India, Gujarat, Patan
Teak with traces of color; H. (approx.) 15 ft. (4.58 m)
Gift of Robert W. and Lockwood de Forest, 1916 (16.133,1,2)
This photograph shows a section of a carved wooden dome with miniature balconies and supports that once crowned a meeting hall in a Jain temple in Gujarat. The carvings symbolize the splendors of the celestial realms that all Jains hope to attain eventually by accruing merit in their successive lives. Every surface of the teak has been carved with figures, whose size indicates their importance, and with animal and floral forms. The large figures represent the rulers of the eight cosmic directions, who are responsible for the orderly working of the universe and for the protection of the temple and its worshippers. Each has four arms and is flanked by female attendants.
At the center of the dome is a large pendant covered with flower designs that terminates in a lotus. Within the concentric circles that lead the eye up to the center of the dome are bands of decoration: floral patterns; a realm of birds and animals; kinnara (half avianhalf human) musicians; another band of flowers; the rulers of the eight directions; and then a parade of elephants. Traces of pigment suggest that all these intricately carved images were once brightly painted. Eight large struts with voluptuous females, now lost, once completed the ensemble.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, many late medieval Jain temples were renovated and rebuilt because the wood structures were badly in need of repair and enlargement. It was at this time that two American collectors, one of whom was the president of the Metropolitan Museum, rescued this part of a temple ceiling and presented it to the Museum.