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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (IS 46-1959)

Image: Mahāvīra on his palanquin

Title: Mahāvīra on his palanquin

Source:
Victoria and Albert Museum
Shelfmark:
IS 46-1959
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
late 15th to 16th centuries
Folio number:
43 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

The caption in the upper left corner says: śīvakaṃ vimāna – 'palanquin vehicle'.

A large figure sits in a palanquin carried by several people, who are lined up along the bottom. At the top of the illustration are two musicians and on either side of the palanquin is a female fly-whisk bearer.

The painting shows Prince Mahāvīra on his way to the park outside the city of Kuṇḍapura, where he will renounce the worldly life. The god Śakra has prepared the elaborate palanquin, which resembles an architectural structure. The other figures represent the joyful yet respectful atmosphere and the enthusiastic participation of the people in this glorious event.

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

Other visual elements

The bottom of the right margin contains the number 43. 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 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 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.

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

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.

Glossary

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.
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.
Deity
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
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.
Carũrī
Usually written as 'chowrie' in English, the Hindi carũrī is a fly-whisk or fan. It is probably descended from the Sanskrit term cāmara, which means a 'yak-tail fan'. Like the cāmara, the chowrie is used to fan royalty or priests and thus signifies high status in Indian art.
Palanquin
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.
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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