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Browsing: Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi with Nāmasāroddhāra commentary (Or. 13806)

Image: Homage to Sarasvatī

Title: Homage to Sarasvatī

The British Library Board
Or. 13806
Hemacandra and Śrīvallabha-gaṇi
Date of creation:
perhaps 15th century
Folio number:
1 verso
Total number of folios:
Place of creation:
western India
Sanskrit in Devanāgarī script
watercolour on paper
25.5 x 10 cm
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain


Against a dark blue background a four-armed woman sits cross-legged on a swan. A parasol with two fly-whisks shelters her.

The four arms indicate that the figure is a goddess. She is Sarasvatī, the Hindu goddess of learning and the arts, who is worshipped by Jains as well. She is often pictured at the beginning or end of manuscripts. Here it is the first page of the manuscript. She is riding her traditional vehicle, a white swanhaṃsa. The swan’s head has a tuft of feather, as a peacock would normally have. This is noteworthy as the peacock or swan is Sarasvatī’s traditional vehicle.

In one hand the goddess carries a manuscript, representing learning and traditional knowledge. The letters shown on this miniature manuscript are sa ra in the beginning and at the end. It is likely they stand for Sarasvatī and function as a kind of caption to the image. In another hand the goddess holds the lute - vīṇā - representing the arts. Note the realistic depiction of the instrument, with the tassels, which serve as stands. In yet another hand, she holds a rosary and in the fourth one a flower. The luxurious vegetation shown on her right side, with colourful flowers, is probably ornamental and adds to the atmosphere of the picture.

Other visual elements

Format of the text

This is what is technically called a tri-pāṭha manuscript, namely a manuscript where the page is organised into three different parts. Separated by blank lines, these are:

  • the central part with the main text, which here comprises the first three lines of the Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi written by Hemacandra in the 12th century.
  • the upper and lower parts, where the lines are closer together and the script smaller, contain the commentary, which is the Nāma-sāroddhāra written by Śrīvallabha-gaṇi in the 17th century.

The part of the page where the text and the image are found is bounded by margins either side.

In addition, syllables of the commentary have been arranged to produce decorative lozenge shapes.

The folio number appears twice as 1:

  • in the lower corner of the right-hand margin, which is the usual place
  • in the top corner of the left margin.

The title of the work appears in the left margin, here given as 'Nāmasāroddhāra'. This is the title of the commentary, which is thus given prominence here.

Beginning of the text

Typically of many Jain manuscripts, the start of the manuscript is characterised by:

  • an auspicious symbol
  • the word arhaṃ, which is an auspicious word similar to a mantra, and refers to the Arhats or Jinas.
  • the first stanza of the text proper being a homage to the Jinas
  • the first stanza’s statement of the author’s purpose and the name of his work, Nāma-mālāGarland of Words.

Then comes the text proper, made up of the first two complete stanzas and the beginning of the third one.


The elaborate script used for the main text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here for Sanskrit.


Sarasvatī, the Hindu goddess of learning and the arts, is worshipped by Jains as well. She is often represented at the beginning or end of manuscripts. Here she rides her traditional vehicle, the swanhaṃsa.

This is the first page of a manuscript of the Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇiStone-Jewel of Words. Another title given to it is Nāma-mālāGarland of Words – which appears in the final colophon. It is one of the main works of the scholar monk Hemacandra (1089-1172 CE). The Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi is a thesaurus of Sanskrit synonyms written in verse and organised in six chapters on the following themes or headings:

Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi chapters and topics

Chapter number and title


1. devādhi-deva


2. deva


3. martya or nara

human beings

4. tiryañca


5. nāraka

residents of hell

6. sāmānya-kāṇḍa

general section of abstract words, adverbs, particles and so on.

Hemacandra’s work belongs to the rich tradition of such texts. The most famous is the Amarakoṣa, a fundamental work for traditional education in Sanskrit. Such books owe their existence to the fact that Sanskrit is a language with a very abundant vocabulary, where a given entity – for example 'water' or 'lotus' – can be referred to by numerous words. In such works, the idea is to provide all these alternative terms. In some cases, all of them have the same meaning but in other cases they refer to different realities. The Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi is obviously influenced by its predecessors. It is a comprehensive storehouse of Sanskrit words of all kinds, many of them unknown from other sources.

But it is also a dictionary of all topics that relate to the foundations of Jainism and specific notions of the Jain conception of the world. For example, the first two sections list information about the Jinas and gods, going into great detail about the Jinas, including details such as their parents’ names and their emblemslāñchanas. With a more cosmological orientation, the fourth section classifies living beings by number of sense organs while the fifth section contains names of and figures relating to the seven hells. The wealth of vocabulary in section IV, in particular, is remarkable, as it is in several Jain texts. The influence of local languages is felt in several animal names with no equivalent in Sanskrit. Thus, in many ways, this work amounts to a manifesto of Jain doctrine, which echoes the beginning of the author’s Tri-ṣaṣṭi-śalākā-puruṣa-caritraLife Stories of the 63 Great Men. This also skilfully combines general vocabulary and Jain terminology.

The Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi was one of the first Jain texts printed, “made by order of H. T. Colebrooke” and published in 1807–08. It was instrumental in establishing Jainism as a distinct tradition in Western scholarship, for it contains a list of the names of the 24 Jinas and the Jain conception of the universe and time.

