JAIN HERITAGE OF SURYAPAHAR

The prevalence of Jainism in the past in the Northeast region comprising seven states viz. Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Manipur is very scanty.

Jainism due to some unknown reason could not flourish in the vast stretch of the north east region. Till date large number of monuments/sites have been reported from northeast region belonging to Buddhist and Hindus vis-à-vis of tribal monument and artifacts but except the solitary example of rock cut figures of Tirthankars existing inside the natural caves at Suryapahar in the Goal Para District of Assam no other Jain remain is reported, so far .Even from lirerary sources no known single king is found to have learning towards Jainism though Pragjyotishpur played a commendable role as an important trade center on the bank of the Brahmaputra from remote past. The ancient site of Ambari when excavated has yielded varieties of antiquities and sculptures both on stone/Bronze and terracotta, but not a single object connected with Jainism was found there.

This apparently speaks that Jainism has not got any footing in the northeast region throughout its long history, as no Jain edifices or stray sculptures or art pieces are discovered, nor any ruling dynasties ever referred anything about the existence of Jain community or Jainism in the region. Reasons may be geographical location of the northeast, the prevalence of different tribal culture with various dialects and phonetics, dense forest, excessive rainfall, might have acted as barrier or hindrances for the spread of the religion in northeast.

Thanks to the following g of Rasbhanath who have left their foot print in the region in 9th-10th Century A.D. by way of carving three images of the said Trithankar in two separate caves on the southeast corner of the Suryapahar range of hills. On the foothill two sculptures, one smaller in low relief and one life size in bold relief carved depicting Adinatha or Rasbhanatha, the 3rd one on the upper region of the hill slope at about 2000mt. height from the 1st cave. In that shallow cave one more Trithankar is also carved but seated posture in meditation pose was discovered in 1994. The details of those sculptures are as follows:

On the extreme southeastern corner of the Suryapahar range of hills a natural cave exists, formed due to fall of huge boulders in the unknown past. The caveis the largest one having two compartments one at front facing east another at west side of the 1st one faces north with common passage. The entrance of the caves is about 2mts., east west alignment is 6mts. , and north south 8mts. Average height of the cave is 3mts approximately. The adjacent cave, on west is also having equal inner space but is devoid of any carving.

Towards the right side on the wall of the cave, two images of Jain Tirthankars are carved in bold relief. The eastern most one is smaller in size and shape Ht. I mt. and width 35cms. The Tirthankar is shown standing in usual samapada, pose, two arms hanging downward below knee level.

The face is badly eroded due to weathering effect. It is having elongated ears (Lamba karna) and shown in Kayotsarga posture and standing naked.

At the back of the image an oval Prabhavali is also carved. Above prabhavali some other carving was initiated but was left incomplete,possibly attempted to carve a Torana or canopy/chatra (Umbrella). At the bottom part below his feet a bull is carved in east west orientation with upward head and is in seated posture, indicates the Tirthankar to be Rasabhnatha. Just about 10cms. Further west to Rsabhnatha one life size image is also carved in standing pose with usual hand pose(Kayotsarga) hanging on either side of the body with fingers bending little upwards. The total height of the image including ashana is 1.95cm. width 75cm. At the back of head an oval hallow or Prabhavali is also carved. It is having Lambakarna and Usnisha on the top of the head with ringlets of hair suggest the Mahapurusalaksana.

Standing erect (Digmabara) without any cloth on body, the image is also eroded badly due to weathering effect. Both the images are facing towards south. The ashana is carved in the form of a square platform with bottom part extended on both the sides in a slanting form like that of a base, designed like that of a Bronze pedestal often we come across with metal images. In the central part of the pedestal one chakra is also carved having 13 spokes with central circular knob (Dharma chakra) as the symbol of Adinatha or Rsabhanatha.

Just to the further west of the bigger Tirthankar one unfinished figure of Ganesha is carved with right and left hands and a potbelly. The carving is left incomplete and its size in (63 cm * 58cm).

The seated figure of Rasabha Deva, as reported above on a higher altitude (200mt.) within one small cave formed due to fall of two comparatively smaller boulder from opposite sides forming shallow cave (2.50 * 4mt.) The height maximum recorded at the entrance is I mt. and average height is 2mt. in the interior part.

Within the central part one stone block exists in the slanting form which has got buried inside, and partially exposed facing the cave entrance. The ancient sculptor found it more suitable for carving an image of a seated Tirthankar. The cave in general nad the stone block lying on the floor hane formed a temple’s garbhagriha or sanctum like atmosphere.

