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Browsing: Ādityavāra-kathā (Or. 14290)

Image: Five Jinas

Title: Five Jinas

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 14290
Author:
Gangādāsa
Date of creation:
1792
Folio number:
14 verso
Total number of folios:
19 (folio 8 missing)
Place of creation:
central India
Language:
Gujarati and Hindi in Devanāgarī script
Medium:
opaque watercolour on paper
Size:
27 x 11.5 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Description

Five figures sit in two rows, all in the lotus posture of meditation. Each figure sits in a small temple structure with pennants flying from the domed roof. In the middle of the lower row is probably the door of a Jain temple.

These figures are five of the 24 Jinas. In the Digambara Jain tradition, the Jinas are always represented entirely naked and without any ornamentation. The central figure in the first row can be identified as the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, from the snake-hoods above his head and the green colour of his body. He is one of the most worshipped Jinas.

Other visual elements

This Ādityavāravratakathā manuscript is quite decorative. There are broad floral borders at the top and bottom and there are treble red lines along the edges of the page.

Script

The elaborate script used for the main text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, although here it is used for Gujarati and Hindi.

There are a few notable features of this script:

  • it is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, known as pṛṣṭhamātrā script
  • the red vertical lines within the text divide the long sentences into smaller parts, but are not necessarily punctuation marks.

Background

The Ādityavāra-vrata-kathā is a popular story in Digambara circles. It shows the good and bad results of observing or not observing the so-called 'Sunday vow'. This is one of the numerous vowsvratas – which a Jain can keep to counteract the misfortunes of life, to acquire merit and diminish the quantity of karma. Observing such a vow means fasting, worshipping and also listening to specific stories. Some vows are connected with a given day of the week.

In this tale seven brothers gain success after numerous adventures, by worshipping Jinas and Jain deities.

Jains believe that there are 24 Jinas in each complete cycle of time in the human world. A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and the neverending cycle of births in which the soul is trapped. Also known as a Tīrthaṃkara or 'ford-maker', a Jina teaches the way to achieve liberation.

Glossary

Dhyāna
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
Jain
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Jina
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.
Jīva
Sanskrit for 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.
Karma
Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:
  • negative – deriving from harmful acts
  • positive – arising from beneficial actions.
Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.
Kathā
Story, narrative literature.
Kevala-jñāna
Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge , where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.
Puṇya
Sanskrit for a 'right or good action'. Similar to a merit in Buddhism, it helps to reduce karma.
Vrata
Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā. Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:
  • aṇu-vratas – 'Five Lesser Vows'
  • guṇa-vratas – three supplementary vows
  • śikṣā-vratas – four vows of spiritual discipline
All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders. 
Pārśva
The 23rd Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is green and his emblem the snake. Historical evidence points to his living around 950 to 850 BC.
Fast
Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:
  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.
Temple
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
Nudity
The Digambara mendicants are 'sky-clad' because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers went nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This vow entails renouncing all possessions, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white saris and are thus technically spiritually advanced celibate laywomen. Śvetāmbara mendicants of both sexes, however, wear white clothing. The difference of opinion over whether the vow of non-possession includes clothing was one reason for the Jain community's split into these two major sects early in the Common Era.
Sanskrit
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.
Gujarati
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
Aḍhāī-dvīpa
The Hindi phrase for 'Two and A Half Continents' describes the only part of the universe where human beings live in the Middle World of Jain cosmology. It is made up of the central continent, Jambū-dvīpa, the second continent, Dhātakīkhaṇḍa, and Lavaṇa-samudra, the circular ocean that separates them. Kālodadhi is the ring of ocean around Dhātakīkhaṇḍa, dividing it from the 'half' continent, which is the inner part of the Puṣkara continent.
Hindi
The most widely spoken group of languages in India, originating in the northern part of the subcontinent. Local dialects and Hindi languages are spoken all over northern India and in surrounding countries. Standard Hindi is used in administration by the central government of India, along with English.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
Padmāsana
Said to resemble the petals of a lotus, the lotus position involves sitting cross-legged with each foot on the opposite thigh. The soles face upwards while the knees rest on the ground. This posture is associated with meditation. Jinas and other enlightened figures are often depicted in this pose.

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