On the Enlightened Path: Jain Art from India

The Norton Simon Museum presents On the Enlightened Path: Jain Art from India, an exhibition that examines the artistic traditions of one of the world’s oldest yet least known religions, Jainism. Installed in the rotating Asian gallery on the lower level of the Museum, this exhibition includes approximately 20 sculptures, paintings and manuscripts.

Founded in India in the sixth century BC by Vardhamana Mahavira, Jainism encourages personal meditation, following a strict ethical code and practicing ahimsa, or non-violence and kindness toward every living creature. Followers, called Jains, believe in a lineage of twenty-four liberated souls known as Jinas (conqueror or liberator), who have achieved liberation from the endless chain of rebirth and serve as spiritual guides to others on the same path. The Jain community is comprised of both lay and monastic members. Monks and nuns are either Digambara, which means “sky-clad,” and do not wear clothing, or Svetambara, “white-clad,” and wear simple white robes. In modern-day India, the Jain community comprises roughly 10 million followers, less than one-half of one percent of the country’s population.

On the Enlightened Path features a dazzling selection of traditional Jain artworks from the Norton Simon collections. In the Jain community, illustrated sacred texts such as the Kalpasutra (Book of Sacred Precepts) and sculptures depicting various Jinas are the primary focus of artistic output. The exhibition presents a fine selection of bronze, marble and schist sculptures from the 9th to the 15th centuries, used for worship in both home altars and temples. A colorful and intricate Jain tantric diagram, or Yantra, from the 15th century, rich in cosmic iconography, was used as a meditation aid. Selections of the Museum’s rare, complete 16th-century Kalpasutra manuscript, recently donated by Narendra and Rita Parson, are on view for the first time. Together, these works provide visitors an opportunity to learn more about this fascinating religion, its followers, and its dynamic artistic traditions.