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Browsing: Kālakācārya-kathā (Beta 365)

Image: King Gardabhilla kidnaps Sarasvatī

Title: King Gardabhilla kidnaps Sarasvatī

Source:
Wellcome Trust Library
Shelfmark:
Beta 365
Author:
Bhāvadeva-sūri
Date of creation:
probably 15th to 16th centuries
Folio number:
3 verso
Total number of folios:
12
Place of creation:
western India
Language:
Māhārāstri Jaina Prākrit
Medium:
watercolour on paper
Size:
28 x 11 cm
Copyright:
Wellcome Library, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information

Description

The slightly damaged heading in the top-right corner says: mahāsatī apaharaṇa – 'the kidnapping of the great nun'.

The illustration contains two scenes at different levels.

On the top level the two figures on the left are two nuns wearing typical Śvetāmbara monastic robes. The robes of nuns are slightly different from monks’ robes in that they continue behind the neck up the back of the head. This is a distinctive characteristic of their sex in artwork. Here the faces look feminine, but this is not always the case and it may not be that easy to differentiate monks from nuns only from the faces. One of them is Sarasvatī, the sister of Kālaka. The other one is there to show that, according to the rule, a nun never wanders alone. On the right is a man on horseback coming towards the nuns. This is King Gardabhilla of Ujjayinī. The flower below indicates that the scene takes place in a natural landscape.

On the bottom level the figure on the left is King Gardabhilla. His horse looks entirely different, which is the case in all available paintings of this scene. The movement in the king’s costume shows that he is in a hurry. The man on the right is one of the king’s soldiers. He is carrying the nun Sarasvatī on his shoulders.

This painting illustrates an episode in the life of the prominent ascetic Kālaka. During his wanderings, the monk Kālaka preaches to a crowd outside the city of Ujjayinī. The nuns also join the attending crowd. Among them is Sarasvatī, who is Kālaka’s sister.

Captivated by Sarasvatī’s beauty, King Gardabhilla of Ujjayinī grabs her and has her carried away to his harem. Sarasvatī calls out to Kālaka for help. The text describes how Kālaka vainly tries to convince the king to leave her alone, reminding him of a monarch’s duty.

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

Other visual elements

There are several notable things about this page, namely:

  • the original paper has been slightly torn around the shape of the bottom horse and has water stains
  • the bottom of the right margin contains the number 3, which is the folio number.

This version of the Kālaka story is in verse, with numbers at the end of each stanza, often between two vertical lines, like here. On this page they are:

  • 20 at the end of line 2
  • 21 in the middle of line 5
  • 22 towards the end of line 7.

The three red circles along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders of the way in which manuscripts were bound when they were on palm-leaf. Here the central one is in a square blank shape. Strings through three 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.

Script

The elaborate script is the Jaina Devanāgarī script, in a form which recalls calligraphy. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here for Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit.

There are a few notable features of this script, which are that:

  • 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 divide the long sentences into smaller parts, but are not necessarily punctuation marks.

Background

The Kālakācārya-kathā'story 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 story is frequently found as an appendix to the Kalpa-sūtra because the last part of the story explains how Kālaka changed the date of Paryuṣaṇ. This annual festival was moved from the fifth day of the bright half of the month Bhādrapada – roughly equivalent to August to September – to the fourth. The Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in Paryuṣaṇ.

The version of the story here is that of Bhāvadeva-sūri, a Jain Śvetāmbara author of the 13th century CE. It is written in Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit and represents a short recension, where the story is told in simple language without poetical embellishments.

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.
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.
Paryuṣaṇ
An eight-day festival in August / September, which is the most important event of the religious calendar for Śvetāmbara lay Jains. They fast, read, spend time with monks and meditate. The last day is the occasion for public repentance. Reading the Kalpa-sūtra and sponsoring new manuscripts or editions of this canonical book are associated with this festival.
Śvetāmbara
'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.
Ascetic
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land. Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
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.
Nun
A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
Preach
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.
Vihāra
A Sanskrit term that describes the wandering lifestyle of Jain mendicants. Jain monks and nuns are expected to travel around, not stay in one place as householders do. They wander constantly on foot, never staying more than a few days in one place. They may walk around 30 kilometres a day in small groups. However, every year, during the monsoon, monks and nuns stay in one location to avoid travelling.
Bright fortnight
The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its fullest.
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.
Kālakācārya-kathā
The very popular Story of the Ācārya Kālakā recounts the adventures of the Śvetāmbara monk Kālakā. Emphasising the connection between religious practice and magical abilities, the story is frequently found as an appendix to the Kalpa-sūtra because it explains how Kālaka changed the date of Paryuṣaṇ . This annual festival gives a central role to the Kalpa-sūtra scripture.

Related Manuscripts

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