This famous thesaurus has generated many commentaries, the first by Hemacandra himself. The present manuscript contains the one known as Nāma-sāroddhāraA Compendium of Words. It is written above and below the main text in smaller script. The commentary was composed by Śrīvallabhagaṇi, a disciple of Jñānavimala-upādhyāya, in the year 1667 of the Vikrama era – 1610 CE – in Jodhpur in Rajasthan, under the reign of King Sūrasiṃha (1594–1619) and the joint spiritual rule of Jinacandra-sūri and Jinasiṃha-sūri. Even though this manuscript has no date, the commentary was completed in year 1667 of the Vikrama era (1610 CE) in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, in the reign of King Sūrasiṃha (1594–1619) and under the joint spiritual rule of Jinacandra-sūri and Jinasiṃha-sūri. It was written by Śrīvallabha-gaṇi, a disciple of Jñānavimala-upādhyāya. At the end of the commentary, the author gives full details about his monastic lineage, namely the Kharatara-gaccha.


A sacred syllable usually found at the beginning of manuscripts, texts, prayers and so on.
Sanskrit term meaning 'destroyer of enemies'. The enemies are the inner desires and passions. It is also a synonym for Jina. An Arhat is a liberated soul who has not yet left his fleshly body, but, as an omniscient being, is 'worthy of worship'.
Common Era
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
A religious title for a monk in charge of a small group of mendicants, who live and travel together. A gaṇinī is a nun who leads a group of female mendicants. 
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation . A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world , but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.
'Knowledge', of which there are five main types:
  • mind-based and sensory knowledge – mati-jñāna
  • scriptural knowledge – śruta-jñāna
  • extra-sensory knowledge or clairvoyance – avadhi-jñāna
  • knowledge of others’ minds or telepathy – manaḥparyaya-jñāna
  • omniscience or absolute knowledge – kevala-jñāna.
With spiritual progress, one can gain the different types of knowledge.Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā or 'soul-quest'.
Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century. 
The distinctive emblem of a given Jina. For example Ṛṣabha has a bull while Mahāvīra has a lion. These are commonly depicted under statues of the Jinas. Since this practice does not seem to have been known early on, perhaps it was influenced by the Hindu environment, where each god has his typical vehicle or emblem.
The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.
A sacred sound, syllable, word or phrase that is believed to produce spiritual change if recited correctly. A mantra can be recited aloud or silently, and is often repeated. Mantras are closely associated with religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Jainism. The chief Jain mantra is the Namaskāra-mantra, which is recited daily, while another mantra very popular in Indian culture generally is Auṃ.
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.
Preceptor or tutor. One of the Five Supreme Beings, who is worthy of being worshipped by ordinary Jains.
Often abbreviated, Vikrama-saṃvat is the calendar associated with Emperor Vikramāditya. It begins in about 56 BCE so the equivalent date in the Common Era can be calculated by subtracting 57 or 56. Based on Hindu traditions, it is a lunar calendar often used in contemporary India.
Hindu goddess of learning who presides over the teaching of the Jinas, and is worshipped on the day of the festival devoted to scriptures. As goddess of knowledge, music and the arts, Sarasvatī is one of the most popular deities in India and has followers among all the Indian religions.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
Mendicant lineage
Ascetics are initiated into a tradition handed down from a named religious teacher. Religious instructions and principles are passed on orally and in writings from one generation of mendicants to the next, continuing the monastic lineage.
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
'Great man' – also known as a mahā-puruṣa – whose story is told in Jain Universal History . Born in each progressive and regressive half- cycle of time , there are five types of 'great men':
  • 24 Jinas
  • 12 Cakravartins
  • 9 Baladevas
  • 9 Vāsudevas
  • 9 Prati-vāsudevas.
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.
The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.
Usually written as 'chowrie' in English, the Hindi carũrī is a fly-whisk or fan. It is probably descended from the Sanskrit term cāmara, which means a 'yak-tail fan'. Like the cāmara, the chowrie is used to fan royalty or priests and thus signifies high status in Indian art.
The vehicle of a Hindu god or goddess. Usually an animal, the vāhana fulfils one or more roles and may:
  • be the deity's emblem
  • symbolise positive attributes associated with the deity
  • represent evil powers over which the god has triumphed
  • help the divinity to perform duties.
The vāhana may also have its own divine powers or be worshipped in its own right.
The Sanskrit term haṃsa is used for a goose or swan. It is associated with the qualities of wisdom, purity, divine knowledge, detachment and the highest spiritual achievements. The haṃsa is the vāhana or mount of the Hindu goddess Sarasvatī, patron of learning, music and the arts.
A single sheet of paper or parchment with a front and a back side. Manuscripts and books are written or printed on both sides of sheets of paper. A manuscript page is one side of a sheet of paper, parchment or other material. The recto page is the top side of a sheet of paper and the verso is the underside.
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 
An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:
  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.
Found at the end of a Jain manuscript, a colophon is similar to the publication information at the beginning of modern books. It usually contains the title and sometimes details of the author, scribe and sponsor. The colophons of Jain manuscripts may also include the names of owners, readers and libraries where they have been stored. They frequently have decorative elements and very commonly contain a wish for good fortune for any readers. Written mainly by the scribes who copy texts, Jain colophons are often written in Sanskrit.
String of beads used by devotees to help them count the number of prayers or chants they are repeating.
Called 'Maṇidhārī', Jinacandra-sūri (1140–1166 CE) was a prominent monk and leader of the Kharata-gaccha sect. As the second Dādā-guru, he is worshipped by members of this sect, with his shrine at Mehraulī Dādābāṛī a popular pilgrimage site.

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