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Browsing: Ādityavāra-kathā (Or. 14290)

Image: Offering alms to a mendicant

Title: Offering alms to a mendicant

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 14290
Author:
Gangādāsa
Date of creation:
1792
Folio number:
18 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

This picture fills the whole page of a manuscript. A male figure offers alms to a white-robed monk standing on a low dais.

In the Digambara tradition, ascetics are naked but here the monk is wearing a white garment which recalls that of Śvetāmbara ascetics.

A Digambara monk accepts alms from lay people only once a day. This is an extremely codified ritual in which both lay people and ascetic have set roles and gestures, speaking only certain phrases.

This picture shows some of the key parts of the alms-giving ceremony. The monk stands on a slightly raised platform. He presses together the five fingers of his right hand and places the fingertips on his right shoulder. This signals to lay people that he is seeking alms.

In the other hand, he holds the only two items he is allowed to use – the water pot and the broom. The latter is normally made of peacock’s feathers. Here, rather unusually, it is made of cotton, which is the Śvetāmbara style. The broom is used to sweep the ground and seating before the monk passes or sits so that he does not accidentally kill small creatures.

The donor in this painting looks like a brahmin. He presents the food or water in a ceremonial gesture, which the monk will receive in his hands, not in a bowl.

Other visual elements

This Ādityavāravratakathā manuscript is highly decorative. There are broad floral borders at the top and bottom and either side of the main illustration. On each side of it is a panel depicting a garden with trees and flowers. Along the edges of the page and around the painting itself is a border of two or three red lines.

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

Brāhmaṇa
A member of the highest caste in Hinduism, the priests or brahmins. 'Brahminical' means 'of or like brahmins'.
Dāna
Giving, specifically alms-giving to mendicants.
Digambara
'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
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.
Śvetāmbara
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
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. 
Ascetic
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land. Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
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.
Laity
Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.
Monk
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.
Rite
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
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.
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.
Donor
A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.
Alms
Food, money, medicine, clothing or anything else given to another person as a religious or charitable act. Asking for and giving alms is a significant part of Jainism, as it forms a daily point of contact between lay people and mendicants. Seeking, donating and receiving alms are highly ritualised ceremonies in the Jain tradition, and spiritual purity is essential for both giver and recipient. Giving alms is a way for lay Jains to gain merit – puṇya.

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