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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (IS 46-1959)

Image: 'Newborn child' and 'Nemi renounces'

Title: 'Newborn child' and 'Nemi renounces'

Victoria and Albert Museum
IS 46-1959
Date of creation:
late 15th to 16th centuries
Folio number:
59 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


There are two separate pictures on this folio, each depicting different scenes from the life of the 22nd Jina, Neminātha or Lord Nemi, often called Ariṣṭanemi.

Left side

The caption in the upper-left corner says: Ne° janma – 'Nemi’s birth'.

On the left, a lady is on her couch in her bedroom. It is the kṣatriya Queen Śivā, mother of Nemi. The infant Nemi is shown almost standing beside his mother. This is very unusual because normally the baby is in his mother’s arms. On the right side is a female attendant, fanning the queen with a fly-whisk.

Showing the mother and new baby in her room is the standard way to show the birth of a Jina in Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts from western India.

Right side

The caption in the top-right corner says: paśūvāḍa – 'the pen with animals'.

On the top left is a richly dressed lady sitting in a kind of pavilion. This is Rājīmatī, the fiancée of Prince Nemi.

From a young age Nemi has wanted to renounce the householder life to become an ascetic. After much persuasion from his family and friends he has overcome his reluctance to marry. Now he is on his way to the palace of his future in-laws for his wedding to Princess Rājīmatī.

On the bottom left is a pen holding numerous animals, which are here shown as different kinds of antelopes. Turning back to them is Prince Nemi seated in his chariot, pulled by a vigorous horse directed by a charioteer.

When Nemi sees all the animals penned up ready to be killed to feed the wedding guests, he is deeply troubled and repulsed. He decides to pull out of the marriage and renounce worldly life.

The upward sweep of Nemi’s horse makes the viewer feel the strength of his reaction.

Other visual elements

The bottom of the right-hand margin contains the number 59, which 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.


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 illustration on the left-hand side of the folios shows the mother and new baby. It is the usual way of depicting the birth of a Jina in Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts from western India.

The episode on the right is a famous episode dear to the Jains’ hearts. This is in part because it underscores the repulsion towards taking animal life if it can be avoided and the importance of non-violence and vegetarianism. The renunciation of Neminātha or Lord Nemi – often called Ariṣṭanemi – is a key step in his journey towards becoming a Jina.

This episode is not in the text of the Kalpa-sūtra but it belongs to the oldest Śvetāmbara Jain tradition. It is known from chapter 22 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, which is one of the most famous books of the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures. Here it is told in a few stanzas:

With such pomp and splendour the hero of the Vṣṇis [= Prince Nemi] started from his own palace. On his way he saw animals kept in cages and enclosures, overcome by fear and looking miserable. Seeing them on the point of being killed for the sake of their flesh, and to be eaten afterwards, the great sage spoke to his charioteer thus: ‘Why are all these animals, which desire to be happy, kept in cages and enclosures?’ Then the charioteer answered: ‘Lucky are these animals because at thy wedding they will furnish food for many people’. Having heard these words, which announced the slaughter of many animals, the great sage, full of compassion and kindness to living beings, meditated thus: ‘If for my sake many living beings are killed, I shall not obtain happiness in the next world.’ Then the famous man presented the charioteer with his pair of earrings, his neck-chain and all his ornaments.

Translation by Hermann Jacobi

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.


[In the first month of the rainy season,] in the second fortnight, the light [fortnight] of the month of Śrāvaṇa, on the sixth day of the fortnight, in the middle of the night, on the palanquin called Uttarakurā, followed on his way by a train of gods, men and Asuras, he went right through the city of Dvāravatī

Translation by Hermann Jacobi


1. [vāsāṇaṃ paḍhame māse dū]cce pakkhe // sāvaṇa-suddhe tassa
2. ṇaṃ sāvaṇa-suddhassa / chaṭṭhī-pakkhe-
3. ṇaṃ / puvv’-aṇha-kāla-samayaṃsi
4. uttarakurāe sīyāe sa-
5. deva-maṇuyāsurā-
6. e parisāe a-
7. ṇugammamāṇa-magge jāva
8. Bāravaī nagarī majjhaṃ majjheṇaṃ
9. niggacchai / nigga2 jeṇ’ eva re


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 Indian caste of warriors and kings, with the role of 'protectors'. Jinas are born into this caste.
Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.
'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.
An ancient Jain text outlining the rules of monastic conduct, said to be Mahāvīra's final sermon. These 36 lectures provide rules for ascetics but also discuss various topics, such as karma and the substances in the universe, and recount the tale of Nemi's renunciation.
The 22nd Jina of the present age, also called Ariṣṭanemi. His symbolic colour is blue or black and his emblem the conch. There is no historical evidence of his existence. The Jains hold that Nemi is the cousin of the Hindu god Kṛṣna. The tale of his renunciation and jilting of his fiancée Princess Rājīmati are famous among the Jains.
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.
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 Sanskrit term referring to demons. In Jainism asuras are a group of deities of a lower class.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
In line with the key principle of ahiṃsā – non-violence – Jains are traditionally vegetarian. They do not eat meat, fish, eggs or anything that contains potential life, such as onions, potatoes and aubergines. They do generally eat dairy products.
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.
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.
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.

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