Does anyone at NASA believe in Hinduism?

Exhibition on the religion of the JainasThe secret of non-violence

The Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne is an ethnological museum. The collection includes 65,000 objects from outside Europe, including art, everyday objects and ritual objects, as well as 100,000 historical photographs.

Last year around 150 valuable book pages were added. The museum received two donations - and suddenly had a substantial inventory of miniature Jain paintings.

"And now we had the chance to finally do something on the subject of Jainism with these donations and to make the religion of the Jainas better known," says Annabelle Springer, the curator of the exhibition.

Jainism - little known even among scientists

Never before has Germany had its own exhibition on Jainism, an ancient Indian religion. Above all, centuries-old manuscript pages from religious texts of the Jainas, which were illustrated with precious paintings, the so-called miniatures, are shown.

"We also want to convey this artistry and also this poetry that is in this painting," says Springer. "But we can only do that by putting it into context. We're not just an art museum, but an ethnological museum. And that's why we tried to give it a context, to introduce people to the very complex structures in Jainism and to acquaint them with the stories behind these texts and images. "

Curator Annabelle Springer (left) and Brigitte Majlis from the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne (Deutschlandradio / Monika Dittrich)

For this purpose, the exhibition organizer has brought an expert on her side: Patrick Krüger. He is a religious scholar, Indologist and art historian at the Center for Religious Studies at the Ruhr University Bochum (CERES). His specialty: Jainism. "This is a religion that only a handful of scientists around the world are concerned with," says Krüger. "Rather than that Jainism is, so to speak, a sister religion of Buddhism, that it is a minority religion, the issues of non-violence and asceticism are important; rather, one does not even know about it in specialist circles."

Legends and Myths

Jainism arose in India at the same time as Buddhism, around the sixth century BC. Today an estimated six to eight million people profess this religion; the vast majority of them live in India.

Jainism is a founder religion. According to tradition, there were 24 so-called jinas, religious innovators and pioneers. The last of them, Mahavira, is revered as the founder and founder of the Jain religion.

"He has been increasingly deified, deified and at least partially perceives the function of a revered deity," explains the religious scholar.

"Devananda and Her Fourteen Dreams": The page from a Kalpasutra manuscript shows the conception of a future Jina. West Indies, ca.1450 -1500. (RJM, Photo: Patrick Schwarz, rba 2019)

Did the 24 Jinas actually exist, with Mahavira being the last? Rather unlikely, says Patrick Krüger:

"There will certainly have been someone who was at the beginning of Jainism, who founded an order, developed an ascetic doctrine. But we know from religious history that these founders, these donors are often exaggerated, that there are many currents in these people that existed before flow together. Whether the Jina existed in the form is extremely questionable. "

Strict code of conduct

In any case, the last Jina is idolized as the ideal monk and ascetic. The central teachings of Jainism are said to go back to him. Jainas believe - like Hindus and Buddhists also - that souls are subject to an eternal cycle of rebirths.

"The Jainas' doctrine of redemption now lies in the fact that they want to get out of this cycle," said Krüger. "The following problem arises: The soul is eternal. And the Jainas have solved this dilemma by assuming that there is a plane at the apex of the universe that is the abode of the redeemed souls, who are there in a state of Bliss will last forever. "

You can only get there through abstinence and a disciplined lifestyle. For monks and nuns, this includes celibacy and lack of property. There is also a strict code of conduct for the lay community. One of the most important principles is called Ahimsa: non-violence. No human, animal or plant may be harmed. That is why followers of the Jain religion are vegan. The principle of non-violence is very broad, explains the Jainism expert:

"That means that violence is not only achieved the moment I injure or kill a living being, it is also achieved when I frighten someone, speak badly about him, trigger negative feelings, all of this runs under Ahimsa and is closed avoid."

Religious texts and picture stories

There are two main currents in Jainism, one could also speak of denominations.

"There are the white-clad Shvetambaras, the white-clad monks, and the Digambaras, that is the air-clad, and that means nothing else than the naked monks."

For the lay community of the white-clad Shvetambaras, the so-called Kalpasutra is an important text. He describes the life of the last of the 24 Jinas, the founder of the religion Mahavira.

It is believed that the Jainas began to write down these traditions in the ninth century. The scripts are loosely bundled pages in landscape format, richly decorated, probably not made by Jainas themselves, but by commissioned artists in large workshops.

"At this point in time a media revolution had already begun, manuscripts were suddenly being produced and copied in large numbers," says Patrick Krüger. "This media revolution is believed to have originated from the Jain's encounter with Islam. The Muslims who have invaded India from the northwest since the eighth century and ruled northern India already had a strong manuscript culture."

Patrick Krüger is a religious scholar, Indologist and art historian at the Center for Religious Studies at the Ruhr University Bochum (CERES) (Deutschlandradio / Monika Dittrich)

The miniatures used to illustrate the Jain religious texts are painted in the West Indian style. The manuscript sheets in the Cologne exhibition date from between 1375 and 1620. They are overflowing and detailed picture stories, some of which are adorned with gold and lapis lazuli.

"We wanted to show the great respect that the Jainas have for the miniatures and the manuscripts here visually, for example by designing the introductory texts on the major topics in gold," says Brigitte Majlis, who helped design the exhibition and the Has written texts.

"We really tried to mirror the beauty of these miniatures through the ambience."

Long earlobes and a breast jewel

The miniatures can be viewed in the exhibition with magnifying glasses, some are also shown greatly enlarged. Many of these pictures show Mahavira, the legendary founder of religion. An almost naked monk in a lotus position on a throne - and many a viewer probably thinks: It must be a Buddha.

The religious scholar Patrick Krüger: "Now one could assume that the Jainas copied from the Buddhists. In fact, as we know today, it was exactly the other way around. This way of depicting a seated ascetic, a monk, we know from Buddhism, that became but introduced by the Jainas before the creation of the first Buddha images. "

The excerpt from a Kalpasutra manuscript page shows Parshvanatha, the 23rd Tirthankara. Patan, Gujarat, around 1375 (RJM, Photo: Patrick Schwarz, rba 2019)

You can recognize a Jina by the fact that he always wears a jewel on his chest. It probably happened that way in the workshops - to distinguish it from Buddha images.

The long earlobes are also noticeable: "This is a pictorial element that refers to the royal origin," explains Krüger. "In the middle of the first millennium BC, very heavy earrings, very heavy earrings, were popular, especially with the rulers. And these earrings were discarded at the moment when the Jina became an ascetic and gave up all his possessions. What remained are them long earlobes that showed that a wandering basket without possessions was shown here, but that it was derived from royal origins. "

Principle of non-violence

In addition to the manuscript pages, the Cologne exhibition also shows textiles from the same period, which, with their patterns and figurative representations, can be assigned to Jainism.

Together with larger-than-life photographs from Jain temples in India, the show offers a good insight into a religion that is almost unknown in this country - and that attracts the interest of visitors, as curator Annabelle Springer says:

"We have found that they are curious and that they are particularly impressed by the Ahimsa principle, the principle of non-violence. That a religious community has incorporated this principle into their lives for 2,500 years."

The exhibition "Saints and Ascetics" can be seen until February in the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne.