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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra and Kālakācārya-kathā (Tod MS 34)

Title: Mahāvīra’s birth

Royal Asiatic Society
Tod MS 34
unknown author / Bhavadeva-sūri
Date of creation:
Folio number:
41 verso
Total number of folios:
97 folios, numbered 16 to 112, with 1–15 missing
Place of creation:
western India
Prakrit and Sanskrit
ink and watercolour on paper
32.5 x 9.4 cm
Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information


A lady holds a baby while lying on the couch in her richly decorated bedroom.

The reclining woman is the kṣatriya lady Queen Triśalā, into whom Mahāvīra’s embryo was transferred. She cradles the newborn Mahāvīra in her arm. The baby’s face is shown very close to his mother’s, which underlines their close relationship.

This is the standard scene used to show Mahāvīra’s birth, and, more generally, for the births of all Jinas.

Note the painter’s care for details of the figures as well as those of the furniture and decorative elements.

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

Other visual elements

In many Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts, there is a clear intention to make the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself. Here this is achieved in a rather modest manner. This aim is signalled by the:

  • ornamental motif in the central margin
  • calligraphic script.

The three red discs along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders of the way in which manuscripts were bound at one time. Strings through one or more holes in the paper were used to thread together the loose folios so the reader could turn them over easily. The discs are in the places where the holes would once have been.

This manuscript belongs to a rather early phase of Kalpa-sūtra paper manuscripts, the beginning of the 15th century. This is evidenced by the:

  • format of the paper, which is rather narrow
  • old system of folio numbering, using 'letter-numerals', which is visible in the left-hand margins of verso pages.

In the system of 'letter-numerals', each number or digit from 1 to 10 is represented by a different letter. The number 20 is represented by a particular letter, which is different from those used for 30, 40 and so on. The number 100 has its own letter, while 200 has another letter, 300 its particular letter and so on up to 400. Numbers with more than one digit, such as 34 or 258, are represented by two or three of these letters placed one above the other. On this page the sign for 40 is placed above the sign for 1, meaning 41.

The red disc in the middle of the right-hand margin contains the number 41. This is the folio number. It is written again in smaller script in the bottom-right corner of the page.


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

This manuscript was read after it was copied and this page shows additions or corrections in smaller script, namely:

  • in line 1, the small number 95 added above the beginning of the line is the paragraph number, with the number 96 found at the end of line 6
  • above the middle of line 1 the word samaeṇaṃ – ‘in that age’ – has been added, which was missing from the text
  • at the beginning of line 3 the word bahule – ‘dark’– has been corrected above the line into suddhe – ‘bright’ – and bahulassa into suddhassa.

In many manuscripts the paragraph numbers are part of the text, but here they have been added afterwards. The references to 'dark' and 'bright' are to the two halves of each month in the lunar calendar. To Jains, the 'dark fortnight' refers to the period when the moon is fairly new and thus is hard to see while the 'bright fortnight' means when the moon is quite full and very noticeable in the night sky.

In the middle margin the words in smaller script are also explanations in Sanskrit of phrases found in the central part. The two small parallel lines like slanted = after the words are meant to separate the explanations in the margins. The parallel lines around words in the text indicate which words are glossed. In this page they are especially numerous. The phrase in larger script – x dārayaṃ 1 – means that the word should be added within the text at the end of line 1 from the bottom. The word dārayaṃ means ‘boy’ in Prakrit.


The Kalpa-sūtra is the most frequently illustrated Jain text of the Śvetāmbara sect. It is read and recited by monks in the Śvetāmbara festival of Paryuṣaṇ, which takes place in August to September each year.

The first part of the Kalpa-sūtra deals with the lives of the Jinas, especially Mahāvīra, Pārśva, Nemi and Ṛṣabha. It features almost identical stories of their births, lives as princes, renunciation, enlightenment and final emancipation.The second part – Sthavirāvali – is a praise of the early teachers of Jainism. The third part – Sāmācārī – deals with particular monastic rules to be followed during the rainy season.

The author, or authors, of the Kalpa-sūtra is unknown, although it is attributed to Bhadrabāhu. Manuscripts of the Kalpa-sūtra frequently contain a related text at the end, called the Kālakācārya-kathā. The Story of the Monk Kalaka provides an explanation of the date of the festival of Paryuṣaṇ, in which the Kalpa-sūtra features. The version in this manuscript is by Bhavadeva-sūri.


[Triśalā] carried the embryo (95). In that period, in that age the Venerable Ascetic Mahāvīra – after the lapse of nine months and seven and a half days, in the first month of the summer, in the second fortnight, the dark [bright] fortnight of Caitra, on the thirteenth day of the dark [bright] fortnight of Caitra, in the middle of the night while the moon was in conjunction with the constellation Uttaraphalgunī – [Triśalā], perfectly healthy herself, gave birth to a perfectly healthy [boy]. (96)

Jacobi’s translation, 1895: 250–251, slightly modified


1. [ga]bbhaṃ parivahai // (95) teṇaṃ kāleṇaṃ teṇaṃ [samaeṇaṃ] samaṇe bhagavaṃ Mahā-
2. vīre je se gimhāṇaṃ paḍhame māse docce pakkhe citta-ba-
3. hule [suddhe] tassa ṇaṃ citta-bahulassa [suddhassa] terasī-divaseṇaṃ / nava-
4. ṇhaṃ māsāṇaṃ bahu-paḍipunnāṇaṃ / addh’-aṭṭhamāṇa rāiṃdiyā-
5. ṇaṃ [viikkaṃtāṇaṃ] puvva-rattāvaratta-kāla-samayaṃsi hatth’uttarāhiṃ nakkha-
6. tteṇaṃ jogam uvāgaeṇaṃ / ārogg’ āroggaṃ [dārayaṃ] payāyā (96) // jaṃ...


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.
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.
The Indian caste of warriors and kings, with the role of 'protectors'. Jinas are born into this caste.
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.
'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.
The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.
The kṣatriya birth-mother of Mahāvīra. Queen Triśalā was married to King Siddhartha.
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.
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.
Rainy season
The annual four-month rainy period in India, lasting roughly from June / July to October / November. Heavy rain, strong storms and gale-force winds are very common during this period. Mendicants cannot travel around and must stay in one place to avoid breaking their vow of non-violence and because the monsoon makes travelling on foot difficult and dangerous. It is known as cāturmāsa in Sanskrit, comāsa in Hindi and comāsu in Gujarati.
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.
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.
Bright fortnight
The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its fullest.
Dark fortnight
The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its smallest. It is so dark it is almost invisible.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
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. 
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.
Known as a folio, a single sheet of paper or other material has a front and a back side. The recto page is the top side of a sheet of paper and the verso is the underside.
To explain or translate a word or phrase in a text. A glossary is a collection of such explanations. A gloss may be a short note in the margin or between the lines of a text or it may be an extended commentary.

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