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Browsing: Fragments of Jain manuscripts (Or. 13950)

Image: Cardboard manuscript cover – back

Title: Cardboard manuscript cover – back

The British Library Board
Or. 13950
Date of creation:
Folio number:
not applicable
Total number of folios:
Place of creation:
western India
various in Devanāgarī script
opaque watercolour on paper
25 x 10.5 cms
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain


This is the back of the manuscript holder. It has a rectangular shape, a dark red border and green background. The loose pages or folios of the manuscript are placed inside the holder. The two parts of the cover are different sizes. A little bigger than the front, the back cover measures 28 x 12.5 cms.

On the left is a circle divided into four sections and bordered with a thick wall. The buildings in the four sections are temples. At the centre two animals face each other.

All members of the surrounding crowd turn their backs on the enclosure as they move to the right. Some people are walking or riding in palanquins or carriages drawn by bulls or horses, while others are mounted on horses or elephants. They all seem to be in a hurry.

Their destination is the person seated to the extreme right of the scene, wearing a pale yellow garment. He is a Śvetāmbara monk in his monastic robe, holding a manuscript and wearing the mouth-cloth. The people are hastening to reach the monk because they are eager to hear the teaching of the Jinas.

The men who wear turbans are probably prominent members of society, while others may be their servants. They are dressed in robes worn over narrow trousers. This costume suggests the Mughal period of the 17th to 18th centuries.

The circle is a schematic representation of a samavasaraṇa – the enclosure where a Jina comes to preach to all beings after he has reached omniscience. The two animals are difficult to identify. They may represent pairs of natural enemies facing each other in peace, thereby symbolising the peaceful atmosphere of the preaching. Here the enclosure is likely to be a symbolic representation of the Jain teaching rather than an actual place of destination.


Sometimes the pages or folios of a manuscript are placed inside a manuscript holder, like here. The folios are kept between the outside and inner parts. These holders are generally made of cardboard and painted with colourful scenes on their front and back sides.

Jain paper manuscripts are made up of loose pages or folios that are not bound like a Western book. For this reason, they do not have title pages or introductory matter at the front. Very often the text starts directly at the top of the first page and the beginning is marked simply by an auspicious sign in red ink. There are also cases where the recto side is blank and the text starts on the verso side of the first folio.

Sometimes there are decorated paper pages at the beginning and end of a manuscript. The blank recto side is decorated with ornamental motifs so as to make what is called a citra-pṛṣṭhikā page – a ‘page with painting’. Similarly, if the text ends on a recto side, the verso side remains blank or is decorated with ornamental motifs.

In some cases there are protective covers around a manuscript. These may be a rectangular cover at each end of the manuscript. Or, as here, they may be a cardboard holder.

Assorted folios

The pages or folios under this shelfmark belong to different manuscripts. The folios show a variety of handwriting, language and artistic style and are on noticeably different paper.

The folios are from four separate manuscripts, as follows:

  • several folios are from a single manuscript of the Kālakācārya-kathā – Story of the Ācārya Kālaka
  • three folios are from different manuscripts of the Kalpa-sūtra, an extremely popular text in the Śvetāmbara canon.

There is also a manuscript holder made for an unknown manuscript.

It is not known what has happened to the rest of each manuscript.

Copies of the Kalpa-sūtra and Kālakācārya-kathā are often made in a single manuscript, which may be why these folios were bundled together. At some point in the past these folios and the manuscript holder were put into a box at the British Library and labelled ‘Frags. of Jain Mss. Skt. / Pkt.’ meaning 'Fragments of Jain manuscripts in Sanskrit and Prakrit'. However, it is important to remember that they do not belong together.


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.
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.
Literally, Sanskrit for 'universal gathering'. A holy assembly led by a Jina where he preaches to all – human beings, animals and deities alike – after he has become omniscient. In this universal gathering, natural enemies are at peace.
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.
To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:
  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
The Mughal Empire lasted from 1526 to 1858, a period noted for its wealth, overall religious tolerance, and cultural and intellectual achievements, particularly in art and architecture. Originally Muslims who swept down from Central Asia, the Mughals' best-known ruler is probably Akbar the Great (1556–1605).
A bed or seat attached to poles, which are carried by bearers on their shoulders. The palanquin is usually a closed box or has curtains sheltering the person within.
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. 

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