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

Image: Mahāvīra's omniscience

Title: Mahāvīra's omniscience

Source:
Royal Asiatic Society
Shelfmark:
Tod MS 34
Author:
unknown author / Bhavadeva-sūri
Date of creation:
1404
Folio number:
52 verso
Total number of folios:
97 folios, numbered 16 to 112, with 1–15 missing
Place of creation:
western India
Language:
Prakrit and Sanskrit
Medium:
ink and watercolour on paper
Size:
32.5 x 9.4 cm
Copyright:
Royal Asiatic Society Images/RAS, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information

Description

A large figure sits in the lotus position in the centre of a gold-painted circle. Around the perimeter of the circle are animals and birds.

The figure is the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, who is shown as having reached omniscience – kevala-jñāna – following 12 years of suffering extreme physical trials.

The abstract concept of achieving omniscience is usually represented by illustrations of the samavasaraṇa. This word, which means 'universal gathering', refers both to an architectural structure and to the meeting itself. The structure has three walls, with four entrances in each of the four cardinal directions. The circular shape, seen here, is the most common one. A less frequent variant is the square shape.

The universal gathering is the quintessence of the universe, in which the various beings of human, gods and animals each have a particular place. The Jina sits at the centre, where his speech can be heard in all directions by all beings who carefully and respectfully listen to him. He can deliver his teaching only after reaching omniscience. This is why this notion is represented by the samavasaraṇa.

In depictions of the universal gathering, people enter the doorways to pay homage to the Jina. It is common to show animals that are normally enemies peacefully listening in pairs to the Jina’s teaching. On this page, in the:

  • top-right corner, a snake is shown facing its enemy, the mongoose
  • bottom-right corner, a snake faces another of its enemies, the peacock
  • top-left corner, a lion is shown facing its prey, the antelope
  • bottom-left corner, a lion faces its enemy – the elephant.

Lines 5 to 6 of the adjacent text tell how the 24th Jina meditated during 12 years: appāṇaṃ bhāvemāṇassa duvālasa saṃvaccharāiṃ viikkaṃtāiṃ. On line 6 it states that during the 13th year – terasamassa saṃvaccharassaMahāvīra reached omniscience.

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 50 is placed above the sign for 2, meaning 52.

The red disc in the middle of the right-hand margin contains the number 52. This is the folio number. It is written again in smaller script in the bottom-right corner of the page.

 

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 Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit and Sanskrit.

The lines in smaller script above and below the main text and in the margins are 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.

Background

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.

Glossary

Dhyāna
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
Jina
A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation . A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world , but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.
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.
Kevala-jñāna
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.
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.
Pūjā
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.
Samavasaraṇa
Literally, Sanskrit for 'universal gathering'. A holy assembly led by a Jina where he preaches to all – human beings, animals and deities alike – after he has become omniscient. In this universal gathering, natural enemies are at peace.
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.
Mahāvīra
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Padmāsana
Said to resemble the petals of a lotus, the lotus position involves sitting cross-legged with each foot on the opposite thigh. The soles face upwards while the knees rest on the ground. This posture is associated with meditation. Jinas and other enlightened figures are often depicted in this pose.
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.
Gloss
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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