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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (Or. 13700)

Image: Mahāvīra in the Puṣpottara heaven

Title: Mahāvīra in the Puṣpottara heaven

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 13700
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
1445
Folio number:
1 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

Bedecked in jewellery, a very large figure wearing a kind of tilaka on his forehead sits in the lotus position under an arch. Either side of him are smaller figures raising their hands. Along the borders of the picture are numerous smaller figures.

This is the standard representation of a Jina in the heaven where he is reborn before his final incarnation on earth. In that final life on earth, he reaches omniscience and becomes a Jina.

Here the Jina is the 24th, Mahāvīra, whose life is first narrated in the Kalpa-sūtra. He is shown sitting in meditation posture on a throne inside a pavilion. He is flanked by attendants with hands upraised in a gesture of respect.

The smallest figures are musicians and dancers. The long protruding eye is a typical feature of western Indian painting. Its origin is unclear.

Note the wealth of ornamentation in the background.

Other visual element

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 shape and style of the script, which is close to calligraphy
  • the profusion of gold in the paintings
  • the gold in the paintings instead of ordinary colours
  • the decorated borders with floral arabesques in blue
  • the blue arabesques above and below the text
  • the three circles filled with red ink and surrounded by blue floral motifs.

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

Background

Jinas are always represented in a very stylised way. In some cases, however, the colour of their body is an identifying mark – green for Pārśva, blue for Nemi, for instance.

Apart from this the Jinas have no obvious identifying marks with the exception of the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva.

Each Jina has an emblem that is frequently included in pictures and on idols so he can be identified.

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 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, in almost identical stories of their births, lives as princes, renunciation, enlightenment and emancipation.

Glossary

Dhyāna
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.
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.
Jina
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.
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.
Nemi
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.
Pārśva
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.
Idol
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
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.
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.
Padmāsana
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.
Tilaka
A mark worn on the forehead and other parts of the body for religious reasons. It symbolises the third eye, which is associated with spiritual enlightement and meditation. Historically, only deities, priests, ascetics and worshippers wore tilakas. It is usually a paste or powder made of sandalwood, ashes, coloured powder (kumkum) or clay and may be applied in various lines, dots and U shapes.
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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