Jain Heritage in Bengal

Winter School 2015
Instructor: Kamalika Bose, Gaurav Banerjee
6 August 2016

Jainism is believed to have taken root in Bengal since the 9th century AD with its most intact and visible manifestations – both religious and secular – being found in Murshidabad, the former capital of the Nawabs under the Mughals.

As a region that contributed 5% of the world’s GDP in the early 18th century, it formed the nucleus of Oswal Jain migration from Rajasthan, who became renowned bankers and financiers of the ruling Nawabs. As a key trading and administrative center, Murshidabad’s diverse demography cut across caste, creed and cultural differences, and its distinctive Jain settlement was a symbol of this syncretism. Strong cultural confluences are embedded within this historic landscape – simultaneously reflecting rich Islamic building practices, traditional Bangla terracotta architecture along with Jain iconography and stylistic moorings.

Today the twin-towns of Azimganj-Jiaganj, on opposite banks of River Bhagirathi, form an important Jain pilgrimage center with 14 sprawling Jain temples concentrated within a square kilometre. Residential development of large kothis of the afflžuent Oswal Jain merchants, alongwith their educational and philanthropic institutions, have created a settlement that continues to echo a community driven commitment and involvement with the place. Today, with most of these families having moved to Kolkata, the remote upkeep, management and continuity of this abundant heritage is a challenge for the future.

This course travelled to the former Bengal capital to study the Jain settlement – its formations, typologies and cross-cultural strands as echoed through living patterns, architecture and stylistic developments. The idea was to develop a deeper understanding of issues and challenges facing the revival of this unique heritage. Students were hosted by Murshidabad Heritage Development Society (MHDS) and interacted closely with members of the Oswal Jain community, with the objective of documenting and analysing the architectural resources.

Students participants :

Mrinalini S., Nimmi M., Nishika S., Pankti P., Parshvi V., Priyanka M., Angels, Dhatchayani  D., Jay P., Jaydev P., Koushik D.,  Krunal P., Raj P., Ranjitha Y., Richa P., Rohit S., Saadik A., Shivani P., Tulsi V., Yogendra S.