Significant Jaina Murals in the Eastern and Western Malwa Region

December, 2020 by Mr. Narmada Prasad Upadhyaya
Malwa (Malava) has a rich heritage of Indian painting, including Jaina subjects. The famous Bagh caves in Malwa were painted in the style of the Ajanta tradition in the 5th-6th centuries. Kalidasa (ca. 5th century), who is considered to be a native of Ujjain, wrote in detail about painting. Raja Bhoja (11th century CE), a scholar and Paramar ruler of Malwa, wrote about painting in his famous work on architecture, Samaranganasutradhara. According to the art historian Rai Krishna Das, the painting tradition continued until the reign of Raja Udayaditya in the 11th to 12th centuries.1 Although many examples are no longer extant, it can be concluded that the tradition of painting, particularly wall painting, flourished in Malwa at different times. This conjecture can be further supported by the following evidence of murals from the late medieval period, which to date have not yet been described.

Santinatha Digambara Jaina Atisaya – Ksetra


Bajarangagadh (Bajranggarh), also known Jharakona, a small village located 7km south of the city of Guna in Madhya Pradesh, is known as an atisaya-ksetra, or site of miracles. The miraculous idols of the Tirthankaras Santinatha, Kunthunatha and Aranatha in standing postures were sculpted by one Sresthi, named Padasaha, in Vikram Samvat 1236 (1179 CE). They were enshrined in a temple known as Santinatha Digambara Jaina Atisaya Ksetra Bajarangagadh, which was constructed by one Sresthi, named Padasaha, in Vikram Samvat 1236 (1179CE).2

The paintings on the walls of the main temple in which the statues of the three Tirthankaras were enshrined offered a panoramic view of the pilgrimage site Sammedsikharaji. Its name was inscribed in Nagari as Sri Sammedsikaraji kau Nakasa (Naqsa), ‘Map of Sammedsikharaji’. A section of this mural depicted a scene of worship (Figure 1). In one mural, the welcoming and veneration of the Jina by the fourfold community was shown, with the Jina placed in a golden halo, representing enlightenment and uniquely depicting two groups of monks, Digambara and Murtipujaka, as well as groups of female and male devotees. Adjacent to this one, a naked Tirthankara in sitting posture was shown, encircled by members of the fourfold Jaina community along with animals, all welcoming and venerating him. In another mural, a Tirthankara was shown. There was a dividing line between the groups and ‘Kalpavasa’ was inscribed on the wall. Kalpavasa means to live with forbearance, and the same was pictured on the walls.

These paintings appeared to have been influenced by the Bundelkhand idiom. The moustaches were identical to those in the paintings of Oracha, Datiya and Ajayagadh, where many paintings on paper and on the walls were created during the medieval and early modern periods. The costumes, ornaments, and jewelled crowns over the heads of the devotees were painted with attention to fine detail (Figure 2). They were depicted wearing malas or small garlands of pearls around their necks. The profiles were proportionate and their slim, young bodies were painted in light red. The men wore a long cloth, an uparna or dupatta, over their right arm. The costumes of some devotees were painted in green.

The motifs of the Oracha painting tradition were also copied with little variations. We observed fine inlay work in the depiction of the Tirthankara in a sitting posture. There were conical bricks, hoisting flags, peacocks and unique floral designs.

It may be concluded that these murals were painted either in the last decades of the 18th century or in the early 19th century. During this period Bajarangagadh was under the domination of the Khici rulers of Raghogadh, which explains why these paintings were influenced by the style of Raghogadh. This style was an amalgam of influences from Bundi, Kota and Mevar (Mewar). The paintings would have been produced by the artists of Rajasthan, and by the local artists of Raghogadh. Rajasthani features were particularly evident in the emerging banana trees, the signature symbol of the Bundi and Kota styles. Thus, this remarkable work was the product of artists of eastern Malwa, representing the assimilation of Bundelkhand, Raghogadh and Rajasthani painting styles, particularly those of Bundi and Kota of Rajasthan.

Santinatha Jaina Temple in Ratlam

The western region of Malwa is adjacent to the Mewar region of Rajasthan. The Malwa and Mewar painting traditions have influenced each other to a great extent over centuries. In the western Malwa region the Mewar style is dominant.

