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Browsing: Śrīpāla-kathā (Or. 2126 ms. A)

Image: Modern page – shelfmark and provenance

Title: Modern page – shelfmark and provenance

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 2126 ms. A
Author:
Ratnaśekhara
Date of creation:
1467
Folio number:
1 recto
Total number of folios:
36
Place of creation:
Dadhyālaya, western India
Language:
Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit
Medium:
paper
Size:
26 x 11.5 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Background

This manuscript tells the story of Śrīpāla, one of the favourite heroes of Jain story literature. Many authors have told the story of his life since at least the 14th century. This is Ratnaśekhara-sūri’s version, written in Prakrit.

Śrīpāla was a prince, but at the beginning of the story he appears as a leper. He becomes the husband of Princess Madanasundarī or Maynasundarī, after she has told her father, King Prajāpāla, that one’s fate depends on one’s own karma alone. After the marriage and devout prayer, Śrīpāla is cured of leprosy. The couple goes through many adventures. Among the various people they meet is a Jain monk who teaches them the benefits of the navapada or siddhacakra.

There are eight main stages of the story.

The tale opens with King Prajāpāla ofUjjayinī, who has two daughters, Surasundarī and Mayanāsundarī, whose modern name is Mainasundarī. One day he questions them on what they think is the source of their happiness. Surasundarī answers that she owes everything to her father. Mayanasundarī thinks everything, good or bad, is the result of karma. Happy with the first daughter, the king asks her to choose her husband. Angry with the other one, he marries her to the prince of lepers. Mayanasundarī happily accepts her fate. It turns out that the prince of lepers is none other than Śrīpāla, a prince. After his marriage, he is cured of leprosy. Moreover, the couple has been told by a Jain ascetic about the navapada. Mayanasundarī's father repents.

In the next stage Śrīpāla is dejected after hearing that he is only thought of as King Prajāpāla's son-in-law. In order to demonstrate his own value, he leaves his happy life and the town of Ujjayinī.

His first significant encounter is with a sādhaka. Śrīpāla helps him with a vidyā his teacher had given him and receives in exchange two magical herbs. One enables him to cross water while the other will protect him against weapons.

The sādhaka leads him to some alchemists, whom Śrīpāla helps to produce gold. In exchange, they give him some, although he is reluctant to accept it.

Śrīpāla arrives at Broach, where the merchant Dhavala is looking for a young foreign man to sacrifice to the goddess, so that his ships can set sail. His men try to catch Śrīpāla but in vain. Śrīpāla meditates on the navapada and makes the ship move, then sails away with Dhavala.

Śrīpāla and Dhavala arrive in Babbarakula. King Mahākāla asks for a toll, which they refuse to pay. Mahākāla is defeated in the following fight, recognises Śrīpāla's superiority and offers his daughter, Madanasenā, in marriage.

They all go to Ratnadvīpa, where Jinadāsa, son of the śrāvaka Jinadeva, asks Śrīpāla to open the door of the sanctum of the Ṛṣabha temple in Ratnasancaya. In spite of all the townspeople’s efforts, the door remains closed. Jinadāsa also asks him to marry Madanamanjūṣā, the king's daughter. The prince goes there, meditates upon the navapada, opens the door and gets Madanamanjūṣā as a third wife.

The prince now decides to go back home but has to face the jealousy of Dhavala, who decides to kill him. During the voyage he manages to throw Śrīpāla into the sea. Śrīpāla meditates upon the Nine Entities and lands on an alligator's back. In the meantime, Dhavala thinks of other stratagems to get the two princesses for himself, but fails.

The distinction between a good man, Śrīpāla, and a wicked one, Dhavala, is clearly drawn.

The story of Śrīpāla is closely connected with the navapada or siddhacakra. This is a fundamental religious symbol associated with the doctrine of karma. This teaches that each human being has his destiny in his own hands.

Glossary

Dhyāna
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.
Jain
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
Kāla
Time. One of the five insentient non-material substances that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, called jīvastikaya.
Karma
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.
Śrāvaka
'Hearer’ of the teaching. This commonly refers to the Jain lay man, who follows the teachings of the 24 Jinas and is not a member of the clergy or a religious order. The feminine form is śrāvikā.
Sūri
A title for the leader of a religious order among the Śvetāmbaras. It is a higher position than ācārya.
Vidyā
Knowledge, especially magic knowledge or power.
Ascetic
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.
Deity
A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
Doctrine
A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.
Prayer
A religious communication offered by a believer to a god or object of worship. It may:
  • be private or public
  • be silent or aloud
  • be undertaken alone or in a group
  • take prescribed ritual form or be improvised
  • need tools and accessories or not
  • be a wish to be granted
  • be a request for guidance
  • be a hymn of praise or thanks
  • be a confession
  • express an emotion or thought.
Temple
A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.
Sanctuary
The most sacred area of a temple, church or religious building, often where the image of a deity is housed and worshipped. An outdoor space that is associated with a deity may also be considered a sanctuary.
Prākrit
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.
Siddhacakra or Navadevatā
The most common mystical diagram – yantra – in Jainism, which is believed to destroy karma and bring prosperity and good luck. There are nine parts, usually arranged in the shape of a lotus flower. The Five Highest Beings are depicted on five parts of the yantra. On the four other parts, there are sectarian differences. Digambaras call it the navadevatā or navdevata or navpad. The other four elements for them are:
  • a Jina image
  • a temple
  • the dharma-cakra or sacred wheel of law
  • the speech of the Jinas, in the scriptures.
For Śvetāmbaras it is the siddhacakra or navapada or navpad, which has representations of:
  • the 'three jewels' of Jain tradition
  • 'right austerity', often called the 'fourth jewel'.

Related Manuscripts

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