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Browsing: Fragments of Jain manuscripts (Or. 13950)

Image: Mahāvīra in the Puṣpottara heaven

Title: Mahāvīra in the Puṣpottara heaven

The British Library Board
Or. 13950
Date of creation:
Folio number:
1 verso
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


Bedecked in jewellery, a large figure wearing a kind of tilaka on his forehead sits in the lotus position under an arch. Either side of him are two smaller figures with their hands raised in respect. They are worshippers. The one on the left holds a broom under his armpit. He is probably a monk, shown as a representative of the monastic community. The one on the right could represent the lay community. Other smaller figures are musicians and dancers.

This is the standard representation of a Jina in the heaven where he is reborn before his final incarnation on earth. In that final life on earth, he reaches omniscience and becomes a Jina.

A Jina is always shown in meditation, either standing or sitting, like here. Among the Śvetāmbaras, the Jina is thought of as a spiritual king and is often depicted with ornaments and seated on a throne.

Here the Jina is the 24th, Mahāvīra, whose life is first narrated in the Kalpa-sūtra. He is shown sitting in meditation posture on a throne inside a pavilion. He is flanked by attendants with hands upraised in a gesture of respect.

The long protruding eye is a typical feature of Western Indian painting. Its origin is unclear.

Other visual elements

In this manuscript the script is ordinary, not close to calligraphy, as often happens with manuscripts of the Kalpa-sūtra.

Though slightly damaged now, the three red circles along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders of the way in which palm-leaf manuscripts were bound. Strings through three holes in the palm leaf were used to thread together the loose folios so the reader could turn them over easily. The circles are in the places where the holes would once have been.


The elaborate script used for the text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here for Prakrit. There are a few notable features of this script, which:

  • is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, known as pṛṣṭhamātrā script
  • contains red vertical lines within the text marking out verse divisions. Single red vertical lines indicate where a verse is divided in two, while double red vertical lines are found at the end of the verse.

This is the beginning of the text. This is indicated by the:

  • red sign at the very beginning of the first line, which is an auspicious sign called bhale
  • number 1 in the lower right margin, which is the folio number.

There are marginal annotations written in smaller script, which is Gujarati.

In the left-hand margin are the words Uttara-phālagunī nakṣatra // 3// huā. These are explanations for two words in the facing text. The number 3 refers to the line of the text, starting from the bottom. The words that are explained in the text have ‘=’ above them.

The language of the main text is Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit. The marginalia are in a vernacular language, here Hindi, and can be explained as follows:

  • Uttara-phālagunī nakṣatra means ‘the constellation Uttaraphālgunī’ and is a traditional gloss for the phrase hatth’-uttarāhiṃ
  • huā means ‘was’ and is a Hindi equivalent for the Prakrit hotthā.


The Kalpa-sūtra is the most frequently illustrated Jain text of the Śvetāmbara sect. It is read and recited by monks in the festival of Paryuṣaṇ, which takes place in August to September each year.

The first part of the Kalpa-sūtra deals with the lives of the Jinas, especially Mahāvīra, Pārśva, Nemi and Ṛṣabha. It features almost identical stories of their births, lives as princes and then their renunciation, enlightenment and emancipation.

The second part – Sthavirāvali – is a praise of the early teachers of Jainism. The third part – Sāmācārī – deals with particular monastic rules to be followed during the rainy season.

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.


1. //bhale// Homage to the Arhats / Homage to the Siddhas / Homage
2. to the teachers / Homage/ to the preceptors / Homage/ to all monks
3. in this world / This is the fivefold homage. Which destroys
4. all sins. Among all auspicious things
5. this is the first auspicious // 1// At that time,
6. in that period, the Venerable
7. Ascetic Mahāvīra had, when the moon was in conjunction with the constellation Uttaraphālgunī, five auspicious events – to wit:
8. in Uttaraphālgunī he descended [from heaven]. After having descended he entered the womb /1/ in Uttaraphālgunī
9. he was transferred from one womb to the other /2/ in Uttaraphālgunī he was born


This page, which is the beginning of the text, provides important elements.

