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Jainism is one of the most ancient living religious-philosophical systems of India, and today has over six million adherents worldwide. This collection explores the relationship between the Jain community and the sublime and inspiring art it commissioned during the past thousand years, all across the Indian Subcontinent.
Jains are followers of the Jinas ("conquerors" or "liberators"), the twenty-four perfected human beings liberated from the cycles of rebirth. Their path to perfection included austerities, charity, and an unwillingness to inflict harm on any living creature. Several fifteenth-century manuscripts narrate the life of the most recent Jina, Vardhamana Mahavira, who lived and taught in the sixth century B.C. These sumptuous, sacred texts, created for donation to monastic libraries, were painted using pigments of gold and lapis lazuli. Sculptures on view include a serene twelfth-century image of a meditating Jina—once enshrined in an elaborate temple—as well as small, devotional images meant for home altars. Lavish nineteenth- and twentieth-century textiles for celebrations and parades feature silk, silver and gold embroidery. Paintings from a seventeenth-century manuscript illustrate the complex Jain exploration into the nature of the universe.