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Browsing: Līlāvatī (Or. 13457)

Title: Homage to Sarasvatī

The British Library Board
Or. 13457
Date of creation:
Folio number:
28 recto
Total number of folios:
29; 1 illustrated page
Place of creation:
Gajanagara, Rajasthan
Sanskrit in Devanāgarī script
opaque watercolour on paper
28 x 11 cms
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain


A four-armed woman sitting on a swan holds a miniature manuscript in one hand and a lute in another. A royal canopy shelters her.

The four arms indicate that the figure is a goddess. She is Sarasvatī, the Hindu goddess of learning and the arts, who is worshipped by Jains as well. She is often pictured at the beginning or end of manuscripts. She is riding her traditional vehicle, the swan – haṃsa – and in one of her hands she carries a miniature manuscript. On it is the phrase: śrīSvarasvatī śrīgurubhyo nmaḥ – 'Homage to Sarasvatī, homage to the teacher'. In another hand she holds the lute – vīṇā – representing the arts.

Other visual elements

Written in black ink on the left side of the page is the end of the text copied here, a mathematical treatise in Sanskrit. It is the Līlāvatī, which was composed by the famous mathematician Bhāskara II in the 12th century. In red ink is a detailed colophon which gives the date of copying, the name of the copyist and of the recipient of the manuscript, all eminent Śvetāmbara Jain monks.


The elaborate script used for the main text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here for Sanskrit.

There are a few notable features of this script, namely:

  • 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.


Sarasvatī, the Hindu goddess of learning and the arts, is worshipped by Jains as well. She is often represented at the beginning or end of manuscripts. Here she rides her traditional vehicle, the swan – haṃsa. The manuscript she holds reads: śrīSvarasvatī śrīgurubhyo nmaḥ – 'Homage to Sarasvatī, homage to the teacher'.

The loose pages of a manuscript are sometimes kept together in a cover like this one. Like this example, manuscript covers are usually finely decorated.

Jain ascetics were instructed in religious scriptures, but also widely read in subjects such as mathematics, medicine and grammar. Those mentioned in the colophon of this manuscript belong to the Śvetāmbara monastic order known as Vidhipakṣa or, more commonly, Ancala-gaccha.


1. In the year 1697 of the Vikrama era, in the running year 1563 of the Śāka era,
2. in the month of Caitra which offers many good things, in the fortnight, on the auspicious eighth day [of the fortnight],
3. a Wednesday, in the evening, when in the Vipakṣa-gaccha the head pontiff was the venerable leader Kalyāṇa-sāgara,
4. in the town of Gajanagara, [this manuscript] was copied by the learned monk Bhāvaśekharagaṇi, a disciple of the teacher Vivekaśekhara – Glory! –
5. for his disciple the monk Bhuvanaśekhara to read. Thanks to the favour of [the eighth Jina] Candraprabhu. Long [may it last]!

This is the traditional and complete way of giving the date, both in the Vikrama and in the Śāka eras. It is equivalent to 1640 CE. The month of Caitra is said to 'offer many good things'. This is a conventional description of a month that corresponds to spring. As elsewhere, this season of blossoming announces joy and pleasure.

Vidhipakṣa is another name of the Śvetāmbara monastic order known as Añcala-gaccha, closely associated with the region of Kutch in Gujarat. This is a monastic order with a central organisation headed by a pontiff with the title of sūri or bhaṭṭāraka. Kalyāṇa-sāgara, named here, was born in 1576 CE (1633 VS) and died in 1661 (1718 VS). He became the head of the order in 1613 CE (1670 VS).

Gajanagara, the place name, cannot be identified clearly. The concluding remark 'thanks to the favour of Candraprabha' is a standard way to say that the monk copied the manuscript in a local temple dedicated to the eighth Jina.

This colophon is an interesting instance of a monastic lineage represented at three levels:

  • Vivekaśekhara has the title of vācānācārya – a rather high position in the monastic hierarchy, which means a monk who is well versed in texts and in preaching
  • his pupil is Bhāvaśekhara, who holds the title gaṇi, which means that he leads a group of monks
  • Bhāvaśekhara copied the present manuscript for one of the group, Bhuvanaśekhara, who has the simple title mu°, which is short for muni or ‘monk’.

