Ambika sits above her stylized lion mount with a long body and with its tail curled to add support to the seated figure above. She sits with one leg pendant. She has four arms, the back two hold stylized mango clusters and her front right hand holds a large mango. Her left-hand cups a child seated on her left knee. Another child stands on the base to her right. The backing takes on a throne-like form, but she appears to float in front of it, the square-ish base is pierced and the arch of the back is surmounted by an auspicious pot form with leaves creating a volute shape to either side. The sculpture is solid brass, but the eyes and an ornament in her headdress are inlayed with silver.
Although the Jaina scriptures associate a particular god and goddess with each of the twenty-four jinas, in practice only a few of these deities are commonly depicted. Ambika, while properly associated with Nemi, the twenty-second jina, is the most popular of the goddesses, and in the Jaina context always appears with one or more children. This does reflect the concept of a universal mother goddess, which is found in many of the religions that developed in India and elsewhere.
The artist here uses little modeling for the figure, emphasizing instead her silhouette, with an almost two-dimensional effect. It is interesting to compare this very linear portrayal of a goddess with a similar approach found in paintings from the Kalpasutra, displayed nearby.
This shrine depicts a large seated Jina surrounded by 23 other jina figures and a variety of attendants. The Jina figures that adorn the sides and are arranged in tiers above the main figure. The side columns and the whole is surmounted by auspicious pot forms. The main figure sits in the lotus position on a lion throne flanked by a male and female demigod. Along the sides he is flanked by standing cauri bearers, garland bearers above them and riders on elephants above that with an umbrella with a standing figure on it above his head. At the base in the center is a standing figure holding a sick or club with a bull cognizance behind him on the base of the throne. The nine globs on the base, four to his right and five to his left represent the nine planets and his hands folded in a gesture of meditation
Identified as the jina Rishabha by the bull before his throne, Rishabha or Adinatha is the first of the Jaina line of teachers. Loosely translated as Spiritual Victors and called Peaceful Liberators in an important exhibition catalogue, there is a line of twenty-four jinas in Jainism. Their other important title is tirthamkara, or “ford crosser” designating them as figures who can teach others in the means for liberation. Jaina cosmology consists of a constant swing from perfection to dissolution and twenty-four jinas map out this progression. Rishabha, as the first existed at a time when the perfect state began to dissolve, had to teach people how to cope. For instance, when Wish Fulfilling Trees stopped producing, he had to teach people agriculture. He had to teach them pottery, statecraft and many other things. Rishabha, the primordial tirthankara, taught mankind the arts that separate them from beasts, including the kindling of fire. He also established the basic structures of society by dividing people into classes according to their occupations. On this altarpiece there are 23 teachers surround him. The rituals used for Jaina images are often the same as used in Hinduism and there is some confusion over this in the literature. Hindus consider them gods, but Jainas do not, but they are objects of reverence.
The jina Malli sits in the lotus position on an inlayed cushion on a tiered throne. Seated with his hands folded in a gesture of meditation, he is surrounded by a number of figures representing other jinas, attendants and demigods. In the center in front of the throne sits the goddess Ambika with a child on her lap. On the first tier of the throne sit two figures that may represent donors. On the next left are nine mounds representing the nine planets [navagraha], five to his right and four to his left. At the base of his seat are two stylized lions and this is flanked by a male and female demigod. On the arch surrounding the figure at his level a standing jina figure is to each side and cauri bearer is on the outside of each of them. At his shoulders, the cross bars of the throne back end in stylized makara heads with jewels hanging from their mouths. A seated jina adorns the arch to each side of his head and elephants surmount them with an umbrella over his head with a dancing figure atop it. The whole is surmounted by an auspicious lota or pot. Diamond shaped copper and silver pieces adorn the pillow and parts of the throne back and silver inlay highlight his eyes and chest jewel.
Similar to the Ambika in this case, the jina Malli—the nineteenth in the series of twenty-four Jaina teachers—appears almost as a two-dimensional figure. Each element of the elaborate throne is a cutout figure, from the lions under his knees to the guardian figures at his sides and small jinas seated over his shoulders.
The “VS” in the date indicates Vikram Samvat, a calendar that begins in the year 57 B.C.E. Full inscription not read.
Malli is the nineteenth of the Jaina line of twenty-four teachers. Loosely translated as Spiritual Victors and called Peaceful Liberators in an important exhibition catalogue, there is a line of twenty-four jinas in Jainism. Their other important title is Tirthamkara, or “ford crosser” designating them as figures who can teach others in the means for liberation. Jaina cosmology consists of a constant swing from perfection to dissolution and twenty-four jinas map out this progression. There is a tradition among the Shvetambara sect that Malli may have been a woman. In other sects that would be impossible since woman are not able to reach enlightenment.
Note: in the center on the level of the navagraha is a stylized cakra or wheel of the law and deer in center. This motif is also found in Buddhism where it signifies the Buddha’s first teaching in the Deer Park at Sarnatha. The Jainas also use it.