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Browsing: Kālakācārya-kathā (Or. 13475)

Image: Kālaka and the Sāhi

Title: Kālaka and the Sāhi

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 13475
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
perhaps 15th century
Folio number:
115 verso
Total number of folios:
10
Place of creation:
Rājanagara (modern Ahmedabad), Gujarat
Language:
Sanskrit in Devanāgarī script
Medium:
opaque watercolour on paper
Size:
28 x 12 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Description

The caption in the upper-right corner states: Śākī rājā milavuṃ – roughly, 'meeting the Śāka king'.

A large figure in the centre is seated in his palace on a large lion-throne surmounted by parasols, the emblem of kingship. He is shown in full regalia, his sword in one hand and a flower in the other. On the right, facing the king, sits a Jain monk in characteristic Śvetāmbara monastic robe. One of his hands is extended towards the king, showing that he is talking to him. In that hand he holds the mouth-cloth, which he has taken off to speak. He is holding the cotton broom – the rajoharaṇa – under one of his arms. The monk is Kālaka.

The big figure is the king of the Śaka people, known as the Sāhi.

Nobody can persuade King Gardabhilla to free the nun Sarasvatī, whom he has kidnapped. Sarasvatī’s brother Kālaka starts wandering and reaches the country of the Śakas. They live beyond the Indus river, which traditionally marks the boundary of the Indian subcontinent. There Kālaka meets the Sāhi, who appreciates his qualities and offers to help him in any way he needs.

The foreignness of the Śakas is emphasised by their depiction in art, specifically that:

  • they have full flat faces
  • they have slanting eyes, not the protruding eye typical of Indians in painting from western India
  • their beards have a distinctive shape, similar to those found in Central Asian or Chinese populations
  • their clothes are very different from those of Indians.

The small figure standing below on the right is probably an attendant of the Śaka king. He has the same characteristics of face and clothing.

Other visual elements

The number 115 at the bottom of the right-hand margin is the folio number. It is a high number because this manuscript is the continuation of the Kalpa-sūtra manuscript Or. 13959.

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 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.

These red circles are ornamented with diamonds and floral motifs. The margins are also decorated with blue patterns. This is common in manuscripts of the Kalpa-sūtra and the Kālaka story, which are objects used in ritual during the Paryuṣaṇ festival.

Script

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

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.

Here, each pair of red lines surrounds the stanza number, which is at the end of each stanza. In red ink, the stanza numbers on this page are:

  • 20 at the beginning of line 2
  • 21 at the beginning of line 5
  • 22 at the beginning of line 8.

Background

Prince Kālaka was the son of King Vajrasiṃha and of Queen Surasundarī in the town of Dharāvāsa and an accomplished young man. Once he went for a horse ride in a park. He heard a deep voice and went towards it. He discovered that the voice was that of the Jain monk Guṇasundara, who was teaching. He sat down to listen to him respectfully. Convinced by the teaching, Kālaka asked his parents' permission to enter monastic life.

The Kālakācārya-kathāStory 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 one known as Śrīvīravākyānumatam. These are the words that start the text. It is written in Sanskrit and represents a short recension, where the story is told in simple language without poetical embellishments. By an unknown author, it is one of the most popular versions.

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.
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.
Rajoharaṇa
The cotton-thread broom used by some groups of Śvetāmbara ascetics to sweep the ground before sitting, for example, so no insects or small creatures are harmed by mistake. It is also used by lay Jains when performing certain rites.
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.
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.
Rite
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.
Sanskrit
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
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.
Festival
A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history. 
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.
Subcontinent
The Indian or South Asian subcontinent is a term for the geographical area roughly covering modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

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