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Browsing: Fragments of Jain manuscripts (Or. 13950)

Title: R̥ṣabha's birth

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 13950
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
unknown
Folio number:
verso
Total number of folios:
10
Place of creation:
western India
Language:
various in Devanāgarī script
Medium:
opaque watercolour on paper
Size:
25 x 10.5 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Description

The caption in the top right corner reads: Ṛṣabhaprati[] – 'image of Ṛṣabha'.

A lady lying on a bed is being fanned by a servant, who stands on the right side. Above her are two rows of animals, figures and objects.

The richly jewelled lady is Queen Mārudevī, mother of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. This identification is only possible thanks to the facing text, which relates to Ṛṣabha and mentions his name and those of his parents. The scene in itself has no individual characteristics and is identical to the birth scene for all Jinas, for example the birth of the 22nd Jina Nemi and the birth of the 24th Jina Mahāvīra.

The queen is full of joy about her new pregnancy. Like the mother of all Jinas, she has 14 dreams that announce the greatness of the future baby, who will become Ṛṣabha. The symbols of these dreams are depicted in the levels above Mārudevī.

Starting from the top left and moving left to right, the sequence of the dreams is divided into two levels. On the top row the dreams are depicted as:

  • an elephant
  • a bull
  • a lion
  • a garland
  • the goddess Śrī.

On the second row the dreams are represented by:

Below, between the queen and her attendant, are two circles representing:

  • the sun
  • the moon.

These two are shown smaller because the painter is using the space practically, but all dreams have the same importance. The order of the 14 auspicious dreams is always the same in the text of the Kalpa-sūtra, but the manuscript painters can choose how to use the space at their disposal.

Other visual elements

As with many Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts, there is a clear intention to make the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself. This aim is signalled by the:

  • shape and style of the script, which is close to calligraphy
  • use of gold ink in the paintings
  • division of the text into two equally-sized panels, separated by a 2-centimetre margin containing a red circle.

The three red circles along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders of the way in which palm-leaf manuscripts were bound at one time. Strings through these 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 place where the hole would once have been. Three circles mean a verso side.

The folio number, which should have been visible in the lower right corner of this verso side, is not visible as the edges are damaged.

Script

The elaborate script used is the Jaina Devanāgarī, which is like calligraphy. 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
  • uses red ink for various purposes.

Red is used to highlight stanza breaks and certain symbols and phrases, specifically:

  • the vertical lines within the text marking verse divisions, with single red vertical lines indicating where a verse is divided in two while double red vertical lines are found at the end of the verse
  • for the symbol cha, seen in the middle of line 3 and in the last line, which signals the end of a section or paragraph
  • for the phrase on line 5 taṃ jahā – ‘to wit’ – which introduces a list.

Background

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.

Translation

1. at that time the Arhat Ṛṣabha from Kosala
2. in the fourth month of summer, in the seventh fortnight
3. in the dark fortnight of Āsāḍha, on the fourth day
4. of the dark fortnight of Āsāḍha, he descended from the heaven Sarvārthasiddha
5. after he had stayed there for 33 sāgaropamas,
6. here, in the continent Jambū-dvīpa, in the land Bhārata, on the territory of the Ikṣvāku
7. [he took form in the womb] of Marudevī, the wife of the patriarch Nābhi.

Transcription

1. teṇaṃ samaeṇaṃ / Usabhe arahā Kosalie / je
2. se gimhāṇaṃ cautthe māse sattame pakkhe Āsā-
3. yaḍha-bahule ssa taṃ [should be tassa] ṇaṃ Āsāḍha-bahulassa / cau-
4. tthī-divaseṇaṃ / Savvaṭṭhasiddhāo vimāṇāo tittīsaṃ
5. sāgarovama-ṭṭhiiāo aṇaṃtaraṃ cayaṃ caittā / i-
6. h’ eva Jambuddīve 2 Bhārahe-vāse Ikkhāga-bhūmī-
7. e Nābhi-kulakgarassa bhāriāe Marudevīe pu-

Glossary

Ācārya
Preceptor, teacher. A title given to a Jain religious teacher, usually one who is a head monk.
Arhat
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'.
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.
Kalpa-sūtra
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.
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.
Ṛṣabha
First Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the ox or bull. There is little historical evidence of his existence. Jains believe that he established many social institutions, such as marriage and the caste system, and introduce crafts and agriculture to the people.
Idol
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
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.
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.
Lotus lake
Lake Pushkar in modern-day Rajasthan is one of the five holiest pilgrimage sites for Hindus, who associate it with the Hindu trinity of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. The god Brahmā killed a murderous demon with his weapon, the lotus flower. Three petals fell to the earth, each creating a lake now dedicated to each of the principal gods. Devotees believe that bathing in the lakes cures many skin diseases.
Ocean of milk
In Hindu cosmography, the ocean of milk surrounds the continent known as Krauncha and is the fifth of the seven oceans that surround loka or inhabited space. In Hindu myth the gods and demons use the snake-king Vasuki to churn the ocean of milk for a thousand years so that the nectar of immortality and other precious objects will rise to the surface.
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.
Prākrit
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.
Dark fortnight
The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its smallest. It is so dark it is almost invisible.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
Śrī
Hindu goddess of wealth, Śrī is the personification of spiritual energy and is closely associated with the lotus. Also a name for Lakṣmī, Hindu goddess of beauty, wisdom, fertility and wealth.
Cha
Transcription of a letter symbol found at the end of chapters or at the end of works in Indian languages. It indicates that the chapter or the work is finished.
Folio
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.
Verso
Known as a folio, a single sheet of paper or other material has a front and a back side. The recto page is the top side of a sheet of paper and the verso is the underside.
Kulakara
'Patriarchs’, who live in the suṣamā-duṣamā period and teach people to adjust to deterioriating conditions in this phase of time . The last of the kulakaras of this time period was Nābhi, the father of the first Jina , Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha . They vary in number from 7 to 14 or 16 according to the source.

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