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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (IS 46-1959)

Image: Mahāvīra in the Puṣpottara heaven

Title: Mahāvīra in the Puṣpottara heaven

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

Description

No caption is visible because the top right side of the page is badly torn.

Bedecked in jewellery, a large figure wearing a kind of tilaka on his forehead sits in the lotus position under an arch. Either side of him are two smaller figures with their hands raised in respect.

They are worshippers. The one on the left holds a cotton broom under his armpit. He is probably a monk, shown as a representative of the monastic community. The one on the right could represent the lay community. Other smaller figures are musicians and dancers.

This is the standard representation of a Jina in the heaven where he is reborn before his final incarnation on earth. In that final life, he gains omniscience and becomes a Jina. For the the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, this heaven is known as Puṣpottara.

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

Other visual elements

The page is quite badly torn along the top right and down the left-hand side. The bottom of the right margin contains the number 1. This is the folio number.

The original paper has been pasted onto a new base. 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:

  • use of gold in the paintings, margins and ornamental motifs
  • decorated border with blue floral motifs
  • three diamonds filled with gold ink and surrounded by blue ornamental motifs, the central one resembling a square in a red box of two lines.

The three golden diamonds along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders of the way in which manuscripts were bound at one time. Strings through one or more holes in the paper were used to thread together the loose folios so the reader could turn them over easily. The shapes are in the places where the holes would once have been.

Three diamonds mean a verso side.

Script

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

The lines in smaller script above and below the main text and in the margins are explanations in Sanskrit of phrases found in the central part. The two small parallel lines like slanted = after the words are meant to separate the explanations.

Background

A Jina is always shown in meditation, either standing or sitting, like here. Among the Śvetāmbaras, the Jina is thought of as a spiritual king and is often depicted with ornaments and pictured seated on a throne.

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

Dhyāna
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.
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.
Rajoharaṇa
The cotton-thread broom used by some groups of Śvetāmbara ascetics to sweep the ground before sitting, for example, so no insects or small creatures are harmed by mistake. It is also used by lay Jains when performing certain rites.
Laity
Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.
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.
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.
Sanskrit
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
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.
Tilaka
A mark worn on the forehead and other parts of the body for religious reasons. It symbolises the third eye, which is associated with spiritual enlightement and meditation. Historically, only deities, priests, ascetics and worshippers wore tilakas. It is usually a paste or powder made of sandalwood, ashes, coloured powder (kumkum) or clay and may be applied in various lines, dots and U shapes.
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.
Verso
Known as a folio, a single sheet of paper or other material has a front and a back side. The recto page is the top side of a sheet of paper and the verso is the underside.

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