There is a Jaina temple in Ratlam, which is known both as the Agaraji Mandira and the Santinatha Jaina Mandira. It was built in 1790 CE by Agaraji, an ascetic (Jati) under the patronage of the royal court (darbar) of Ratlam, which also made a grant of a share of certain custom charges to the temple in 1790 and 1796. It also provided a grant of rent-free lands (mafi) for the maintenance of the temple. There is an inscription on the gate that includes the name Maharaja Parbat Singh (r. 1800-1825), indicating that he might have made additional grants to the temple. There are murals on the walls, painted in red, showing the influence of Rajasthani wall paintings. This is not unusual as Ratlam is adjacent to Bansvara and Udaipur. These murals are likely to have been painted in the earlier decades of 19th century, influenced by the Mewar style. Paintings were also produced in niches.

The main features of this style are stout human figures, lush vegetation and Rajasthani architecture. Many of the depictions are of traditional Hindu subjects, but Jaina subjects are also evident. For example, an image of Ambika shown with a deer next to a child who is looking towards her. We also find depictions of Jaina monks, Tirthankaras and yaksts having wings that have been proportionately painted. A monk is seated and preaching to disciples standing before him. The Tirthankara is sitting in padmasana and two worshippers, a male and female, a royal couple, are seen standing to the left and right of the Tirthankara.

Babaji Temple in Ratlam

An example of a Jaina temple with murals that are still preserved and in good condition is the Babaji Mandira, situated in the center of Ratlam. These paintings, likely painted in the early decades of 19th century, have a clear Mewar influence. The exact history of the temple is not known, but it is likely that the temple was constructed in the 18th century. The murals would have been executed later, probably in the first half of the 19th century.

The main walls of the temple are painted, and the colours are still vibrant. (Figure 3) A painting of Pavapuri, the place where Mahavira’s reached nirvana, is well executed with ‘Pavapuri’ inscribed on it. There are small figures of the pilgrims visiting this temple depicted on the wall, and scenes of the temple showing the hoisting of flags, towers, trees, and women, painted in the Mewar style. The sresthis are shown in traditional dresses. In one painting, a goddess is seen enshrined and two royal ladies are worshipping her. The use of magenta is typical of the style adopted by medieval artists in the central Indian region, particularly Raghogadh. This style then travelled from Malwa to the Deccan and continued to the employed.

The murals in this temple depict a number of activities.

We find the idol of Bhagavana Parsvanatha enshrined, and a couple worshipping it. There are chariots, ponds and houses surrounded by banana and banyan trees. In the surrounding fields, four Sivaite hermits are depicted engaged in their meditation in yoga postures. In another painting, a furious elephant can be seen with some spectators looking at the animal with fear. There are boats in the pond and a number of activities are shown in the lower panel of the painting.

As discussed above, the paintings of Bajarangagadh are now unfortunately no in existence, but it is clear that the painting style of the eastern Malwa region was distinct in many ways from the Jaina murals painted in the western region of Malwa. The eastern Malwa Jaina murals were influenced by the Oracha mural tradition and Bundi, Kota and Raghogadh as well while the paintings of Ratlam, though late, have an apparent influence of the Mewar idiom. The Survey of Malwa Jaina paintings opens new gates for the observation and study of the rich heritage of the Jain community of Malwa.


1 Krnadasa, Raya: Bharata ki Chitrakala. Ilahabda: Bharati Bhandara,(1939) 1974,p.28.

2 In 2003, the present author was able to view and photograph these murals for the first time and again in 2009.

Courtesy: COJS Newsletter . March 2017. Issue 12

About Author

Mr. Narmada Prasad Upadhyaya

Mr. Narmada Prasad Upadhyaya

Mr. Narmada Prasad Upadhyaya is a Hindi essayist and art critic, working as Additional Commissioner in the Commercial Tax Department in Madhya Pradesh. He is at present engaged in the study and research of the miniatures. He is working on the Jain Painting tradition giving focus on the illustrated Kalpsutras.

co-edited by Aastha Mehta

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