icons in these two religions leads to a comparative analysis involving Christian defenses of icons through narratives of lifetime icons of Christ and Mary: the Mandylion, the Veronica handkerchief relic, the Turin shroud, and the tradition of icons of Christ and Mary painted by Luke. Narratives from the Hindu, Greek, and Semitic traditions of the “self‐born” (called svayambhu in Hinduism) icons also fit within this interpretive frame of narratives that counter anxiety about icons.

Keywords:   acheiropoieton, Bahubali, Gommateshvara (Gommate_vara), Jivantasvami, Luke, Mahavira, Mandylion, Pancharatra (P_ñcar_tra), Prasenajit, replication icon, Surya, svayambhu, Turin, twenty‐four Jinas, Veronica, Vishnu (Visnu), Udayana

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