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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (IM 11-1931)

Image: Mahāvīra plucks out his hair

Title: Mahāvīra plucks out his hair

Source:
Victoria and Albert Museum
Shelfmark:
IM 11-1931
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
circa 1490
Folio number:
40 recto
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

Surrounded by trees and flowers, Mahāvīra is catching his long hair in his hand, preparing to pluck it out in five handfuls. This is the symbolic gesture of renunciation and initiation into monkhood. Jain monks and nuns still perform this act of dīkṣā today.

On the right is the god Śakra, depicted with four hands and seated under a canopy. Śakra is present at the key points of the lives of all Jinas. Here he is shown ready to receive the hair of the future 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.

Script

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

It is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, and is known as pṛṣṭhamātrā 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

Dīkṣā
Religious initiation through which a man or woman leaves the householder or lay status to become a mendicant. Parts of this ritual renunciation are public ceremonies, depending on the sect.
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.
Pañca-muṣṭi
The Sanskrit term for 'five handfuls' refers to the traditional gesture of the initiation ritual – dīkṣā – in which the future mendicant pulls out his or her own hair in 'five handfuls'. Nowadays, new monks and nuns symbolically pull out a single hair while the rest of their hair is shaved off. The shaven heads of Jain ascetics indicate their status.
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.
Indra
Sanskrit word for 'king' and the name of the king of the gods in the Saudharma heaven. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and known as Saudharma to Digambaras, this deity is involved in all five auspicious moments – kalyāṇakas – in a Jina's life.
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.

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