Due to dense jungle on the hill slope and due to stiffness of the natural formation of the hill it is not easy to ascend to the spot and thus remained under oblivion and only in 1994 it was noticed by a villager and later known to all of us.

A.S.I. Guwahati circle has decided in September 1998 itself to lay a permanent serpentine stair case or path way maintaining the natural slope of the hill from right side of lower Jain cave connecting the upper one to enable interested tourist and pilgrims to visit it in any time of the year. The inspection has brought to light many new feature noticed within the sculpture of seated Jain Tirthankar which was not reported earlier.

The sculpture no doubt is of a Jain Tirthnkar seated in meditation pose, i.e. cross legged in Padamasana with palms of the feet kept upwards and on the lap of the seated figure two arms are kept one above the another as normally found in case of yogi in meditation pose.

The image is shown seated on a horizontal platform or Asana. The front part of stone of the seat proper is made into two stages by having deep horizontal line marketing on its center given a two tier appearance. The lower part is comparatively broad and dressed in moulded form upper one is carved in slight receded form to make it an asana in true sense.

On the extreme left and right corner of the asana two squatting Lion with their face in profile having flowing manes are artistically carved with zig-zag lines to exhibit leonine but to signify it as Simhasana the emblem of divinity. It is not lanchana or vahana of the Tirthankar as similar simhasana with lion’s head are reported from Katra Buddha and Nalanda and even in the recently discovered images of a Buddha within monastery at lalitgiri in Orissa.

In the central part of the panel below the Asana or the seat a chakra is carved having four spokes formed by two straight lines intersect vertically and horizontally. The chakra is also deviated from the normal chakra we often come across in connection with Dharma chakra of the Buddhist/Janis.

On either side of the chakra two bulls are also carved with upward faces. Through the sculptures of those bulls are eroded badly but the humps of the bulls are distinct and identifiable as bulls.

Above the asana, the image is shown seated in padmasana. A chakra symbol is still faintly visible on the right side palm of image signify one of the Mahapurusa Lakshana.

Buddhist and Jains commonly use this chakra symbol on palm of both feet and hands while images of the Buddha or Tirthankars are carved.

The upper part of the image is stumpy and workmanship is of inferior quality. The face of the Tirthankar is completely eroded or chopped off, so no details are visible except the Usnisha (A slight portruburence on the central part of the head) and the elongated two ears on either side(Lambakarna) touching the shoulder. At the back of the image usual halo or Prabhamandal is also carved. The interesting feature of the halo is that, it is resting on two vertical pillars carved on the back slab on left and right side of the image on the end of the vertical slab two more protruding designs are carved possibly the makara. Mukha or Amla like substances which are commonly seen in case of metal sculptures, as in most of the metal sculpture of the Pala-Sena period, such features are distinct. The pointed design existing above the shoulders of the image on the top of the pilasters at the back, though eroded speaks of the reminiscent of the often-repeated makra mukha, an auspicious symbol. The incorporation of such feature in the present sculpture reminds one that the artist who was responsible for the carving of the particular image was aware of the technique of bronze sculptures which might have inspired him to do so or since it is Simhasana, a wooden prototype on stone is diligently copied.

Above Prabhavali or halo on its extreme left and right sides close to the extreme top part of the stone two flying Vidyadharas or Gandharvas carrying garlands hanging downwards were also carved. The faces of the gandharvas are either chopped off or eroded but survived with ovaliod form of the face around which the semi circular form of hanging garland is available in the stone slab. Two figures of traditional chouri bearer are shown standing in tribhanga pose holding chouri in their respective right hands, the frame or handle of the chouri is hanging downwards are distinctly visible. The left hand of the chouri bearer is shown kept on its waist. The face of chouri bearer towards the left side of Tirthankar is badly eroded but conical mukuta has survived and is visible. The right hand side chouri bearer is also in the same pose and posture but the face has survived though details have eroded. The hair locks are shown falling or resting on his shoulder. As already stated that due to bad quality of the granite stone and partly due to centuries of adverse weathering effect, the image has got eroded. So no srivatsa exists on his chest. It is datable to circa 9th-10th Century A.D. But the cave shrine referred above lacks the grandeur and beauty of their counter parts reported from else where in the country. The above three sculptures are important in many respects as these are the solitary examples of the existence of Jainism in northeastern region in general and in the state of Assam in particular.

     
© 2013 Sri Surya Pahar Devalaya| All rights reserved | Website Donated by redpanchi in association with Rediff.com