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Absence and Presence: Worshipping the Jina at Ellora

Shivdasani Conference 2007
Dr Lisa Nadine Owen
Sunday, 21 October 2007 - 11:30am

How does one worship a liberated being who is technically inaccessible?  This is the fundamental question that I propose to answer within the context of Ellora’s Jain cave-temples.  In the early ninth through tenth century, temples with shrines containing a life-sized Jina image were hewn out of rock.  Among the earliest of these temples is a monument known today as the Chota Kailasa.  As its appellation suggests, this temple resembles the site’s larger and more famous Kailasanatha temple in terms of its execution, architectural components, and designation of sacred space.  Although Ellora’s Kailasanatha temple has long been recognized as a divine residence for the Hindu god Shiva, similar ways of looking at the Chota Kailasa and its Jina image have not yet been conducted.  One reason for this neglect may be the simple fact that the liberated Jina is not considered to be “present” within the main shrine image and so the temple is not thought of as a “residence” per se.  Though this is technically the case, similarities between these two monuments at Ellora, especially in some of their external imagery, suggest more nuanced connections.

In this paper, I examine the similarities and differences between these two monuments and address important issues regarding “absence”, “presence” and “residence” in early medieval Hindu and Jain religious art and practice.  While I highlight some of the similarities between Hindu and Jain articulations of “presence” at Ellora, I argue that Jain visual expressions of this notion are particular to its own religious tradition.  Furthermore, I suggest how conceptions of a Jina’s samavasarana (as articulated in Ellora’s artistic programs and in Jinasena’s Adipurana) might serve as a framework from which to view and understand Ellora’s Jain cave-temples as powerful places of “presence” and worship.