This left-hand palm, probably of a woman, is a beautiful large painting of golden colour on a dark blue background. Designs of leaves and flowers beside the palm form a sophisticated decoration.
The design of the hand is very precise, with the joints of each of the five fingers clearly marked and the main lines of the palm indicating three distinct areas. The groups of three small vertical lines on the fingers are signs that are recorded and interpreted in specialised treatises, depending on their location and number. For instance, small vertical lines on the middle part of the forefinger may denote many children while on the bottom part they may mean a happy disposition (Dale 1895: numbers 36 and 37).
The concentric circles on the fingertips are formed by the pores of the skins. They also have a meaning. For example, they are one of the most important signs indicating financial success (Dale 1895: number 48).
The objects or animals depicted on the hand with golden and grey ink ‘are principally formed by the smaller lines running with the pores of the skin. Great care must therefore be taken in determining these forms, because very much depends on their position’ (Dale 1895: 28). They are recognised by specialists of palmistry and all have an impact on the man’s or woman’s happiness, prosperity and fame. For example, a fish at the root of the hand signifies great success in the world and many children (Dale 1895: 31). Symbols on the mounts, at the base of the four fingers, have their own meaning as well.
On the thumb the second element from the top looks like a bed beneath a canopy. This could symbolise the mother of a future Jina when she sees the auspicious dreams, as other elements depicted on the hand coincide with some of them, such as the elephant, bull and ship. Some of the other symbols belong to the category of the aṣṭa-maṅgala – eight auspicious symbols – such as the svastika, mirror and pair of fish. The presence of a small sanctuary housing an image of a Jina at the bottom of the fourth finger is noteworthy.
The three bracelets also have purpose and meaning in this context because they refer to health, wealth and happiness.
In short, illustrations such as this one are a meaningful visual text. In other words, reading the palm is discovering the life and character of its possessor.
Many of the animals or objects in the hand are auspicious or royal symbols in Indian culture.
This palm of a left hand is an illustration in an anonymous Sāmudrika-śāstra in Sanskrit verses, along with a Gujarati paraphrase. The Sāmudrika-śāstra is in a manuscript containing 17 different texts, mainly Jain hymns. The first part of the Sāmudrika-śāstra work, in 155 verses, relates to men while the second relates to women, taking 123 verses. The main Sanskrit text is known from other manuscripts in India as well as in England and seems to have been fairly widespread.
In 1733 of the Vikrama era (1676 CE) a Jain scribe copied this manuscript, which is clear from the initial homage to Mahāvīra, namely śrī-Vītarāgāya namaḥ. It was meant for a certain Hīracaṃda, who is likely to have been a Jain as well, given the name of his caste, which is Usa = Ukeśa = Oswal.
In Indian culture body parts and facial features display significant marks and signs that can be interpreted. These signs are called lakṣaṇas. For instance, there are 32 ‘auspicious signs’ characteristic of the bodies of both the 24th Jina Mahāvīra and the Buddha, which are known in parallel lists. The science of body-signs is known as sāmudrika-śāstra – ‘treatise on [body-parts] which have marks’. Among these body-parts, the hand – hasta – plays an important role. The Sanskrit term hasta sāmudrika śāstra describes palm-reading or palmistry in Sanskrit texts, and is also used in many modern Indian languages.
The main features of the sāmudrika-śāstras are that:
In the Indian context, the interpretation of body and face signs is mainly used to help select:
Numerous treatises describe people, particularly women, in this way. People are thus classified into different types according to their physical characteristics. Both stories and reality show that, along with other factors, such knowledge of women’s bodily and facial marks plays a large part in their selection as brides.
Indian culture has a rich heritage of knowledge in the field of foretelling the future. Divining future events can be based on signs from a variety of external objects, such as clouds, clothes, flags and animals. Such signs are discussed in one of the most famous and earliest treatises on this subject, the Br̥hat-Saṃhitā by the Hindu Varāhamihira, written in the sixth century CE in Sanskrit.
According to early scriptures, the average Jain mendicant is forbidden to use techniques to predict the future. Nevertheless, Jain monks have authored several treatises dealing with various types of prophecy and have contributed in large part to the transmission of this field of knowledge in western India.
Royal Asiatic Society. Tod MS 34. Unknown author / Bhavadeva-sūri. 1404
British Library. Or. 13455. Unknown author. 14th to 15th centuries
British Library. Or. 12744. 1522. Unknown author.
British Library. Or. 13701. Sukha-sāgara for the commentary. 17th to 18th centuries