Jain monks have their official titles added to their names. These titles are also accompanied by terms of respect, such as 'venerable' – pūjya – or the respectful prefix śrī. These respectful terms are sometimes written more than once or are implied as being repeated. The term śrī5 found twice in this colophon should be understood as adding the prefix śrī five times to the name, which denotes a very high level of honour.

The activity of Bhāvaśekhara, who copied this manuscript, is known from other sources too. As well as authoring a narrative composition in Gujarati called Rūpasena-ṛṣi-rāsa in 1626 (1683 VS), he copied at least another manuscript for the same disciple. Bhāvaśekhara gives his spiritual genealogy at the end of his composition, confirming what we read here. Thus this is a good instance of how a colophon offers a glimpse of the monastic Jain community at a micro-level.

Jain ascetics were instructed in religious scriptures, but also widely read in subjects such as mathematics, medicine and grammar. So it is not surprising to see that they could be involved in copying and reading a manuscript of a famous mathematical treatise such as this one.


Text of the colophon in red ink:

1. saṁvat 1697 varṣe Śāke 1563 pra-
2. varttamāne māhā-māngalya-prada-Caitra-māse asitapakṣe aṣṭamī śubha-tithau budha-vā-
3. sare ǁ sandhyāyāṁ ǁ śrīVidhipakṣa-gacche ǁ pūjya-bhaṭṭārakaśrī5śrīKalyāṇasāga-
4. ra-sūriśvara-vijaya-rājye śrīmadGajanagare vācanacārya-śrī5Viveka-
5. śeṣara-gaṇinā[ṃ] śiṣya paṁ°‹ śrīśrīśrīBhāvaśeṣara-gaṇinā[] likhitam ǀ śrīḥ ǁ
6. tat-śiṣya mu° Bhuvanaśeṣara paṭhina kṛte ǁśrīCandraprabhu-pāda-praśādāt ǁ ciraṁ ǁ


Common Era
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
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.
'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.
Often abbreviated, Vikrama-saṃvat is the calendar associated with Emperor Vikramāditya. It begins in about 56 BCE so the equivalent date in the Common Era can be calculated by subtracting 57 or 56. Based on Hindu traditions, it is a lunar calendar often used in contemporary India.
Hindu goddess of learning who presides over the teaching of the Jinas, and is worshipped on the day of the festival devoted to scriptures. As goddess of knowledge, music and the arts, Sarasvatī is one of the most popular deities in India and has followers among all the Indian religions.
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land. Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
Mendicant lineage
Ascetics are initiated into a tradition handed down from a named religious teacher. Religious instructions and principles are passed on orally and in writings from one generation of mendicants to the next, continuing the monastic lineage.
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.
To deliver a speech on a religious topic, usually given by a prophet or member of the clergy. It may be a formal task of a religious office or open to all believers in a religious faith. Often covering social and moral subjects, preaching may be intended to:
  • remind hearers of religious principles and rules
  • encourage piety
  • persuade non-believers of the correctness of the preacher's religious beliefs.
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
The vehicle of a Hindu god or goddess. Usually an animal, the vāhana fulfils one or more roles and may:
  • be the deity's emblem
  • symbolise positive attributes associated with the deity
  • represent evil powers over which the god has triumphed
  • help the divinity to perform duties.
The vāhana may also have its own divine powers or be worshipped in its own right.
The Sanskrit term haṃsa is used for a goose or swan. It is associated with the qualities of wisdom, purity, divine knowledge, detachment and the highest spiritual achievements. The haṃsa is the vāhana or mount of the Hindu goddess Sarasvatī, patron of learning, music and the arts.
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 
Found at the end of a Jain manuscript, a colophon is similar to the publication information at the beginning of modern books. It usually contains the title and sometimes details of the author, scribe and sponsor. The colophons of Jain manuscripts may also include the names of owners, readers and libraries where they have been stored. They frequently have decorative elements and very commonly contain a wish for good fortune for any readers. Written mainly by the scribes who copy texts, Jain colophons are often written in Sanskrit.
Someone who copies manuscripts for a living. Scribes are common in societies where literacy is rare. In the past, however, scribes could not always read and write fluently.
A title of respect often used to indicate holiness or divinity. It honours a person or place and is also added to the name of written or sung texts, such as scriptures. It is added before the name, for example Śrī Ṛṣabha.

Related Manuscript Images

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