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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (IS 83-1963)

Image: Birth and marriage of Ṛṣabha

Title: Birth and marriage of Ṛṣabha

Victoria and Albert Museum
IS 83-1963
Date of creation:
15th century
Folio number:
86 verso
Total number of folios:
single folio
Place of creation:
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
opaque watercolour on paper
26.5 x 11 cms
V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information


This is problematic because the three main elements on the page – the image, the caption and the text – do not agree.

The illustration shows the birth of a Jina and a marriage scene. The same combination is found in other Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts where it relates to the life of the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. Marriage is an important event only for this Jina.

However, the caption on the top right says: Samosaraṇa siddhaṁ gata 20 or 'General assembly[.] 20 [Jinas] reached emancipation'. Going on this caption, the reader would expect to see an illustration of the 20 Jinas between Ajitanātha, or Lord Ajita, the second Jina, and Naminātha, or Lord Nami, the 21st Jina. On the contrary, these Jinas have sketchy biographies in the Kalpa-sūtra.

On the other hand, the text beside the image relates to the final part of the section on the emancipation of the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva.

Top level

The upper scene shows a lady on the left, lying on a couch in her bedroom. It is a future Jina’s mother. Ṛṣabha’s mother is named Mārudevī. She is holding the newborn Ṛṣabha in her arm and looking at him tenderly. On the right side is a female attendant, fanning the queen with a fly-whisk.

This is the standard scene used to show Ṛṣabha’s birth, and, more generally, for the births of all Jinas.

Bottom level

A man and woman stand facing each other inside a decorated pavilion. The two peacocks above them show that the pavilion is in a garden.

The couple is the first Jina, Ṛṣabha, and one of his brides. They are holding hands while their other hands are making a gesture that suggests their commitment to marriage.

In the centre at the bottom is a fire, which indicates the marriage ritual in the Indian context. During the marriage rite the bride and groom ceremoniously circle the fire. The small figure seated on the left by the fire is difficult to identify.

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

Other visual elements

The bottom of the right margin contains the number 86, which is the folio number.

The three red circles 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 circles are in the places where the holes would once have been.


The elaborate script used is the Jaina Devanāgarī script, which is here like calligraphy.

It is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, and is known as pṣṭhamātrā script.

In this particular folio there are occasional rings above the main line of writing. These notate the nasalised vowels and are used instead of simple dots. There are examples above the first line.


Although the marriage episode is often depicted when illustrating the life of Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, it is not often shown for other Jinas.

As the first Jina, Ṛṣabha created the institution of marriage, in the same way he established other social institutions. Before him, there was no marriage. People were born as twins, one boy and one girl, destined to live together and have children. But once it happened that the boy of a pair died in an accident and Sunandā, the girl twin, was left alone without any social position as a widow. It was proposed that she become Ṛṣabha’s lawful wife. The time for Ṛṣabha’s marriage having come, he wed two wives – Sumangalā, his twin sister, and Sunandā, the widow. Nevertheless, the paintings always show one woman.

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.


Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
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.
Time. One of the five insentient non-material substances that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, called jīvastikaya.
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.
An omniscient soul that has achieved mokṣa. All liberated souls live in the siddha-śilā, at the top of the universe, in perpetual 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.
Second Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the elephant. There is no historical evidence of his existence.
The 21st Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is black, yellow or emerald and his emblem the blue lotus. There is no historical evidence of his existence.
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.
First Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the ox or bull. There is little historical evidence of his existence. Jains believe that he established many social institutions, such as marriage and the caste system, and introduce crafts and agriculture to the people.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
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.
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
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.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
A term in phonetics that describes how a consonant or vowel is pronounced while releasing a little air through the nose but not the mouth. Similar to the Spanish tilde, examples in English are M, N and the NI sound in ‘onion’.
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 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.
Conventions or rules governing how images, symbols and the placement of elements and figures are used in art to represent ideas and convey meaning. Also the term for the academic study of such artistic conventions.

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