Jain rice designs to liberate the soul

In the heart of Mylapore in Chennai, on Kutcheri road stands a white building almost austere in contrast to Kapaliswara’s colorful gopuram. Shri Vasupujya Jain temple has no deities and no mythical creatures sitting on the entrances, but finely chiseled facades that subtly lighten the marble construction. Having crossed the opalescent threshold, the milky hall reflects the morning light and welcomes men and women devotees who every day, carry out the most intriguing ritual.

Sitting on the ground facing a low table, they grab from within a bag, a handful of rice grains which they display on the surface before swiftly pushing, pulling and arranging the kernels into designs with the fingertips or the side of the hand. According to Jain scriptures, every man or woman has to draw auspicious symbols with unbroken rice before starting the daily prayers. As ephemeral as a kolam, the rice design helps one to concentrate on the virtues of the Thirtankaras or enlightened souls who became role-models for those seeking spiritual guidance.

The most noticeable pictogram is the svastika representing the four states the soul can live in: human, animal, in heaven or in hell.The three dots above stand for the three jewels of Jainism: the right faith, the right knowledge and the right conduct. At the top a crescent line shows the abode of the liberated souls and a single dot embodies the siddha.


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