Your Trail:

Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (IS 46-1959)

Title: Mahāvīra's emancipation

Victoria and Albert Museum
IS 46-1959
Date of creation:
late 15th to 16th centuries
Folio number:
49 verso
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 caption in the upper-left corner says: nirvāṇa – 'emancipation'. Another caption had been written earlier and has been crossed out.

A male figure in an elaborate headdress is seated in the lotus posture of meditation. Below him is a large white crescent moon. A double-ended lotus stalk droops from his headdress and lotus flowers climb up the trees. He sits on a canopied throne with trees bending inwards on both sides and mountain peaks below.

These trees and mountains represent a natural landscape while the lotus symbolises spiritual purity. The figure is the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, who is identified by his symbol of a lion, painted in the centre of the throne pedestal. He has died and reached emancipation. This state is represented by the crescent, which symbolises the siddha-śilā. This is the area at the top of the Jain universe where a liberated soul or siddha goes directly after leaving the body. There it enjoys perfect bliss and omniscience.

This is the standard way of illustrating the final emancipation. The peculiar headdress and the serene facial expression are characteristic of such scenes. The perfect happiness and power characterising a siddha are considered close to that of royalty so Mahāvīra sits on a throne under an ornate canopy. He is fully ornamented, but the meaning of several details is not clear.

Other visual elements

The bottom of the right margin contains the number 49. This is the folio number.

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

Three diamonds mean a verso side.


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.

There are also numerals in the text, which are paragraph numbers. The number 28 towards the end of line 7 should be understood as meaning 128 since the digit specifying hundreds or thousands is frequently missed out.

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.


This rather technical passage of the Kalpa-sūtra focuses on astronomical matters. It is extremely important to date precisely the important events of the birth and death of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina.

These calculations take into account all the divisions of time, going from the broadest – such as the year, the month, the fortnight and the night, all on the page before the present one – to the smallest.

Such details have a religious meaning because they determine the dates of religious festivals in the Jain calendar.

In later times Mahāvīra’s horoscope has also become the focus of attention for Jains because his future greatness can be detected in details of his birth

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 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.


[This occurred when] There was the Lava [time period] called Arcya, the respiration [time period] called Muhūrta [moment], the Stoka [time period] called Siddha, the Karaṇa [time period] called Nāga, the Muhūrta called Sarvārthasiddha, [and] the moon was in connection with the constellation Svāti. That night when the Venerable Ascetic Mahāvīra died etc up to was freed from all pains there was a light produced by many descending and ascending gods and goddesses ‖ 28 ‖ In that night when the Venerable Ascetic Mahāvīra died, [he] was freed from all pains…

Translation by Hermann Jacobi


1. tti pavuccaī / acce lave muhutte pāṇū thove / siddhe nāge
2. karaṇe / savvaṭṭhasiddhe muhutte / sāiṇā nakkhatteṇaṃ / joga
3. m uvāgaeṇaṃ / kāla-gae viikaṃte / jāva savva-dukkha-ppa
4. hīṇe / jaṃ rayaṇiṃ ca ṇaṃ samaṇe bhagavaṃ Mahāvī
5. re kāla-gae / jāva savva-dukkha-ppahīṇe / sā ra
6. yaṇī bahūhiṃ / devehi devīhi ya uvayamāṇe
7. hi ya uppayamāṇehi ya jjovayā yāvi hutthā / 28/ jaṃ ra
8. yaṇiṃ ca ṇaṃ samaṇe bhagavaṃ mahāvīre kāla-gae/ savva-dukkha-ppa


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.
Etc up to
A translation of a phrase in the original texts that is a convention to save space. It invites the reader to supply mentally a formulaic list of words at this point. These formulas are given in earlier, similar passages.
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.
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.
The 'liberation' of the soul from its body and thus from the cycle of rebirth because it has no karma and becomes omniscient. The ultimate aim of Jainism is to achieve mokṣa and become a liberated soul in siddha-śilā.
Release from the bondage of neverending rebirths, in which an enlightened human being undergoes his or her final death, followed immediately by salvation instead of rebirth. Note that this differs from the Buddhist concept of the same name.
An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual bliss.
The realm of liberated souls, at the apex of the universe. All the liberated souls – siddha – dwell there in eternal bliss.
'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 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.
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.
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.
A chart of the positions of planets, stars and other celestial events and phenomena at a certain time. It is often used to predict someone's future or analyse his character or present state. It can also be used to choose the best time for an event to take place.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
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.
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.
A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history. 
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.
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.

Related Manuscripts

Related Manuscript Images - All text is © JAINpedia / Institute of Jainology 2020 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 licence The Jain universe online at

Unless images are explicitly stated as either public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons licence, all images are copyrighted. See individual images for details of copyright.