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Image: A Jina's omniscience and preaching

Title: A Jina's omniscience and preaching

Source:
Victoria and Albert Museum
Shelfmark:
IM 12-1931
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
circa 1490
Folio number:
89 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

The end of the Kalpa-sūtra is generally accompanied by images illustrating the concepts of knowledge or teaching, not through specific episodes in a story. These two paintings are of favourite subjects on these themes.

Left scene

The figure sitting in the lotus position in the centre of a gold circle made of three circles of walls is a Jina. There are doorways through each of the three walls, in all four cardinal directions. In the corners of the illustrated panel are pairs of animals. This is a depiction of the samavasaraṇa. This word, which means 'universal gathering', refers both to an architectural structure and to the assembly itself. The Jina sits at the centre, where his speech can be heard in all directions by all beings who carefully and respectfully listen to him.

A Jina can deliver his teaching only after reaching omniscience. This is why the abstract concept of achieving omniscience is usually represented by the samavasaraṇa.

In depictions of the universal gathering, it is common to show animals that are normally enemies peacefully listening in pairs to the Jina’s teaching. Here, the snake and the peacock in the top-right corner demonstrate this atmosphere of peace.

Right scene

The largest figure is Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina, whose hand gesture shows he is preaching. In front of him, a monk is listening. Both wear typically Śvetāmbara monastic robes. Between them stands the sthāpanācārya, which symbolises both teaching and religious hierarchy.

Above the monk and along the lowest level kneeling figures face the same direction. All have their hands raised and folded in respect. There are representatives of lay womenśrāvikā – and lay menśrāvaka – along with monks and nuns. The mendicants are easily recognised from their spotted white robes, which point to their being Śvetāmbaras.

This is a standard image at the end of Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts. It shows members of Mahāvīra’s fourfold community – caturvidha saṅgha – listening to his teaching with hands folded in respect.

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 use of gold in the paintings themselves instead of ordinary colours
  • 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.

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

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.
Samavasaraṇa
Literally, Sanskrit for 'universal gathering'. A holy assembly led by a Jina where he preaches to all – human beings, animals and deities alike – after he has become omniscient. In this universal gathering, natural enemies are at peace.
Śrāvaka
'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay man, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The feminine form is śrāvikā.
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.
Sthāpanācārya
A small wooden object like a tripod on which a manuscript or book can be placed. It was originally understood as a substitute for the teacher's presence. It has four sticks on to which five cowrie shells wrapped in cloth are placed. The shells symbolise the Five Supreme Beings. Its appearance in art symbolises teaching or a preceptor.
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.
Preach
To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:
  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.
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.
Padmāsana
Said to resemble the petals of a lotus, the lotus position involves sitting cross-legged with each foot on the opposite thigh. The soles face upwards while the knees rest on the ground. This posture is associated with meditation. Jinas and other enlightened figures are often depicted in this pose.

Related Manuscripts

Related Manuscript Images

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