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Browsing: Mahāniśītha-sūtra (Prakrit d. 18)

Image: Last page – colophon

Title: Last page – colophon

Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Prakrit d. 18
Date of creation:
Folio number:
142 recto
Total number of folios:
Place of creation:
Surat, Gujarat
ink on paper
24,5 x 11 cm.
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
JAINpedia Copyright Information


The Mahā-niśītha-sūtra is one of the Cheda-sūtras, a class of scriptures in the Śvetāmbara canon. It is written in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit, though it is clearly influenced by the later variety of Prakrit known as Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī. It is a book with a disputed place in the canon. The Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks recognise its authority and include it among their 45 canonical scriptures. The sect of the Sthānaka-vāsins, however, excludes it because they believe it is later and not authoritative.

The Mahā-niśītha-sūtra’s eight sections mainly deal with confession, contrition and atonement, monastic hierarchy and definitions of the perfect ascetic and the imperfect monk. These topics are found in other Cheda-sūtras. The title Mahāniśītha-sūtra echoes the Niśītha-sūtra, which belongs to the same category, and suggests that this is a full version of it, because its title means ‘great niśītha-sūtra’. But its style is quite different. Instead of the expected concise aphoristic style, it alternates discursive parts in prose and long verse portions. On the other hand, several chapters are narrative in character. These qualities may explain why the Mahā-niśītha-sūtra has aroused suspicions of its credibility, both among Sthānaka-vāsin Jains and modern scholarship.


Text of the colophon:

1. Copied in the year 1834 of the Vikrama era, in the current year 1699 of the Śāka era, in the month of Mārgaśīrṣa, in the bright fortnight, on the second day, a Monday. This sacred scripture was copied in order to conclude the fast called '45 Āgamas'.
2. This copy was commissioned by a group of lay women resident at Surat, at the instigation of the monk Uttamavijaya-gaṇi.
3. May there be prosperity to the mendicant community as long as [the] sun and moon will last. May this manuscript rejoice for a long time.
4. It was deposited in the library collection of Vijayadeva-sūri of the Tapā-gaccha. // cha// cha// cha// cha//

This colophon is fairly complete and contains:

  • the full form of the date, with reference to two eras
  • mention of a place connected with the manuscript production – Surat, an important town in Gujarat with several traces of the Jain presence over the centuries, in the form of temples, temple-libraries and so on
  • information on the sponsors of the manuscript production – a group of Jain lay women who responded to a religious teacher’s suggestion
  • details of the special occasion on which they sponsored this manuscript, which is when they completed the '45 Āgamas' fast
  • information about the library collection where the manuscript was deposited, which is rarely given.

With regard to the fast marked by the manuscript, Jain women , in particular, make several specific vows or undertake fasts on various religious occasions. From the 17th century onwards special fasts and ceremonies have developed around the worship of the 45 canonical scriptures which Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaks recognise as authoritative. These are a way of publicly asserting their sectarian identity against the Sthānaka-vāsins, who recognise 32 such scriptures. It is significant that the Mahāniśītha-sūtra is the text copied here, since the Sthānaka- vāsin sect disputes its status.


Text of the colophon:

on the last line of the previous page: […] saṃvat 1834 śāke 1699 pravarttamāne māgasara māse śukla-pakṣe
1. dvitiyā titha[u] somavāre laṣitaṃ // paṃcacatvāriṃśad-āgama-tapodyāpana-nimittaṃ likhitam idaṃ sūtraṃ śrī-
2. Sūratibaṃdira-vāstavya-śrāvikā-samudāyair likhāpitaṃ paṃ śrīUttamavijaya-gaṇi-upadeśāt //
3. śreyo stu śramaṇa-saṃghasya ā-candrārkkaṃ ciraṃ naṃdatād idaṃ pustakaṃ śrīTapāgacchīya śrī śrīVijayadeva-
4. -sūri-bhāṃḍāre muktaṃ //cha://      cha://     cha://   cha://


Authoritative scriptures. The holy texts that are considered authoritative depend on the group and the period.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.
'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay woman, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The masculine form is śrāvakā.
The Sanskrit phrase meaning ‘hall-dwellers’ is used for a Śvetāmbara movement that opposes the worship of images and the building of temples. The term Sthānaka-vāsī, whose origin remains unclear, came into widespread use in the early 20th century. The movement's roots can be traced to the 15th-century reform movement initiated by Loṅkā Śāh, from which the founders of the Sthānaka-vāsī traditions separated in the 17th century. Sthānaka-vāsīns practise mental worship through meditation. The lay members venerate living ascetics, who are recognisable from the mouth-cloth – muhpattī – they wear constantly.
A Śvetāmbara mūrti-pūjaka sect, first established in the 13th century and reformed from the 19th century. Today nearly all mūrti-pūjak mendicants belong to this sect.
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.
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.
Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:
  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.
A voluntary action undertaken to make up for a sin or breach of a religious principle, frequently an act of self-punishment or physical hardship.
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.
Bright fortnight
The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its fullest.
A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.
The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.
Transcription of a letter symbol found at the end of chapters or at the end of works in Indian languages. It indicates that the chapter or the work is finished.
Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit
A dialect of the Prākrit language used in some Jain writings.
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.
Acknowledgement or declaration of the truth of a statement. In religious terms, it usually refers to admitting sin or wrongdoing to at least one other person in a ritual. It is normally a necessary step before absolution, which is formal release from guilt or consequences of wrongdoing. - All text is © JAINpedia / Institute of Jainology 2021 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 licence The Jain universe online at

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