Is a picture worth a thousand words?

by Naomi

I am busy putting the final touches to my book, and one of the remaining tasks is selecting images to include. The publisher says I can have up to 21 images, black and white, inside the book, plus I would like something quite striking for the cover.

It is the first time I have included images in a monograph. I have so far learnt three important lessons that no doubt you all knew already:

  1. It is easily possible to lose a whole day searching for suitable images. There are endless options, and also many long and winding paths to dead-ends.
  2. Although open access and creative commons licensing is gaining traction online, using images in publications is still very expensive because they are considered commercial activities, even in the case of research monographs.
  3. Lots of images look really rubbish in black and white!

So, the questions arise: How important is this image? Is this picture really worth a thousand words? Or is it mere decoration, and thus an unnecessary waste of time and money?

Of course the answers are different in each case. Few aspects of my monograph speak directly to the artistic record, but in those few instances an image really would be good. In other cases it can be a helpful illustration of a narrative or related argument. Here are some examples:


Bimaran Reliquary. Image © Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

One of the themes of my research has been the role of gods as characters in early Indian narrative, in particular how key named gods are included in the stories preserved in early Buddhist and Jain texts. Indra and Brahmā have been particularly central to my research, and so one of the images I feel helps to illustrate my work is that of the Buddha flanked by these two gods. The Bimaran reliquary, from the Gandharan region and dating to around the first century, is a particularly impressive example. It is held in the British Museum and the image is © Trustees of the British Museum but available for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

Nami and Indra

Indra tests King Nami. British Library MS Or. 13362. Image copyright: CCO 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The fantastic Jainpedia website ( has a wealth of Jain manuscript images, including several illustrating narratives key to my research. Keeping on the theme of Indra, I particularly enjoy this image of an important motif associated with this god: his tendency to test human resolve. This motif is present across all three traditions, as I have discussed in previous blog posts. Here he is testing King Nami, who is the Jain equivalent of King Janaka in the Buddhist tradition, and who has also featured prominently in my research for this project. The image comes from British Library MS Or. 13362 (folio 27v), which is a fifteenth-century copy of the Uttarādhyayana Sūtra.Unfortunately this does not look great in black and white, and in any case the library does not have a high resolution copy of the image.

These are just two examples of the many images I have been exploring. Others include: pictures of multiple buddhas and jinas and the avataras of Vishnu, to go alongside my research into repeated patterns of heroic figures in the mythological past; illustrations of the magical dreams experienced by the mothers of jinas and buddhas; images of the many stories of King Janaka, the famous renouncing royal of Videha.

Of course the easiest and most affordable way to include images is to get them not from libraries and museums, but from colleagues. James has already very kindly supplied me with his collection of photographs. If any of you reading this think to youself, “Oh, I have a great picture of King Janaka/Indra/other,” then I’d be delighted to hear from you! Meanwhile I’d better get on with the more important task of editing the Introduction…



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