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Browsing: Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna (Or. 13454)

Image: Parable of the tree

Title: Parable of the tree

The British Library Board
Or. 13454
Date of creation:
Folio number:
25 verso
Total number of folios:
Place of creation:
Stambhatīrtha (modern Cambay), Gujarat
Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit in Devanāgarī script
opaque watercolour on paper
25 x 11 cms
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain


There is a general caption to this illustrated page in the top left corner. It is in Gujarati and says: leśyā nu yaṃtra 86 – ‘diagram of the colours of the soul, number 86 [in the manuscript]’.

In smaller script, perhaps by a later hand, there are also captions within the painting itself.

The painting is divided into two parts of unequal size.

Bottom panel

Here six men are pictured in a line. From left to right they are:

  1. a black-bodied man carrying an axe with the caption: kṛsna – ‘black’
  2. a green-bodied man carrying an axe with the caption: nīla – ‘blue/green’
  3. a blue-grey bodied man carrying an axe with the caption: kāputa – ‘grey’
  4. a yellow-bodied man carrying an axe with the caption: teju – ‘fiery’
  5. a light-pink-bodied man not carrying any tool with the caption padma: – ‘lotus colour’
  6. a white-bodied man not carrying any tool with the caption: sukala – ‘white’.

Top panel

Six men with bodies of different colours are shown performing various actions in or around a tree. On the trunk a caption says: yaṃba varakṣa – ‘a jambū tree’.

This part of the picture has to be read in a certain order to be understood properly. Starting from the bottom left, the viewer’s gaze should move clockwise.

At the bottom left, a black-bodied man carries an axe which is clearly directed at the root of the tree, ready to cut it. At the basis of the tree, the caption reads: mūla – ‘root’. The man’s action is further made explicit by the caption: karasana lesā mulaghā naraka gāṃmī – ‘black colour of the soul, root [of the tree], going to hell’.

Above him a green-bodied man is holding an axe firmly, preparing to cut the boughs of the tree. The caption reads: nīla lesā... – ‘blue/green of the soul…’.

High in the tree, a blue-bodied man is holding an implement to cut off the branches of the tree. The caption reads: durgayā [?] kāputa – ‘bad destiny, grey’.

To the right side of the middle, a brown-bodied man carrying an axe has climbed deep into the tree and is about to cut off bunches of fruit. The caption reads: teju – ‘fiery’.

At the bottom, on the extreme right, a man with a light-pink body raises an implement to pluck the fruit that grow high in the tree. The caption reads: padma – ‘lotus colour’.

At the right, by the tree trunk, a white-bodied man does not carry any tool. Instead he holds in his hand a bunch of fruit. The caption reads: sukala – ‘white’.

The tree is depicted with care for detail, with the leaves shown precisely. The men wear turbans, are clean shaven and wear garments on their torsos. The white-bodied one is elaborately dressed. Thus they suggest ordinary people. The two other paintings depicting the same topic on JAINpedia show half-naked men with moustaches and beards, who have a more aggressive appearance.

Illustrating a parable

This is a standard depiction of the parable of the tree, meant to illustrate the six colours of the soul – leśyā. Souls take on a different colour depending on one’s behaviour. This is a complex Jain concept narrowly connected to the doctrine of karma. This parable and illustration are the most common way of visualising the concept. The different attitudes one can have when facing an identical situation demonstrate the soul’s colour. In this parable, the six men are said to be in a jungle, thirsty and hungry, when they come across the fruit-laden jambū tree. They do different things to get the tree’s fruit.

The gradation in colour, from the darkest to the lightest, corresponds to the degree of violence or impurity in behaviour.

Key to parable of the tree


Colour of leśyā

Cutting the tree down at the root


Cutting down the boughs

blue or green, like here – nīla corresponds to both

Cutting off the branches

grey – though here it is blue

Cutting off bunches of fruit

fiery – red or yellow, though here brown

Plucking the fruit from the tree

lotus colour – here interpreted as light pink

Picking up the fruit that has fallen on the ground


The leśyās are divided into two groups of three. The first group contains the extremely negative ones, the second group the less negative ones. There are variations in the way the painter renders the adjectives naming the colour. But all negative colours are on the same side as black, the others are on the same side as white. This is an organising principle of the painting.

The paintings do not always make it clear which parts of the tree that men numbers two to four intend to cut. It is often difficult to know whether the boughs, the branches or the bunches of fruit are meant.

Here, the six leśyās are depicted twice, by the men in:

  • a row at the foot of the painting
  • the parable of the tree.

The text copied on this manuscript discusses the colours of the souls of the four classes of gods, implying several technical details. It is found in verse 173 and the following verse, found on the next page, folio 26 recto. The names of the colours occur in this verse and provide a starting point for a standard representation of this striking concept as a whole. This is the case with all manuscripts of the Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna.

Like this one, paintings representing the leśyā generally use bright colours. They often occupy a full page in a vertical orientation. The painters want to show the height of the tree and the format of the manuscript is rectangular. So the tree is not facing the reader, who opens the manuscript and sees the picture on its side, as it is here.

Other details

The folio number is written as 25 in the lower right corner, within a yellow frame, in between the first two men at the left of the bottom panel.


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 life-duration, karma and spiritual progress much more than the geography.

Cosmological writings have generated numerous commentaries in Sanskrit or the vernacular languages. Teaching and learning cosmology remain an important part of monastic education. 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.


Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
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 'self', 'soul' or 'that which is sentient'. It makes up the universe along with ajīva, or non-sentient material substance. It is a material substance that changes in size according to the body it inhabits in each life. It is born in different bodies in various places in the Jain universe based on karma from earlier lives. The soul is liberated from the cycle of birth when it has achieved spiritual purity and omniscience. Also called ātma or ātman.
Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:
  • negative – deriving from harmful acts
  • positive – arising from beneficial actions.
Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.
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.
Karmic stain, the colour of which indicates a soul’s degree of purity. There are traditionally six colours:
  • kṛṣṇa – black
  • nīla – blue
  • kāpota – ‘pigeon-colour’, usually grey
  • tejas – ‘fiery’, usually red or yellow
  • padma – ‘lotus colour, usually yellow or pink
  • śukla – white.
Also one of the 14 'gateways' or categories of investigation of mārgaṇā or 'soul-quest'.
The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.
There are three worlds in traditional Jain cosmology. The middle world is where human beings and animals live, and sits between the upper and the lower worlds.
Hell. There are seven levels of hells in the lower world of Jain cosmology .
Cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth caused by karma binding to the soul as a result of activities. Only by destroying all karma can this perpetual cycle finish in mokṣa – liberation. The karma gained in life affects the next life, and even future lives, for example:
  • in which of the three worlds the life is lived out
  • which of four conditions – gati – the body takes, namely human, divine, hellish or as a plant or animal.
A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.
To Jains the universe is composed of two types of space. A Sanskrit term meaning 'world space', loka-ākāśa is a vast but limited area, where all humans, deities and all other forms of life live. Here the souls live and travel through the cycle of rebirths. Outside it is 'non-world space' – aloka-ākāśa.
To Jains the universe is composed of two types of space. Outside world space – loka-ākāśa – a vast but limited area, where the souls move through the cycle of birth is aloka-ākāśa. This is Non-World Space, which is endless and totally uninhabited.
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.
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.
A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.
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.
An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:
  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.
The everyday or common language spoken by people in a particular country or region, often contrasting with the literary form or the national or official language. Similarly, vernacular architecture reflects local conditions and conventions more than other considerations, such as national or international design trends, and may be built by non-professional architects.

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