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Image: Mahāvīra – end of chapter 1

Title: Mahāvīra – end of chapter 1

Source:
Wellcome Trust Library
Shelfmark:
Beta 1471
Author:
Raïdhū
Date of creation:
perhaps 15th century
Folio number:
19 verso
Total number of folios:
36
Place of creation:
probably Madhya Pradesh
Language:
Apabhraṃśa Prākrit
Medium:
watercolour on paper
Size:
27 x 12 cms
Copyright:
Wellcome Library, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information

Description

In the centre of a stepped panel painting, a golden figure sits in the lotus posture of meditation – padmāsana – with a śrīvatsa on his chest. Either side are two worshippers fanning him with fly-whisks. Above him is a triple umbrella, which is a symbol of his royal status.

The golden figure is the last Jina, Mahāvīra, easily recognisable from the emblem of the lions below him.

In this manuscript this image, at the centre of the page, recurs at the end of each chapter – sandhi. This is at the end of chapter 1. The text of the final colophon of the chapter starts on the last line of the page and continues on the next folio. It is emphasised by orange powder.

It reads:

iya siriJasahara[rāya, added in the lower margin]carie daya-lakkhaṇa-dhamma-bhāvaṇā-sarie siri-paṃḍiya-Rai[then next folio; 20 recto]dhū-viraie siri-mahābhavva-Hemarāja-ṇāmaṃkie Jasahara-uppatti-payāsaṇo paḍhamo saṃdhī pariccheo.

Thus ends the first chapter, describing the origin of Yaśodhara, in the story of Yaśodhara, devoted to reflection and doctrine, having the characteristic of compassion, which was composed by Pandit Raïdhū and is dedicated to the glorious Hemarāja.

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

Other visual elements

This is a good example of an average manuscript. A red background is used for the painting but there is no use of gold, intricate design elements or elaborate script.

The bottom of the right margin contains the number 19, which is the folio number.

In the lower and right margins there are syllables missing from the main text, or corrections. The number before them is the line number where they should be inserted.

Script

The script used for the main text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here Apabhraṃśa Prakrit.

Background

The 15th-century Digambara poet Raidhū composed a version of one of the most important Jain tales – the Story of Yaśodhara. Called the Jasahara-cariu, which means 'the story of Yaśodhara' in Apabhraṃśa Prakrit, Raidhū’s version has the subtitle of 'having the characteristic of compassion' – daya-lakkhaṇa. This underlines the main teaching of the story, which is a manifesto against violence of all types and a defence of non-violence.

A story with several episodes, the tale of Yaśodhara is a good representative of religious teaching in narrative form – dharma-kathā. Its importance comes from the fact that it shows very clearly the working of karma and rebirth and refers to key concepts, such as:

  • violence – hiṃsā – both factual and intentional
  • desire or greediness.

Ultimately, all the protagonists become pious Jains and will be emancipated.

The text is divided into four sections called sandhi, which go into detail about all the rebirths that are recounted in the story within a story:

Sections of the Jasahara-cariu

Section

Events

1

  • King Māridatta and the search for proper sacrificial victims
  • Birth of Yaśodhara

2

  • Yaśodhara's youth and death
  • His son Yaśomati ascends to the throne

3

  • Parallel rebirths of Yaśodhara and Candramati

4

  • Last rebirth as Abhayaruci and Abhayamati
  • Final conversions

This version of the story has not yet been published. It is known from very few manuscripts, which are all illustrated and in India. However, not a single manuscript is complete. So this one, held in the Wellcome Trust in London, is a precious document, even though it is only the first half of the story. It is probable that the second half of the document is a manuscript originally kept in Delhi, dated 1454 CE. It is also very likely that a single folio in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is part of the same manuscript (see Balbir, forthcoming).

Like other versions of the tale of Yaśodhara, Raidhū's narrative poem is a major inspiration for illustrations in Digambara manuscripts.

Glossary

Common Era
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
Digambara
'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. 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.
Hiṃsā
Violence, the fact of harming in any way.
Jain
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
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.
Kathā
Story, narrative literature.
Saṃsāra
Cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth caused by karma binding to the soul as a result of activities. Only by destroying all karma can this perpetual cycle finish in mokṣa – liberation. The karma gained in life affects the next life, and even future lives, for example:
  • in which of the three worlds the life is lived out
  • which of four conditions – gati – the body takes, namely human, divine, hellish or as a plant or animal.
Doctrine
A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.
Apabhraṃśa
Apabhraṃśa is an umbrella term for the dialects that were the forerunners of modern Indian languages. Taken from the Sanskrit term apabhraṃśa, which literally means 'corrupt' or 'non-grammatical language', Apabhraṃśa was used to write a large number of Jain texts. Though Apabhraṃśa developed over the 6th to 13th centuries, literary works date back to the 8th century.
Paṇḍit
'Learned one' in Sanskrit and used originally for a Hindu brahmin scholar and teacher. Nowadays a Jain pandit is a scholar who has been educated traditionally and is expert in the sacred texts of at least one of the Jain sects.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
Padmāsana
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.
Carũrī
Usually written as 'chowrie' in English, the Hindi carũrī is a fly-whisk or fan. It is probably descended from the Sanskrit term cāmara, which means a 'yak-tail fan'. Like the cāmara, the chowrie is used to fan royalty or priests and thus signifies high status in Indian art.
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.
Colophon
Found at the end of a Jain manuscript, a colophon is similar to the publication information at the beginning of modern books. It usually contains the title and sometimes details of the author, scribe and sponsor. The colophons of Jain manuscripts may also include the names of owners, readers and libraries where they have been stored. They frequently have decorative elements and very commonly contain a wish for good fortune for any readers. Written mainly by the scribes who copy texts, Jain colophons are often written in Sanskrit.
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