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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (IM 10-1931)

Title: Nemi decides not to marry

Victoria and Albert Museum
IM 10-1931
Date of creation:
circa 1490
Folio number:
55 recto
Total number of folios:
Place of creation:
Gujarat, western India
Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit
opaque watercolour and gold on paper
25 x 10.5 cm
V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information


The picture on this folio depicts the episode leading to the renunciation of the 22nd Jina, Ariṣṭaneminātha, or Lord Ariṣṭanemi, often called Nemi. There are two scenes, one above the other, which have to be read in order.

Top level

On the left is a semi-circle representing a pen holding numerous animals of different species. Many of them are deer or antelopes. Standing below on the right is a man, who is likely to be the person in charge of these animals. On the right, a chariot drawn by a galloping horse is approaching. The small figure is the charioteer while the larger figure is Prince Nemi. The dais, canopy and the flag on the chariot are signs of Nemi’s royal status.

With some difficulty, his family and friends have persuaded Prince Nemi to get married to Princess Rājīmatī. Riding in his chariot, he goes towards the palace of his future in-laws for the wedding feast.

Bottom level

But when Nemi sees all the animals penned up ready to be killed to feed the guests, he is deeply troubled and repulsed. He decides to pull out of the marriage and renounce worldly life.

The chariot has now turned back, its vigorous movement making the viewer feel the strength of Nemi’s reaction.

The richly dressed lady on the left is Rājīmatī. Rejected, she will also decide to become a mendicant.

This famous episode is dear to the Jains’ hearts in part because it underscores the repulsion towards taking animal life and the importance of vegetarianism. Nemi’s renunciation is a key step in his journey towards becoming a Jina.

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

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 red background of the text
  • the use of gold ink instead of the standard black ink for the text
  • the decorated borders with floral arabesques and geometrical designs in blue
  • the division of the text into two parts by a central margin holding a red disk surrounded by blue designs.


The elaborate script is Jaina Devanāgarī, which is here like calligraphy. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit.

This script is notable because it is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant. It is known as pṣṭhamātrā script.


The Kalpa-sūtra is the most frequently illustrated Jain text of the Śvetāmbara sect. It is read and recited by monks in the 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 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.


After having lived as a prince for [three] hundred years as a householder, [Ariṣṭanemi] was then addressed by the Laukāntika gods, following the established custom. All this should be told up to after he offered presents to indigent [= poor] persons. In the first month of the rainy season, in the second fortnight, the light [fortnight] of the month of Śrāvaṇa, on the sixth day of the fortnight, in the middle of the night, on the palanquin called Uttarakurā, followed on his way by a train of gods, men and Asuras, he went right through the city of Dvāravatī.


The illustrated episode is nowhere narrated in the Kalpa-sūtra text. But it belongs to the oldest Śvetāmbara Jain tradition. Chapter 22 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, one of the most famous books of the Śvetāmbara Jain canonical scriptures, tells the story in a few stanzas:

With such pomp and splendour the hero of the Vṛṣṇis [= Prince Nemi] started from his own palace. On his way he saw animals kept in cages and enclosures, overcome by fear and looking miserable. Seeing them on the point of being killed for the sake of their flesh, and to be eaten afterwards, the great sage spoke to his charioteer thus: 'Why are all these animals, which desire to be happy, kept in cages and enclosures?' Then the charioteer answered: 'Lucky are these animals because at thy wedding they will furnish food for many people.' Having heard these words, which announced the slaughter of many animals, the great sage, full of compassion and kindness to living beings, meditated thus: 'If for my sake many living beings are killed, I shall not obtain happiness in the next world.' Then the famous man presented the charioteer with his pair of earrings, his neck-chain and all his ornaments.

Translation by Hermann Jacobi
page 257,1895


1. vāsa-sayāiṃ kumāre agāra-vāsa-majjhe vasittā
2. ṇaṃ puṇar avi log’-aṃtiehiṃ jīya-kappiehiṃ deve
3. hiṃ taṃ ceva savvaṃ bhāṇiyavvaṃ jāva dāṇaṃ dāiyāṇaṃ
4. paribhāittā, je se vāsāṇaṃ paḍhame māse docce pa
5. kkhe // sāvaṇa-suddhe tassa ṇaṃ sāvaṇa-suddhassa chaṭṭhī-
6. pakkheṇaṃ / puvv’-aṇha-kāla-samayaṃsi uttarakurāe sīyā
7. e sa-deva-maṇuyāsurāe parisāe / aṇugammamā
8. ṇa-magge / jāva Bāravaīe nagarīe majjhaṃ majjheṇaṃ niya


Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
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.
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.
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.
An ancient Jain text outlining the rules of monastic conduct, said to be Mahāvīra's final sermon. These 36 lectures provide rules for ascetics but also discuss various topics, such as karma and the substances in the universe, and recount the tale of Nemi's renunciation.
The 22nd Jina of the present age, also called Ariṣṭanemi. His symbolic colour is blue or black and his emblem the conch. There is no historical evidence of his existence. The Jains hold that Nemi is the cousin of the Hindu god Kṛṣna. The tale of his renunciation and jilting of his fiancée Princess Rājīmati are famous among the Jains.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
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.
Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.
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.
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.
A Sanskrit term referring to demons. In Jainism asuras are a group of deities of a lower class.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
A class of gods that intervenes in the lives of future Jinas to encourage them to renounce worldly life.
In line with the key principle of ahiṃsā – non-violence – Jains are traditionally vegetarian. They do not eat meat, fish, eggs or anything that contains potential life, such as onions, potatoes and aubergines. They do generally eat dairy products.
A bed or seat attached to poles, which are carried by bearers on their shoulders. The palanquin is usually a closed box or has curtains sheltering the person within.
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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