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Browsing: Kalpa-sūtra (Or. 13959)

Image: Devānandā's 14 dreams

Title: Devānandā's 14 dreams

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 13959
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
1639
Folio number:
3 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

There are 12 objects in three rows above a woman lying on a couch in her bedroom. The sun and the moon are shown just above her, to the right.

It is the brahmin lady Devānandā, in whom Mahāvīra’s embryo first took shape. Her name is mentioned in the facing text and in the caption in the upper left corner – Devāṇandā sapna 14, 3 – 'The 14 dreams of Devānandā'. The number 3 refers to the serial number of the illustration in this manuscript.

She is lying on her bed, dreaming the 14 auspicious dreams seen by the mother of a future Jina during her pregnancy. They announce his great destiny.

Moving from left to right, the images of the dreams are as follows:

  • Top row – elephant, bull, lion
  • Middle row – Goddess Śrī, garland, banner, full pot, followed by two ornamental  flowers
  • Bottom row – lotus pond, ocean, celestial cart, heap of jewels, blazing fire.

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

Other visual elements

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 picture
  • the profusion of gold in the painting
  • the thick red margins, bordered with blue arabesques
  • three circles filled with red ink and surrounded by gold and blue 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.

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

Brāhmaṇa
A member of the highest caste in Hinduism, the priests or brahmins. 'Brahminical' means 'of or like brahmins'.
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.
Devānandā
The original mother of Mahāvīra, who was from the brahmin caste. The king of the gods, Śakra, caused the embryo to be transferred into the womb of a kṣatriya woman because Jinas-to-be can only be born to the kṣatriya caste.
Deity
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
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.
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.
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.
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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