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Browsing: Fragments of Jain manuscripts (Or. 13950)

Image: Śakra in disguise

Title: Śakra in disguise

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 13950
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
unknown
Folio number:
198 recto
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

This page consists of stanzas 62 to 63 of this Sanskrit version of the popular story of Kālaka.

At the left is a Jain monk wearing the typical Śvetāmbara monastic robe. He is on a slightly raised seat and holds the cotton broom under his arm. In one of his hands he holds the mouth-cloth, which he has taken off to talk.

Between him and the man standing to the right at the lower level is the sthāpanācārya. A kind of tripod that symbolises the Jain teaching, it is often used in pictures as a substitute for the teacher.

An elderly man, with white hair and beard, leans on a stick to walk. He gestures towards the tripod, showing that he is talking to the monk.

The Jain monk is the Ācārya Kālaka. The figure on the right is the god Śakra or Indra. He is shown disguised as an old man. In this episode in the story of Kālaka, Śakra disguises himself so he can test the knowledge and abilities of the respected teacher Kālaka. The god tests him by asking him to teach about the nigodas – the most minute beings in the universe.

Other visual elements

There are several notable things about this page, which is not in perfect condition as the edges are slightly torn.

The Kālaka story is often an appendix to Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts. In many Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts, there is a clear intention to make the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself. This often holds true for the manuscripts of the Kālaka story as well. Here this aim is signalled by the:

  • shape and style of the script, which is close to calligraphy
  • use of gold ink for the red-edged border lines and ornamental diamond shape
  • division of the text into two equally-sized panels, separated by a 2-centimetre margin containing a golden diamond
  • blue ornamental motifs around the golden diamond.

There is a single ornamental diamond because this is the recto side of a folio.

This version of the Kālaka story is told in poetry. Verse numbers are at the end of each stanza. They are often in red, like here. Number 62 is visible on line 4. This means that this page contains verse 62 and part of verse 63

Script

The elaborate script used is the Jaina Devanāgarī script, which is here like calligraphy. There are a few notable features of this script.

Firstly, it is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, known as pṛṣṭhamātrā script.

There are 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.

Background

The Kālakācārya-kathāStory of the religious teacher Kālaka – emphasises the connection between religious practice and magical abilities. As an accomplished Jain teacher, Kālaka can master various magical sciences and transmute brick into gold. He uses his powers to help the Śakas, a foreign population. In exchange, the Śakas help him destroy the wicked King Gardabhilla.

This eventful tale belongs to the Śvetāmbara Jain tradition. It is known in several versions in various languages and is often illustrated.The one in this manuscript is an anonymous text in Sanskrit verse, but the first seven stanzas are missing. Also missing are folios 191 to 197, corresponding to stanzas 33 to 61.

This version is known as Śrīvīra-vākyānumatam from its starting words. It is a short recension, where the story is told in simple language without poetical embellishments. By an unknown author, it is one of the most popular versions of the Kālaka story.

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.

Glossary

Ācārya
Preceptor, teacher. A title given to a Jain religious teacher, usually one who is a head monk.
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.
Nigoda
The most basic form of vegetable life in which an infinite number of souls live together in a sub-microscopic body. Born and dying together, they breathe and eat together, and pervade the entire universe.
Rajoharaṇa
The cotton-thread broom used by some groups of Śvetāmbara ascetics to sweep the ground before sitting, for example, so no insects or small creatures are harmed by mistake. It is also used by lay Jains when performing certain rites.
Sthāpanācārya
A small wooden object like a tripod on which a manuscript or book can be placed. It was originally understood as a substitute for the teacher's presence. It has four sticks on to which five cowrie shells wrapped in cloth are placed. The shells symbolise the Five Supreme Beings. Its appearance in art symbolises teaching or a preceptor.
Deity
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
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.
Indra
Sanskrit word for 'king' and the name of the king of the gods in the Saudharma heaven. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and known as Saudharma to Digambaras, this deity is involved in all five auspicious moments – kalyāṇakas – in a Jina's life.
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.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
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.
Recto
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.

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