Teachers' resource: Jainism and art & design
The Victoria and Albert Museum's rich Asian collections include important pieces of Jain art. This resource highlights Jain art objects from the collections, suggesting how these can be used for teaching and learning in RE and Art & Design at Key Stage 3. In particular, the activities support the following schemes of work:<.p>
- Unit 9C Personal places, public spaces
- Unit 7A Self image
Ideas for using the Jain art collection for art and design
Before visiting the V&A
Familiarise your students with the codes and conventions surrounding depictions of the Jinas by carrying out the five activities below.
You will need the following resources for these activities:
- Images of Jinas from the V&A and other websites
- Jina Fact File
Download the Jina Fact File (PDF file, 359 KB)
Task 1: Statues of public sculptures
- Ask students to give examples of famous statues of public figures. Examples you could give them include Nelson on Nelson's Column, the statue of Churchill in Parliament Square or Oliver Cromwell outside the Houses of Parliament, Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace, Albert Memorial near the V&A, Edith Cavell opposite the National Portrait Gallery in London, and Shakespeare in Stratford upon Avon.
There may be some examples in the local area for students to study, sketch and photograph for homework. Alternatively, students should use the internet to find examples of statues of public figures. Ask them to make notes on the following:
What sort of people are usually portrayed?
Kings, queens, military leaders, politicians, heroes and heroines, religious leaders.
Where are these statues to be found? What are the different ways that they are presented?
Are they placed on plinths and columns, which elevate them from the general public and mean that we have to look up to them? Or are they on a level with the public which may give the message that the person depicted is closer to the people. Perhaps they are part of a much larger monument, such as a memorial.
If we don't know who they are, how can the statue give us clues?
Clothes - Kings and Queens wearing crowns and finery, military commanders in uniform. Posture - Military leaders on horseback, rulers enthroned, writers leaning on a table. Attributes - In art an 'attribute' is an object that identifies a figure. Examples include books for scholars, paintbrushes or other artistic equipment for artists, weapons for military men and women, sceptres and orbs for rulers, pens for writers, sports equipment for sporting heroes.
- Ask each student to choose a well-known personality, either contemporary or from history and think about how that person could be presented to the public in statue form. Ask them to sketch some ideas.
Task 2: Sacred statues
1. Ask students to talk about use of statues in their own place of worship if they have one. Do they know of any religions that use sculptures in sacred spaces?
Whilst some Protestants have viewed church decoration as idolatrous and distracting, Roman Catholic churches are often full of statues of Jesus, Mary and the saints. There are particular codes and conventions that are followed so that the faithful can recognize who each figure is. Each saint is usually known for particular features and carries special objects or attributes.
- St Peter is usually an old, balding man with a beard and he carries a prayer book and the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
- The Four Evangelists (authors of the Gospels) St Matthew, St Mark, St Luke and St John each have a winged creature in attendance - an angel for St. Matthew, a lion for St Mark, an ox for St Luke and an eagle for St John.
- Many saints were tortured and killed because of their Christian beliefs. They are therefore portrayed holding instruments of their martyrdom.
- Makers of images of the Buddha use easily recognisable symbols to indicate various aspects of the Buddha's character or to refer to episodes from the Buddha's life. In particular, there are 32 bodily marks or features known as lakshanas, a number of which are used in images of the Buddha to mark him out as special. Find out more about the Buddha.
- Some Hindus believe in one Divine Force called Brahman. Brahman has many forms and these are represented by different gods and goddesses. These gods and goddesses each have distinguishing features.
- In contrast Jews and Muslims tend to steer away from representations of the figure in their holy buildings as these are viewed as idolatrous and for Jews are regarded as breaking the second of the ten commandments which forbids 'graven images'.
2. Find out if any of the students have seen and can describe any Hindu, Buddhist or Jain statues. They may know the names of some of the Hindu deities such as Ganesh the elephant-headed god or his father Shiva and they may have seen that Hindu deities often have more than one pair of hands. They may also know something of the image of the Buddha and its distinguishing features, perhaps the tuft of hair in the centre of the forehead sometimes called a 'third eye' or his elongated earlobes.
Task 3: Statues in Jain art
- Altarpiece with Three Jinas from the V&A. Ask the students to look carefully at this image. First they should look at the central Jina. Ask them to make comments on:
- Posture - what is the Jina doing?
- Clothes - what is the Jina wearing?
- Attributes - what other symbols can be found in the sculpture?
- Then answer the same questions about the two Jinas standing on either side of the central figure.
- Ask students to note if there any other figures featured in the sculpture?
- If yes, what are they doing?
- Who are they likely to be?
Explain to the students that Jainism is the third major world religion to have emerged from India together with Hinduism and Buddhism. Jainism has been continuously practised since at least the sixth century BC and there are currently some 6 million Jains practising their faith. Most are in India but there are Jain communities in London and Leicester and in other cities worldwide. Key facts include:
- There is no supreme creator god in Jainism.
- Jains believe (as do Buddhists and Hindus) in a cycle of birth and rebirth influenced by the effects of good and bad deeds and attitudes.
- The ultimate goal of the believer is to break this cycle and achieve liberation.
- To help them achieve this goal, Jains take guidance from 24 role models known as Jinas. The word Jina means 'liberator' or 'victor' because the Jinas have conquered and controlled their desires and attained the state of inner enlightenment which is the aim of all Jains.
- The Jinas are also referred to as Tirthankaras, ('one who fords the river'). This is because although they have achieved liberation themselves, they help others to escape from the cycle of rebirth and 'ford the river' to liberation.
- One of the most important of Jain doctrines is that of ahimsa or non-violence. Jains go to great efforts to ensure they do not cause harm to any creature. They respect all life and are strict vegetarians.
