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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (Or. 13700)

Image: Mahāvīra's initiation

Title: Mahāvīra's initiation

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

On the left, sitting under a tree, is a man dressed in a simple white garment. He is holding up his long hair in one hand. Behind him is a four-armed figure sheltered by an ornamented canopy. At the foot of the painting is a tiny elephant next to some red and blue triangles.

This picture shows a key event in the life of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra. Having now given up all the possessions of a prince, Mahāvīra wears only a single garment but is often shown in the pictures sporting his jewellery. He is catching his long hair in his hand, preparing to pluck it out in five handfuls. This is the symbolic gesture of giving up worldly life and entering religious life. Jain monks and nuns still perform this public act of dīkṣā today. On the right is the god Śakra, who is present at the most important points of the Jinas’ lives. Here he is shown seated under a canopy, indicating royalty, with a pair of his four hands ready to receive the hair of the future Jina.

Mahāvīra is sitting under an aśoka tree in a park, which is on slightly raised ground, represented by the blue and red mountain peaks. Mahāvīra has travelled to the park on the elephant shown at the bottom.

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

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 red circle in the centre is a symbolic reminder of the way in which manuscripts were bound at one time. Strings through holes in the paper were used to thread together the loose folios so the reader could turn them over easily. The circle is in the place where the hole 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.

Background

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.

Glossary

Dīkṣā
Religious initiation through which a man or woman leaves the householder or lay status to become a mendicant. Parts of this ritual renunciation are public ceremonies, depending on the sect.
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.
Pañca-muṣṭi
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.
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.
Mahāvīra
The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.
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.
Nun
A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns 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.
Indra
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.
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.
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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