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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (Gamma 453)

Image: Scenes of forgiveness

Title: Scenes of forgiveness

Wellcome Trust Library
Gamma 453
Date of creation:
Folio number:
136 recto
Total number of folios:
Place of creation:
western India
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
watercolour on paper
Wellcome Library, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information


The caption in the top-right corner says: khāmaṇāṃ – 'forgiveness'.

At the top level in this illustration, three ascetics are shown. The smallest figure kneels at the feet of the largest, who sits on a cushioned seat. The biggest monk holds his hand above the middle monk's head, who is folding his hands. Above them is the sthāpanācārya. The third monk stands on the right side.

The lower level again features three monks. Seated on a cushioned seat, the biggest figure gently rests his hand on the smallest monk's head. The mendicant in the centre raises his hands as he sits on his haunches. The third figure also has raised hands but his palms face outwards instead of inwards.

The two scenes are probably to be read as a sequence, with the relative size of the figures indicating their seniority. In both scenes, the junior monk is the smallest figure. He kneels down, with hands folded, asking forgiveness from his teacher. The teacher sits on a higher seat and is much larger.

In the lower scene, the teacher places his hand on the junior monk's head, signalling forgiveness, while the junior monk folds his hands in a gesture of thankfulness. The role played by the third mendicant is not fully clear, but his gesture is that of conciliation and making peace.

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 one of the places where the holes would once have been.


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.


Forgiveness, conciliation and peace-making are the topics of the text alongside. Begun on the folio before, it continues on this one. Here it says:

Having observed the rules of life during the monsoon sojourn, a monk as well as a nun should at once give up contemptuous exchange of words. The disciple should forgive the senior, as the senior should forgive the disciple. It is necessary to forgive, to be forgiven, to appease, to be appeased, to ask often very many pleasant questions. He who is appeased is effective in control; he who is not appeased is not effective in control. So try to be appeased by your own effort

Lalwani 1979


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.
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.
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.
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
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 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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