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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (Gamma 453)

Image: Mahāvīra and Śūlapāṇi

Title: Mahāvīra and Śūlapāṇi

Source:
Wellcome Trust Library
Shelfmark:
Gamma 453
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
1512
Folio number:
67 recto
Total number of folios:
139
Place of creation:
western India
Language:
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
Medium:
watercolour on paper
Copyright:
Wellcome Library, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information

Description

The partly damaged caption in the upper-right corner says: Astikagrāmi Śūlapāṇiyakṣa – 'the yakṣa Śūlapāṇi in the village [of] Astikagrāma'.

A man injures the ear of Mahāvīra while he is motionless in a posture of meditation called kāyotsarga. They are inside a temple. In the top-right corner, a figure sits on a bolster.

This episode is not in the Kalpa-sūtra itself but is known from other narrative sources relating to the lives of the Jinas, both oral and literary. The clue is the place-name Astikagrāma – 'the village of bones'. The name comes from the heaps of bones found there. They were all that was left of villagers killed by the noxious yakṣa Śūlapāṇi. He agreed to stop killing people if a temple dedicated to him were built on the site of the village. This was done.

During the first rainy season after Mahāvīra has reached omniscience, he decides to stay in this temple, despite being advised against it. He stands in meditation posture, without a movement, as the picture shows. The yakṣa, here shown on his right, creates various tortures to shake the ascetic's concentration. In particular, he inflicts seven wounds on Mahāvīra, injuring his head, eye, ear, nose, tooth, back and nail.

When he realises that he will never succeed, he admits failure and bows down respectfully to the Jina. This is what could be depicted on the upper level, if the figure is the yakṣa.

The two figures with Mahāvīra probably both represent the yakṣa Śūlapāṇi at different times in the story. The larger Śūlapāṇi is injuring the ascetic while the figure on the top right, sitting on the bolster, may represent Śūlapāṇi's acknowledging Mahāvīra's unshakeable spiritual focus.

Other visual elements

As with many Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts, there is a clear intention to make the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself. This aim is signalled by the:

  • coloured background for the text
  • gold ink instead of the standard black ink
  • decorated border with blue floral motifs
  • diamond filled with gold ink, with ornamental blue border.

The diamond in the centre is a symbolic reminder of the way in which manuscripts were bound when they were on palm leaf. Strings through holes in the paper were used to thread together the loose folios so the reader could turn them over easily. The diamond is in the place where one of the holes would once have been.

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.

Translation

Lines 1 to 2 of the text beside the picture say:

Mahāvīra spent the first rainy season near Astikagrāma.

Transcription

Lines 1 to 2 of the text beside the picture say:

1. Mahāvīre Aṭṭhiyaggāmaṃ nīsāe paḍhamaṃ antarā-

2. vāsaṃ vāsaṃ uvāgae

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.
Kāyotsarga
'Absence of concern for the body'. This commonly refers to a standing or sitting posture of deep meditation. In the standing position the eyes are concentrated on the tip of the nose and the arms hang loosely by the body. The individual remains unaffected by whatever happens around him.
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.
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.
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.
Temple
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
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.
Yakṣa
The male attendant of a Jina, one of the pair of guardian or protector gods for each Jina. The śāsana-devatā protect his teachings – śāsana – and can appease evil powers. The yakṣa and yakṣī's closeness to the Jina and their divine powers mean they are popular subjects of worship.
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.

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