- Give the students a copy of the Jina Fact File and a reproduction of a sculpture of a Jina. This could either be the sculpture discussed above or another sculpture. Ask them to annotate the reproduction, marking all the different signs and symbols visible in the work.
- Point out to the students that Jinas are often shown with nimbuses or halos around their heads. Discuss which other religions use nimbuses or halos to denote divinity. Examples include not only Christianity but also Buddhism and in some cases Hinduism.
- Ask the students to sketch the head of a Jina or provide students with an outline of the head of a Jina.
- They should then design a nimbus to surround the Head of the Jina they are working on. The nimbus should have at least three different layers of pattern.
Museum activity: A pilgrimage to the V&A
- Show the students the pilgrimage picture of Satrunjaya (click on the image to the right for a larger version). Jains make pilgrimages to special sites associated with the lives of the Jinas. They make monumental paintings or carved relief sculptures both to commemorate the pilgrimage and to show to those Jains unable to visit the sites themselves.
- Explain that on their return from the V&A they will be making a similar banner to record their visit. Therefore as well as sketching statues of Jinas, they will need to make sketches of the exterior and interior of the museum.
- Prepare students for their visit to the V&A by going through the visit aims and students' checklist. Explain to them that they are going to study sculptures of Jinas in the original.
At the V&A
Aims of the visit
- To examine closely two representations of Jinas made in different materials. To analyse and evaluate these.
- To record similarities and differences between the sculptures to develop knowledge and understanding of how materials and processes can be used in different ways in different places, how codes and conventions are used to represent beliefs and how art can be used in different ways in Jain practice.
- To record first-hand observations and to explore ideas for independent work
- To collect ideas for a collaborative project making a pilgrimage banner.
You need to bring the following resources with you
- Jina Fact File (PDF File, 360 KB) - one per student
- Exploring the image of the Jina (PDF File, 245 KB)- one per student
- Sketchbook, pencils and other dry drawing materials
- Tracing paper or acetate sheets and coloured pens
- Paper clips or bulldog clips
- Ask students to use the 'Exploring the Image of the Jina' activity sheet to help them investigate the sculptures in room 47b. They should also make sketches of details on the sculpture that interest them.
- This sculpture was made to adorn temples though Jains also have shrines, usually made of wood, in their own homes. Svetambara Jains take part in a ritual called Puja where they first wash the statue of the Jina with water, milk and nectar, then mark it with saffron and finally decorate it with flowers and jewels. Puja ceremonies are also practised by Hindus and Buddhists.
- In their sketchbooks or on a sheet of A3 or A4 paper, ask students to draw the Jina. Then they should cover the drawing with tracing paper or acetate, holding it in place with paper clips or bulldog clips. They should then imagine they are decorating the statue with jewels and flowers. They should use coloured pens to add a temporary decoration to their drawings. Alternatively back at school students can use collage to add adornments to the sketch of a Jina that they made at the museum.
- Students will need to use their sketches of the Jina in the pilgrimage banner. Encourage students to sketch any parts of the building or any objects that particularly interest them in the Indian sculpture gallery to include in this too.
Back at school
Make a pilgrimage banner
- Look again at the pilgrimage picture of Satrunjaya . Remind the class of the reason for making these banners.
As a class, students will work together to make a banner commemorating their trip to the V&A. Split the class into groups to design the mural. One group will need to work on how they are going to represent the V&A and what they saw there. Another can think about how they show the class en route to the V&A. Did they arrive by coach or by underground. How will they show his aspect of the trip? A third group can find out about what else is near the V&A and work out what to show and how to show them. The Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park are all close to the V&A.
Ask groups to make sketches and discuss ideas before they start their banner. They could make their banner on a roll of paper (cut a large sheet from a roll for each group). Alternatively you could supply them with sheets of sugar paper which could be taped together once finished. Encourage your students to work imaginatively. They could use drawing and collage and work creatively with any photographs that you may have taken during your visit.
Snakes and ladders
Look at Games of Snakes and Ladders (Gyanbazi). This version of Snakes and Ladders is divided into 84 numbered squares which represent the progress of one's life. The words point out good and bad conduct and the effects that conduct can result in. All the ladders are linked to good behaviour whereas snakes are linked to bad. This is of interest as in many images of the Jina Parsvanatha, Dharanendra, the Serpent King, is shown protecting him. Snakes are recognised to be extremely dangerous and are thus revered and feared by Jains.
Count up how many snakes there are and how many ladders. Why do the students think that there are more snakes than ladders?Game of Snakes & Ladders, United Kingdom, 1895, Museum no. MISC.423-1981
The pavilion at the top of the game represents the heavens where the liberated beings live. All Jains should aspire to reach the heavens and may do so by following the rules of conduct set out on the board.
When it was originally devised in this country, Snakes and Ladders was also a moral game.
View and print an example from 1895 (click on the image to the left for a larger version).
The virtues, in the shape of ladders, allowed the players to reach heaven quickly. The snakes were the vices for which the players were punished by having to move backwards.
- Ask students to design a Snakes and Ladders game using the keeping or breaking of school rules or cases of modern morality as the reasons for ascending ladders or descending snakes.
After they have completed their own games, they can play Jain snakes and ladders on the V&A Jain Art website.
Booking & planning your visit
On arrival at the Museum
Remind your class in advance what the aim of the visit is and ensure that they have some time to look over the resources and ask questions before they begin exploring the museum. In particular, encourage students to look closely at the objects rather than just trying to complete the worksheets as quickly as possible.
It should also be stressed that students are studying sacred objects that need to be treated with respect.
The steps in Gallery 41 is a good location to gather the class together for group discussion.