This manuscript is a remarkable anthology of 14 texts dealing with cosmology and with the theory of karma as expressed in the Śvetāmbara tradition. The collection includes a classic like the Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna, but also less well-known works such as the so-called 'old' karma-granthas and verse commentaries – bhāṣyas – on the latter. These texts are rare in the manuscript tradition and are mainly addressed to specialists in karma theory.
The Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna belongs to the tradition of Śvetāmbara writings on the Jain universe. The monk Śrīcandra wrote Prakrit verses in the 12th century consolidating previous writings on cosmology. It is called Jewel of Summarised Verses, a phrase which underlines the condensed nature of the work.
Though saṃgrahaṇī works describe the universe, they are mainly concerned with the beings who live in different parts of the Jain world. They go into detail about their lifespan, karma and spiritual progress much more than the geography.
This manuscript has just the Prakrit verses. But such writings have generated numerous commentaries in Sanskrit or the vernacular languages. A rich pictorial tradition has also grown up round the Saṃgrahaṇī works, as visualisation is part of the transmission of knowledge on the Jain universe and is helpful as a means of understanding.
Jain cosmology is complex. Human beings live in the Middle World, which is the smallest of the three worlds that make up world space – loka-ākāśa. In world space all the souls live in the different body-forms they take according to their rebirths, in the various worlds. Outside world space is the non‑world space – aloka-ākāśa – which is endless. However, the Middle World is the most important area from the spiritual point of view because it is the only part where human beings can live.
Jains cannot advance spiritually without understanding and meditating upon cosmological theories so understanding them is crucial. Certain key religious concepts run through these theories. These include the notion of a physical soul shedding karma by moving through the cycle of rebirth to eventual omniscience and liberation, along with the cyclical nature of time, the interconnectedness of the universe, and the importance of symmetry, repetition and balance.
Victoria and Albert Museum. IS 2-1984. Unknown author. 1630
British Library. Or. 13937. Unknown author. Perhaps 18th to 19th centuries
British Library. Or. 13454. Śrīcandra. 1644
British Library. Add. Or. 1812. Unknown author. 1891