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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (IM 11-1931)

Image: Austerities and trials

Title: Austerities and trials

Source:
Victoria and Albert Museum
Shelfmark:
IM 11-1931
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
circa 1490
Folio number:
40 verso
Total number of folios:
unknown
Place of creation:
Gujarat, western India
Language:
Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit
Medium:
opaque watercolour and gold on paper
Size:
25 x 10.5 cm
Copyright:
V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information

Description

After renouncing worldly life and taking initiation as a monk, Mahāvīra had to face various attacks – upasarga – as part of his progress towards becoming a Jina. But he 'bore them, forgave them, endured them, went beyond them', never departing from the behaviour of a perfect ascetic. This lasted for 12 years until he gained omniscience.

This painting could depict the episode where a poor brahmin, shown on the right, complained that he had not benefited from Mahāvīra’s giving away his possessions before he became a monk. Thus he came to ask the future Jina for half of his garment. Whoever he is, this character has a rather impudent and challenging posture.

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 along the folio’s centre by a central margin holding a red disk surrounded by blue designs.

Below the disk, the number 40 refers to the folio number.

Script

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.

Background

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.

Glossary

Brāhmaṇa
A member of the highest caste in Hinduism, the priests or brahmins. 'Brahminical' means 'of or like brahmins'.
Jain
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
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.
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.
Initiation
Formal or ceremonial admission into an organisation or group.
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.
Renunciation
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.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
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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