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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (IS 46-1959)

Image: Episodes in Pārśva's life

Title: Episodes in Pārśva's life

Victoria and Albert Museum
IS 46-1959
Date of creation:
late 15th to 16th centuries
Folio number:
56 recto
Total number of folios:
91 folios, numbered 1-92, with folio 3 missing
Place of creation:
Prākrit with Sanskrit commentary
watercolour on paper
26 x 10.5 cm
V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information


The unclear caption in the top-right corner is in cursive script and says: Pā. dāna [… ] tapa – ''Pārśva’s gift […] asceticism'.

The text does not match the illustration here. The former and the caption recount the renunciation of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, while the illustration shows an earlier episode. The picture has two levels, each depicting different scenes.

Top level

A man is seated on the left side in ascetic posture, with hands folded and wearing a single garment. There are four fires, one on each side of him. A sectioned circle is by his head.

A black snake comes out of a rectangle to the right of the man. On the right a man stands with an axe in his hand while another man sits astride an elephant.

The man on the left is the heretic Kamaṭha, with the sun represented by the circle near his head. The four fires and the hot sun beating down from overhead comprise the 'penance of the five fires'.

The snake is coming out of a log that has been split by the man with the axe. The man on the elephant is Prince Pārśva.

This scene illustrates a famous episode. Pārśva follows crowds on their way to worship the Hindu ascetic Kamaṭha. Pārśva knows that a snake is hiding inside one of the logs being added to one of the fires. He orders a servant to take out this piece of wood and to split it carefully. A large snake slithers out, half-burnt but alive.

Bottom level

The second scene is much larger than the first. The central figure is Pārśva, in the ascetic posture known as kāyotsarga – 'rejection of the body'. He stands in a natural landscape represented by trees and lotus buds while a smaller figure stands below.

The snakes that form Pārśva’s headdress are his emblem and make him easy to identify among the 24 Jinas. In the kāyotsarga posture the meditator is deep in meditation and does not pay attention to his surroundings.

This scene takes place after Pārśva’s initiation into monkhood, when he has rejected the worldly life. The small figure is probably the human part of Dharaṇendra, the Nāga-king who is Pārśva’s protector.

These two scenes support each other and are meant to underline the special connection between Pārśva and the snakes – nāgas – which is unique to this Jina.

The long protruding eye is a typical feature of western Indian painting. Its origin is not clearly known.

Other visual elements

This is a good example of an average Kalpa-sūtra manuscript. Gold is used for the paintings, but there are no other signs of an aesthetic object of special value.


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

There are a few notable features of this script, which:

  • is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, known as pṛṣṭhamātrā script
  • contains red vertical lines that mark out verse divisions, with a single line dividing a verse in two while double lines are found at the end of the verse.
  • uses the number 2 to avoid repeating a word or a phrase already mentioned. For example in line 1 the phrase 2 ttā means that the earlier word has to be repeated in this grammatical form: 'he caused [it] to stop, after having caused it to stop'.

There are also numerals in the text, which are paragraph numbers. The number 59 towards the end of line 7 should be understood as meaning 159 since the digit specifying hundreds or thousands is frequently missed out.


The snakes that form the headdress of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva are his emblem and make him easy to identify among the 24 Jinas. There are eight snake hoods in this picture although the number varies between seven and nine. Seven is the most common number.

Pārśva is usually shown with a snake headdress, which highlights his close association with snakes – nāgas. No other Jinas have a life story featuring an animal in this way.

Though not in the Kalpa-sūtra itself, this story belongs to Pārśva's legend. This is how Hemacandra tells it in the 12th century.

One day, Pārśva is in his palace and sees crowds of people hurrying along with flowers. On asking why, he is told that they are going to worship the ascetic Kamaṭha, who has recently come to town. He decides to go too.

Pārśva knows that a snake is hiding inside one of the logs being added to one of the fires. He orders a servant to take out this piece of wood and to split it carefully. A large snake slithers out, half-burnt but alive.

Pārśva has the namaskāra-mantra recited for the snake. Absorbed in pure meditation, the serpent looks at Pārśva with its eyes moist with compassion. The power of the namaskāra-mantra and the sight of Pārśva causes the snake to be reborn as a Nāga-king, Dharaṇendra.

The Kalpa-sūtra is the most frequently illustrated 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 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.


Under the excellent tree Aśoka [Pārśva] caused his palanquin to stop. After having caused it to stop, he descended from his palanquin. After having descended[,] he took off his ornaments, garlands, and finery with his own hands. Then with his own hand he plucked out his hair in five handfuls. Then, after having kept a fast of two and a half days without drinking water, when the moon was in conjunction with the constellation Viśākhā, he put on one divine robe, and together with three hundred men he tore out his hair, and[,] leaving the house[,] entered the state of houselessness. ‖ 59 ‖ The Arhat Pārśva, the people’s favourite, for 83 days [neglected his body].

Translation by Hermann Jacobi


1. asoga-vara-pāivassa / ahe sīyaṃ ṭhāvei 2ttā / sīyā
2. o paccoruhai, 2ttā / sayam eva ābharaṇa-mallālaṃkāraṃ
3. omuyai, 2ttā / sayam eva paṃca-muṭṭhiyaṃ loyaṃ karei /
4. 2ttā / aṭṭhameṇaṃ bhatteṇaṃ / apāṇaeṇaṃ / vi
5. sāhāhiṃ nakkhatteṇaṃ / jogam uvāgaeṇaṃ //
6. egaṃ deva-dūsam āyati tihiṃ purisa-saehiṃ saddhiṃ muṃ
7. ḍe bhāvittā / āgārāo aṇagāriyaṃ pavvaie //59// Pā
8. se ṇaṃ arahā purisādāṇīe tesīi rāiṃdiyāiṃ / ni


Sanskrit term meaning 'destroyer of enemies'. The enemies are the inner desires and passions. It is also a synonym for Jina. An Arhat is a liberated soul who has not yet left his fleshly body, but, as an omniscient being, is 'worthy of worship'.
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
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.
'Absence of concern for the body'. This commonly refers to a standing or sitting posture of deep meditation. In the standing position the eyes are concentrated on the tip of the nose and the arms hang loosely by the body. The individual remains unaffected by whatever happens around him.
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 for 'homage formula', the Namaskāra-mantra is the fundamental religious formula of the Jains. A daily prayer always recited in the original Prākrit, it pays homage to the supreme beings or five types of holy being:
  1. arhat - enlightened teacher
  2. siddha - liberated soul
  3. ācārya - mendicant leader
  4. upādhyāya - preceptor or teacher
  5. sādhu - mendicant
Note that chanting the mantra is not praying for something, material or otherwise. Also known as the Pañca-namaskāra-mantra or 'Fivefold Homage mantra', it is also called the Navakāra-mantra or Navkār-mantra in modern Indian languages.
'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.
The 23rd Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is green and his emblem the snake. Historical evidence points to his living around 950 to 850 BC.
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.
Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:
  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
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.
A voluntary action undertaken to make up for a sin or breach of a religious principle, frequently an act of self-punishment or physical hardship.
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 believer in a system of beliefs, usually religious, that differs from established dogma. A heretic does not normally think his beliefs are heretical, often asserting that his heresies are correct while the orthodoxy has become corrupted from the original.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
A Hindu ascetic associated with the life of the 23rd Jina, Pārśva. Sometimes described as a heretic in Jain sources, Kamaṭha practises the penance of the 'five fires'.
A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.
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.

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