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Browsing: Jīta-kalpa-sūtra (Or. 1385)

Title: Text

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 1385
Author:
Jinabhadra
Date of creation:
1201
Folio number:
7 recto
Total number of folios:
77; 2 palm-leaf manuscripts
Place of creation:
western India
Language:
Ardhamāgadhī and Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit in Devanāgarī script
Medium:
ink on palm leaf
Size:
30 x 5 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Description

There is no picture on this folio but it is notable because it is a rare example of a palm-leaf manuscript. Early Jain writings were inscribed on palm leaves but comparatively few have survived to the present day. Natural materials such as plant matter frequently do not survive for long periods of time, particularly in tropical climates. Palm leaf has continued to be largely used as writing material in south or eastern India, but not in western India. Examples of palm-leaf manuscripts from western India are especially scarce in libraries outside India.

The text belongs to Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures. It is an old technical treatise for monks dating back to approximately the 6th century. It deals with the punishments a monk must face if he breaks a vow or regulation that governs the mendicant lifestyle.

Other visual elements

There is often a double foliation numbering in Jain manuscripts. Here it is in the form of letters in the left-hand margin and as numbers in the right-hand margin. These are both placed inside a red decorative disk.

In the centre is a hole through which a string was threaded to hold together a number of palm leaves that make up a manuscript. It has a rough oval of orange pigment around it.

Script

There are a few interesting characteristics of the script used here:

  • the elaborate script used for the main text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script, used for writing numerous Indian languages, but here for Ardhamāgadhī and Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit
  • this is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant – this is known as pṛṣṭhamātrā script
  • the characters covered with orange pigment are the verse numbers – here 74 to 79 – which are at the end of each stanza, a reversal of the Western practice.

Background

The ta-kalpa-sūtra is one of the Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures. It is an old technical treatise for monks dating back to approximately the sixth century. It deals with the punishments a monk must face if he breaks a vow or regulation that governs the mendicant lifestyle.

This particular manuscript has the conventional format of a page in palm-leaf Jain or non-Jain manuscripts – a long, narrow rectangle. With adjustments, this format continued to be used for Jain manuscripts when paper became widespread.

The earliest available Jain manuscripts in western India date back to the 11th to 12th centuries. They were written on palm leaf. Hardly any such manuscripts are found in libraries outside India, so this is a precious specimen.

Glossary

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.
Kāla
Time. One of the five insentient non-material substances that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, called jīvastikaya.
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.
Pudgala
Matter. One of the five insentient material substances of dravya that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, jivastikaya.
Vrata
Vows are extremely important in Jain religious life. Mendicants take the compulsory Five Great Vows – mahā-vratas – as part of their initiation – dīkṣā. Lay people can choose to take 12 vows, which are divided into:
  • aṇu-vratas – 'Five Lesser Vows'
  • guṇa-vratas – three supplementary vows
  • śikṣā-vratas – four vows of spiritual discipline
All of these vows are lifelong and cannot be taken back. The sallekhana-vrata is a supplementary vow to fast to death, open to both ascetics and householders. 
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.
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit
A dialect of the Prākrit language used in some Jain writings.
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.

Related Manuscripts

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