Firstly, the fivefold homage – pañca-namaskāra – is a regular opening formula for texts or religious ceremonies. Here it is on lines 1 to 4.

Secondly, astrological matters are significant in the biographies of the Jinas. In the case of Mahāvīra, some of the auspicious events – pañca-kalyāṇakas – that mark the life of a Jina took place under the constellation of Uttaraphālgunī. These are listed together on the first page as:

  1. descent from heaven
  2. transfer of the embryo
  3. birth
  4. initiation into ascetic life
  5. attainment of omnisciencekevala-vara-nāṇa-daṃsaṇa – which are the last words on this page.

The last auspicious event is final emancipation, which is not in this list because it took place under a different constellation, namely Svāti.

Only the first three events are mentioned on this page. The continuation of the list is not available as this is a single folio.

Śvetāmbara Jains believe that the transfer of the embryo involved only Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina, while Digambaras hold that this episode did not occur with any Jina. Among Śvetāmbaras there are discussions as whether it should be counted among the official kalyāṇakas, which brings the list to six items not five. Monastic leaders of the Kharatara-gaccha have tried to promote this view. They use this passage in their argument as, in their eyes, it shows that the transfer of the embryo is integrated into the whole set of auspicious events.


1. //§O// namo arihantāṇaṃ / namo siddhāṇaṃ / namo
2. āyariāṇaṃ / namo uvajjhāyāṇaṃ / namo loe
3. savva-sāhūṇaṃ / eso paṃca-namukkāro / savva-pā-
4. va-ppaṇāsaṇo / maṃgalāṇaṃ ca savvesiṃ / pa-
5. ḍhamaṃ havai maṃgalaṃ /1// teṇaṃ kā-
6. leṇaṃ / teṇaṃ samaeṇaṃ / samaṇe bhagavaṃ Ma-
7. hāvīre / paṃca-hatth’-uttare hotthā / taṃ jahā / ha-
8. tth’-uttarāhiṃ cue caittā / gabbhaṃ vakkante /1/ hatth’-utta-
9. rāhiṃ gabbhāu gabbhaṃ sāharie /2/ hatth’uttarāhiṃ jāe


Preceptor, teacher. A title given to a Jain religious teacher, usually one who is a head monk.
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'.
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.
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.
The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:
  1. 'Jina-caritra' – 'Lives of the Jinas'
  2. 'Sthavirāvalī' – 'String of Elders'
  3. 'Sāmācārī' – 'Right Monastic Conduct'.
A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.
An auspicious moment in a Jina's life. There are five pañca-kalyāṇakas:
  • garbha – conception
  • janma – birth
  • vairāgya – renunciation
  • kevala-jñāna – enlightenment
  • mokṣa or nirvāna – liberation.
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.
Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century. 
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.
An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.
'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.
The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.
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.
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.
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.
Rainy season
The annual four-month rainy period in India, lasting roughly from June / July to October / November. Heavy rain, strong storms and gale-force winds are very common during this period. Mendicants cannot travel around and must stay in one place to avoid breaking their vow of non-violence and because the monsoon makes travelling on foot difficult and dangerous. It is known as cāturmāsa in Sanskrit, comāsa in Hindi and comāsu in Gujarati.
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.
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.
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.
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.
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.
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.
A mark worn on the forehead and other parts of the body for religious reasons. It symbolises the third eye, which is associated with spiritual enlightement and meditation. Historically, only deities, priests, ascetics and worshippers wore tilakas. It is usually a paste or powder made of sandalwood, ashes, coloured powder (kumkum) or clay and may be applied in various lines, dots and U shapes.
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. 
The red symbol between vertical red lines often found at the start of Jain manuscripts. It is an auspicious symbol known as bhale and is transliterated in JAINpedia as //§O// 
The everyday or common language spoken by people in a particular country or region, often contrasting with the literary form or the national or official language. Similarly, vernacular architecture reflects local conditions and conventions more than other considerations, such as national or international design trends, and may be built by non-professional architects.
To explain or translate a word or phrase in a text. A glossary is a collection of such explanations. A gloss may be a short note in the margin or between the lines of a text or it may be an extended commentary.

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