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Browsing: Jambū-dvīpa-prajnapti-sūtra (MS. Ind. Inst. Sansk. 109)

Image: A Jina in meditation

Title: A Jina in meditation

Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
MS. Ind. Inst. Sansk. 109
Date of creation:
Folio number:
1 verso
Total number of folios:
Place of creation:
western India
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
watercolour on paper
28 x 13 cms
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
JAINpedia Copyright Information


Bedecked in jewellery, a very large figure wearing a kind of tilaka on his forehead sits in the lotus position under an arch. Either side of him are smaller figures raising their hands. Along the borders of the picture are numerous smaller figures.

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.

The Jina 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 smallest figures are musicians and dancers. The long protruding eye is a typical feature of Western Indian painting. Its origin is unclear.

Note the wealth of ornamentation in the background.

Here the Jina cannot be identified without an emblem. However, if the small figure at the bottom left is a lion, that points to the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra. Even without it, it is likely that the Jina shown here is indeed Mahāvīra, because he is considered the ultimate source of teaching.

On this page, the representation of a Jina has no specific relationship with a story or the text beside it. Even when a manuscript is otherwise not illustrated, as with this one, the image of a Jina, Mahāvīra, is frequently found at the beginning. Picturing a Jina gives an auspicious start to a manuscript.

Other visual elements

There are several notable things about this page, namely:

  • the original paper is slightly torn at the edges and has water stains in the upper-left corner
  • the bottom of the right margin contains the number 1, which is the folio number
  • at the top of the left-hand margin is Jambūdvīpa° sūtra 1, which is the abbreviated title of the work Jambū-dvīpa-prajñapti, along with the folio number, which therefore occurs twice on the page
  • at the very beginning of line 1, between vertical lines, is an auspicious symbol known as bhale, often used at the start of a manuscript
  • following the auspicious symbol is the phrase namo arahaṃtāṇaṃ – 'Homage to the Arhats' – which is the first part of the Pañca-namaskāra-mantra, the foremost Jain holy formula, which is written or recited before any text or ceremony
  • above line 1, in the left-hand margin by line 12 and below the central red circle are words the scribe originally missed out that have been added by a later reader
  • yellow pigment is used as an eraser.

The three circles along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders of the way in which manuscripts were bound when they were on palm leaf. Strings through holes in the paper 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 is the Jaina Devanāgarī script, in a form which recalls calligraphy. It is used for writing many Indian languages, here for Prakrit.

There are a few notable features of this script, namely:

  • it is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, known as pṛṣṭhamātrā script
  • the red vertical lines within the text, which, though they are used to divide the long sentences into smaller parts, are not necessarily punctuation marks.

Summary of the text

The text next to the image provides the general framework for the main narrative, and can be summarised as follows:

  • There was a city named Mithilā – Mahilā – line 1
  • To the north-east of this city there was a sacred enclosure, named Maṇibhadda – lines 3 to 4
  • The king was called Jitaśatru and the queen Dhāriṇī – line 4
  • At this time, Lord Mahāvīra held a general assembly and preached. The king and his entourage attended this sermon then went back to the palace – lines 4 to 5
  • On this occasion, Mahāvīra's head disciple, Indrabhūti Gautama, paid his respects to his teacher and asked him: 'Where is Jambū-dvīpa? How large is it? Of what parts is it composed?' – lines 9 to 11
  • Then Mahāvīra started to discuss Jambū-dvīpa


The Jambū-dvīpa-prajñapti is part of the Śvetāmbara canon. It belongs to the second group, the Upāngas, of which it is the sixth. Like all the texts belonging to the Śvetāmbara canon, its language is the variety of Prakrit known as Ardhamāgadhī.

The Jambū-dvīpa-prajñapti deals with the description and geography of the Jambū-dvīpa, which is the central continent of the Jain universe. The main part of the work deals with the seven lands and the six mountain chains that make up Jambū-dvīpa.

Among these lands, Bharata is the main focus of attention. The land is named after its ruler, the first Universal Emperor Bharata. The text gives an important place to legends connected with the life of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, the first Jina, and his eldest son Bharata. It also provides information about the divisions, mountains, lakes and rivers of the Jambū-dvīpa. Matters of time, which are inseparable from cosmology, are covered in the final part of the work.


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 'universal monarch'. There are 12 in the continent of Bharata in each progressive and regressive half-cyle of time. They have 9 treasures and 14 jewels they can use to conquer their enemies and become 'universal monarchs'. The cakravartin form one of the five groups of '63 illustrious men' in Jain mythology.
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.
The innermost island-continent in the Middle World, in Jain cosmology. It is divided into seven continents separated by six mountain ranges. It takes its name - 'Rose-Apple Continent' - from a rock formation that resembles a rose-apple tree, which is found on Mount Meru in the centre of the island.
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.
A sacred sound, syllable, word or phrase that is believed to produce spiritual change if recited correctly. A mantra can be recited aloud or silently, and is often repeated. Mantras are closely associated with religions that originated in India, such as Hinduism and Buddhism as well as Jainism. The chief Jain mantra is the Namaskāra-mantra, which is recited daily, while another mantra very popular in Indian culture generally is Auṃ.
Indrabhūti Gautama
Chief disciple of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. From a brahmin family, he was the first of Mahāvīra's 11 chief disciples. He became enlightened on the day Mahāvīra was liberated. He achieved liberation himself 12 years later.
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.
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
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 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.
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
A speech on a religious topic, usually delivered by a member of the clergy. Frequently a sermon has a moral lesson or is based on a sacred text.
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.
One of the Lands of Action or Karma-bhūmi in the first continent, Jambū-dvīpa, in the Middle World where humans live. Bharata is also the name of the eldest son of the first Jina, Ṛṣabha, who succeeded his father as king.
A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.
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// 
Someone who copies manuscripts for a living. Scribes are common in societies where literacy is rare. In the past, however, scribes could not always read and write fluently.

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