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Browsing: Jnātadharma-kathā (Prakrit d. 4)

Image: First page – decorations

Title: First page – decorations

Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Prakrit d. 4
Date of creation:
Folio number:
1 verso
Total number of folios:
Place of creation:
western India
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
ink on paper
26 x 11 c
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
JAINpedia Copyright Information


This page shows the beginning of the text and is an instance of the typical beginning of a Jain manuscript. From the top:

  • it starts with the auspicious sign, sometimes called bhale
  • it continues with a phrase of homage to the Jinas: oṃ namo sarvajñāya[ḥ] – 'Homage to the Omniscient'.
  • then the text proper starts with the typical opening sentence of Śvetāmbara canonical texts: teṇaṃ kāleṇaṃ teṇaṃ samaeṇaṃ – 'at that time, at that epoch'.

Other visual elements are:

  • the marginal title, Jñātā-sūtraṃ
  • the folio number, appearing firstly at the bottom of the right-hand margin, which is its regular place, and again in the left-hand margin
  • in the right-hand margin, the folio number is emphasised by surrounding red ornamentation
  • the three red circles along the central horizontal plane
  • the floral motifs around the circles.

The three red circles are symbolic reminders of the way in which manuscripts were bound when they were on palm leaf. Here the central one is in a lozenge blank shape. Strings through one or more holes 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 Jñāta-dharma-kathā is part of the Śvetāmbara canon. It is the sixth Aṅga, which is the first type of scripture in the canon. Like all the texts belonging to the Śvetāmbara canon, its language is the variety of Prakrit known as Ardhamāgadhī. The Prakrit version of the title of the work is Nāyā-dhamma-kahāo. The title as given in the left margin of the first folio is Jñāta-sūtram. The word sūtra is often used as an equivalent of 'sacred scripture'.

This work is narrative in character and composed of two main sections. The first one has 19 chapters, which contain different stories or parables. The second one has ten chapters, which are all repetitions of an initial story, but multiplied and modified, with changes in the names of persons and places.

The first section has rich narrative material and includes some stories which have become very famous in the Jain tradition. For instance, chapter eight is the first instance in the Śvetāmbara canon of a biography of Princess Mallī, who is destined to become the 19th Jina. Chapter 16 includes an early version of the story of Princess Draupadī, who wed the five Pāṇḍava brothers. It thus provides one of the first instances of a Śvetāmbara Jain version of the Mahābhārata epic. On the other hand, with the parable of the five rice grains entrusted to a man who must increase them, chapter seven has an Indian instance of a parable also known from the Bible.

Manuscripts show that the texts of the Śvetāmbara scriptures were copied without any interruption of the tradition through the centuries. This one is dated 1645 of the Vikrama era, or 1589 CE. Its interesting colophon mentions individuals who were involved in the commissioning and use of the manuscript, making it a noteworthy object.


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.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
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.
Sacred syllable commonly written as 'Oṃ' or 'Om', which is also used in Hinduism and Buddhism. Jains use it, for instance, in the Namaskāra-mantra. The letters in the word are significant:
  • 'A' refers to Arhats, siddhas and ācāryas
  • 'U' refers to preceptors or teachers
  • 'M' refers to mendicant.
In common use it refers to any sacred text. However, strictly speaking, it means an extremely concise style of writing, as illustrated in the Tattvārtha-sūtra, or a verse.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. 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.
Often abbreviated, Vikrama-saṃvat is the calendar associated with Emperor Vikramāditya. It begins in about 56 BCE so the equivalent date in the Common Era can be calculated by subtracting 57 or 56. Based on Hindu traditions, it is a lunar calendar often used in contemporary India.
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
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.
The five Pāṇḍava brothers are the heroes of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahābhārata, and its Jain versions. The Jain Mahābhārata is quite different from the Hindu version, demonstrating Jain virtues and religious beliefs .
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// 
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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