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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (Or. 13700)

Image: Interpreting the 14 dreams

Title: Interpreting the 14 dreams

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 13700
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
1445
Folio number:
19 verso
Total number of folios:
62
Place of creation:
Rājanagara (modern Ahmedabad), Gujarat
Language:
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit in Devanāgarī script
Medium:
opaque watercolour with gold
Size:
26 x 11 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Description

There are two pictures depicting two related episodes of the story. The left-hand painting shows small figures standing in front of a larger figure sitting on a throne in an ornate palace. The picture on the right shows bearded men holding manuscripts and writing implements. 

The morning after she has had her 14 dreams, Queen Triśalā tells them to her husband, King Siddhārtha. He realises they are significant and sends his family servants to call 'the interpreters of dreams who well know the science of prognostics with its eight branches, and are well versed in many sciences' to the palace. This episode is shown in the illustration on the left. 

The astrologers consult their specialised treatises and predict that the baby Triśalā is carrying will be either a universal monarch or an Arhat – a perfect being. They are shown here in discussion on the right-hand picture, bearing the tools of their trade. The baby grows up to be Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina.

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

Other visual element 

This is a good example of an average Kalpa-sūtra manuscript. The paintings have a red background, but there are no other signs of an aesthetic object of special value.

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. 

Script

The elaborate script used for the main text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script, in a form which recalls calligraphy. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here for Prakrit.

There are a few notable features of this script:

  • it is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, known as pṛṣṭhamātrā script 
  • the red vertical lines within the text divide the long sentences into smaller parts, but are not necessarily punctuation marks.

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

Background

The mother of a future Jina has 14 auspicious dreams during her pregnancy. They announce the great destiny of the baby.

Śvetāmbara Jains believe that she has 14 dreams, as follows:

Members of the other main Jain sect, the Digambaras, hold that she experiences 12 dreams. These are the same but do not include the last two.

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 MahāvīraPārśvaNemi and Ṛṣabha. It features almost identical stories of their births, lives as princes, renunciationenlightenment 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

Glossary

Arhat
Sanskrit term meaning 'destroyer of enemies'. The enemies are the inner desires and passions. It is also a synonym for Jina. An Arhat is a liberated soul who has not yet left his fleshly body, but, as an omniscient being, is 'worthy of worship'.
Cakravartin
Sanskrit for 'universal monarch'. There are 12 in the continent of Bharata in each progressive and regressive half-cyle of time. They have 9 treasures and 14 jewels they can use to conquer their enemies and become 'universal monarchs'. The cakravartin form one of the five groups of '63 illustrious men' in Jain mythology.
Jain
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Kāla
Time. One of the five insentient non-material substances that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, called jīvastikaya.
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.
Siddhārtha
Father of the 24th Jina Mahāvīra and king of present-day Bihar in northern India. His wife was Queen Triśalā.
Triśalā
The kṣatriya birth-mother of Mahāvīra. Queen Triśalā was married to King Siddhartha.
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.
Ocean of milk
In Hindu cosmography, the ocean of milk surrounds the continent known as Krauncha and is the fifth of the seven oceans that surround loka or inhabited space. In Hindu myth the gods and demons use the snake-king Vasuki to churn the ocean of milk for a thousand years so that the nectar of immortality and other precious objects will rise to the surface.
Prākrit
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
Lotus
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.
Śrī
Hindu goddess of wealth, Śrī is the personification of spiritual energy and is closely associated with the lotus. Also a name for Lakṣmī, Hindu goddess of beauty, wisdom, fertility and wealth.
Nasalisation
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’.
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.

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