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Image: Mahāvīra preaches to the community

Title: Mahāvīra preaches to the community

Source:
Wellcome Trust Library
Shelfmark:
Gamma 453
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
1512
Folio number:
138 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 expected caption in the top-right corner is missing, where the edge of the folio has been torn. A repair covers all this part.

Nine kneeling figures are arranged over three levels, all facing the same direction. The top two levels show lay Jains while three ascetics are on the bottom level. They can be identified by their robes and monastic paraphernalia. All the figures are kneeling on pieces of cloth, their hands raised and folded. Most of the lay Jains, men and women, have a white cloth laid over their knees.

This is a standard image at the end of Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts. It shows members of Mahāvīra's fourfold community listening to his teaching with hands folded in respect. Here the monastic community is represented by a nun and two monks wearing characteristic Śvetāmbara robes and holding the mouth-cloth in front of them. The Jain lay community – śrāvakas and śrāvikās – is represented by various men and women. Note how the men have beards and long hair, in contrast to the monks. The white thing over the laity's knees is probably the cotton broomrajoharaṇa. Although it is part of the ascetics' equipment, lay people also carry it to perform religious rituals or when they sit at the temple.

Other visual elements

The original paper is slightly damaged but is repaired. 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 one of the places where 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

The image sums up the text alongside:

In that period, at that time, Śramaṇa Bhagavān Mahāvīra had, while staying at the Guṇaśīlaka caitya in the city of Rājagṛha, in the midst of many monks, many nuns, many male and female followers, many gods and goddesses, explained again and again the chapter entitled 'Pajjosaṇākappa'.

Glossary

Caitya
Sacred enclosure, temple.
Caturvidha-saṅgha
The ‘fourfold society’ of Jain tradition, which is made up of ascetics and the laity, and of males and females.
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.
Muhpattī
Modern Indo-aryan language term from the Sanskrit ‘mukhavastrikā'. The small rectangular piece of cloth permanently fixed over the mouth by some mendicant orders. This is to avoid being violent accidentally, either by inhaling tiny creatures or killing them by breathing over them unexpectedly.This is not the same as the mouth-cover used on some occasions by other mendicants and by laypeople when they perform certain rites.
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.
Sāgāra
Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.
Śramaṇa
A term used in ancient scriptures for a non-Hindu mendicant, namely Jain or Buddhist.
Śrāvikā
'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay woman, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The masculine form is śrāvakā.
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.
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.
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.
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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