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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (IS 46-1959)

Image: Pārśva gives alms and renounces

Title: Pārśva gives alms and renounces

Victoria and Albert Museum
IS 46-1959
Date of creation:
late 15th to 16th centuries
Folio number:
55 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 barely legible caption in the upper-right corner says: Paṃcāgni or 'five fires'. However, this does not match the image, but refers to another episode in the life of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, where a Hindu ascetic called Kamaṭha practises the penance of the five fires.

The picture has two scenes, each depicting different stages in Prince Pārśva’s rejection of the world to become a monk.

Top level

A richly jewelled figure dressed in elaborate clothing sits on an ornate throne. An old white-bearded man stands on the right. Two small figures stand at the top.

The large figure is Prince Pārśva, shown with all his worldly privileges. The old man represents the poor. The two men at the top may be the Laukāntika gods.

The Laukāntika gods have come to awaken Pārśva spiritually and inspire him to give up his possessions. They exclaim:

Victory be to the joy of the world!
Victory be to one with auspicious marks!
Glory be to thee, oh bull among best kṣatriyas
Awake, oh Lord, Master of the Universe!
Establish religion and order
For the well-being of all living beings.

Then Pārśva knows that the time is right for him to renounce the worldly life. He spends the following year giving all his possessions to the poor.

Bottom level

On the left side a male figure wearing a single garment sits under a tree. He catches his long hair in his hand. On the right is a man with four hands seated on a throne.

The figure on the left is Pārśva, who has now given up all the possessions of a prince. Even so, he is often shown in pictures as keeping his jewellery. Sitting under an aśoka tree, he is about to pluck out his long hair in five handfuls. This is the symbolic gesture of giving up worldly life and entering religious life. Jain monks and nuns still perform this act of dīkṣā today.

The figure watching him is the god Śakra, who is present at the key points of Pārśva's life. Deities are often depicted with four or more hands in Jain art. Here Śakra is shown with a pair of his hands ready to receive the hair of the future Jina.

Pārśva performs his initiation ceremony in public in a park outside the city of Bārāṇasī. According to some sources, this park is on slightly raised ground. This is symbolised here by the bottom row, which represents mountain peaks.

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

Other visual elements

Some of the other elements of the picture are ordinary features of a manuscript, while others indicate that Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts are special objects.

The bottom of the right margin contains the number 55, which is the folio number.

The aim of making the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself 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 ornamental 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 pṣṭhamātrā script
  • contains red vertical lines within the text divide the long sentences into smaller parts, but are not necessarily punctuation marks
  • uses the number 2 to avoid repeating a word or a phrase already mentioned. For example in line 4 is the phrase: niggacchai 2ttā – 'he goes out, after having gone out'.

In this particular folio, xra6 is written in the left-hand margin next to line 6. This indicates that the syllable ra must be inserted in that line. Here it refers to the ra in Bāṇarasiṃ – on the right side, after the second vertical red line – which seems to replace an earlier syllable.


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.


[Before the Venerable Ascetic Pārśva renounced the life of a householder, he possessed] supreme, unlimited knowledge and intuition, etc up to [so] he distributed presents among indigent persons. In the second month of winter, in the third fortnight, the dark [fortnight] of [the] month [of] Pauṣya, on the eleventh day of this fortnight of [the] month [of] Pauṣya, in the middle of the night, on his palanquin called Viśālā, with a train of gods, men and Asuras, he went right through the town of Beneras to the park called Āśramapada, and proceeded to the excellent tree Aśoka

Translation by Hermann Jacobi


1. aṇuttare āhohie taṃ c’eva savvaṃ jāva dāṇaṃ dāiyāṇaṃ
2. paribhāittā / je se hemaṃtāṇaṃ / ducce māse tacce pakkhe
3. posa-bahule / tassa ṇaṃ posa-bahulassa / ikkāra-
4. sī-divaseṇaṃ / puvv’-aṇha-kāla-samayaṃsi vi-
5. sālāe / sibiyāe sa-deva-maṇuyāsurā-
6. e / parisāe taṃ cc’eva savvaṃ nayaraṃ / Bāṇārasiṃ nagariṃ majjhaṃ
7. majjheṇaṃ / niggacchai, 2ttā / jeṇ’ eva āsama-pae u/jjāṇe
8. jeṇ’eva asoga-vara-pāyave teṇ’eva uvāgacchai 2ttā


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 Sanskrit term for 'five handfuls' refers to the traditional gesture of the initiation ritual – dīkṣā – in which the future mendicant pulls out his or her own hair in 'five handfuls'. Nowadays, new monks and nuns symbolically pull out a single hair while the rest of their hair is shaved off. The shaven heads of Jain ascetics indicate their status.
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.
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.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
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.
Formal or ceremonial admission into an organisation or group.
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.
Sanskrit word for 'king' and the name of the king of the gods in the Saudharma heaven. Called Śakra by Śvetāmbaras and known as Saudharma to Digambaras, this deity is involved in all five auspicious moments – kalyāṇakas – in a Jina's life.
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.
A class of gods that intervenes in the lives of future Jinas to encourage them to renounce worldly life.
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.
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 

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