Clad in a white dhoti – an unstitched length of textile, long enough to cover her person in entirety, the Sadhavi is seated on a small carpet against a relatively huge bolster, both in maroon worked with gold and other coloured thread. Though with eyes wide open, she is engrossed in deep thought and is turning beads along with. Her round face with large eyes and broad forehead abounds in great lustre and divine aura for portraying which the artist has painted behind her face a halo of deep smoke-grey with rays of gold radiating from it, perhaps suggestive of the light’s victory over darkness, the gist of a Sadhavi’s life and endeavour. She has on her forehead the mark of sandal-paste which, after it has been applied to a Tirthankara image acquires special sanctity in Jain ritual tradition. Behind her lies a white flywhisk which all Jain ascetics carry in their hands for brushing the path they move on for avoiding ants and other microscopic creatures crushing under their feet.
The white scarf with which she is covering her mouth is a special component of her ensemble. It denotes her sectarian identity as one of Svetambara sect, for all Jain ascetics – male or female, pursuing Svetambara sect, keep their mouths covered with a white scarf so that they do not swallow with the air any of the lives thousands of which float in the atmosphere and air conducts them from one place to other. They contend that the air is the home of crores of microscopic life-bearing entities and unless it is filtered before it enters into their mouths they are liable to consume the lives that it bears and commit the sin of destroying the life, whereas under Jain dogma the life’s most essential obligation is to sustain life, not to destroy it. If the mouth is left uncovered, it is liable to breathe in some of these lives.
Such unstitched lengths of white textiles as the Sadhavi is wearing comprise the wears of both male and female ascetics in Svetambara sect. Sadhavis from the Digambara sect also wear identical white dhotis, though the male ascetics who have attained the status of a ‘muni’ – ‘Digambarahood, the final stage of asceticism, do not wear any clothes on their persons and remain naked, whatever the weather conditions or wherever they are.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.