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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (Or. 13959)

Image: Children’s games

Title: Children’s games

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 13959
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
1639
Folio number:
48 verso
Total number of folios:
113
Place of creation:
Rājanagara (modern Ahmedabad), Gujarat
Language:
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit in Devanāgarī script
Medium:
opaque watercolour on paper with gold
Size:
28 x 12 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Description

A boy perches on the shoulder of a bearded figure while two other children play. The tree, flowers and peacocks indicate the scene is an outdoor one. A long black snake is wound around the trunk of the tree.

This episode has become part of the conventional account of the childhood of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra. It emphasises his courage and steadiness during a children’s game. According to the caption in the upper left corner, which says āmalīkrīḍā 19 – 'the game of āmalī, [illustration number] 19 [in this manuscript]',  the game is āmalākīkrīḍā, which is played around a tree.

This ancient game’s name refers to the tree around which it is played but all of the rules have not survived. The serpent coiling around the tree is a disguised god who wants to test the courage of the young Vardhamāna. While the other boys are frightened, Mahāvīra continues playing undisturbed.

Another part of the game is that the winner rides on the back of the loser. The larger, bearded figure is a god jealous of Vardhamāna’s strength when the young boy succeeds in riding on his back as well as on the back of all other children.

This is the first of a long series of trials – upasarga – of Mahāvīra’s courage and steadiness. The episode is not narrated in the Prakrit text of the Kalpa-sūtra but is known from other sources and has become part of the conventional account of Mahāvīra’s youth.

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

Other visual elements  

But, 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 red background of the painting
  • the profusion of gold in the paintings
  • the thick red borders with blue floral arabesques
  • the three circles filled with red ink and surrounded by blue and gold ornamental motifs.

The three 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 pṣṭhamātrā 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 main line of writing. These notate the nasalised vowels and are used instead of simple dots. There are examples above the first line.

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

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.
Upasarga
Attack or test, especially those posed by disguised gods or bad people to the Jinas before they became omniscient to check whether they could properly meet the demands of asceticism.
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.
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.
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.
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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