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Browsing: Uttarādhyayana-sūtra (Or. 13362)

Image: Nemi renounces – Rājīmatī and Rathanemi

Title: Nemi renounces – Rājīmatī and Rathanemi

Source:
The British Library Board
Shelfmark:
Or. 13362
Author:
unknown
Date of creation:
perhaps 15th century
Folio number:
73 verso
Total number of folios:
132
Place of creation:
western India
Language:
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit and Sanskrit in Devanāgarī script
Medium:
opaque watercolour on paper
Size:
26 x 11 cms
Copyright:
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain

Description

This picture depicts different episodes from the life of the 22nd Jina, Nemiinātha or Lord Nemi, often called Ariṣṭanemi.

At the top left a large richly dressed woman sits in a highly decorated pavilion. At the top right a man with a royal parasol rides a lavishly caparisoned elephant towards her. Below the woman is a pen holding numerous animals. Outside the pen the man on the elephant rides away.

The lower level shows two scenes. In the centre a woman in strange clothing stands inside a slightly crenellated structure. The man with upraised hand to the right of her is richly dressed and wearing jewellery. To the left is another scene, in which a woman raises her hand to the man in the robe of a Śvetāmbara monk.

The upper level shows Princess Rājimatī and Prince Nemi. From a young age Nemi has wanted to renounce the householder life to become an ascetic. After much persuasion from his family and friends he has overcome his reluctance to marry. Now he is on his way to the palace of his future in-laws for his wedding to Rājimatī, who is waiting for him.

When Nemi sees all the animals penned up ready to be killed to feed the wedding guests, he is deeply troubled and repulsed. He decides to pull out of the marriage and renounce worldly life.

The bottom panel shows the next part of Rājīmatī’s story. When Nemi becomes a monk, Rājīmatī is left with no other choice than to become a nun. Drenched by rain, she takes shelter in a cave, shown as a semicircle in the picture. There she takes her clothes off to dry.

Rājīmatī has not noticed that a man is already sheltering from the rain in the cave. He is Rathanemi, Nemi’s brother. He sees her naked, although Rājīmatī is never depicted in this state. He is captivated by her beauty but Rājīmatī refuses his advances, and convinces him to become a monk. He is shown as a monk at the bottom left.

The long protruding eye is a typical feature of Western Indian painting. Its origin is unclear.

Other visual elements

This is a good example of a good-quality Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript, with interesting miniature paintings.

The page is divided into three parts. This format is known as tri-pāṭha. In the middle, in larger script, is the original Prakrit text. Above and below, in smaller script, is a commentary of the text, here in Sanskrit. The commentary explains but also expands the text. The artists do not make any difference between these two levels.

The three circles along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders of the way in which manuscripts were bound at one time. Strings through three holes in the paper were used to thread together the loose folios so the reader could turn them over easily. The circles are in the places where the holes would once have been.

Script

The elaborate script used for the main text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here for Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit and Sanskrit.

There are a few notable features of this script:

  • it is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, known as pṛṣṭhamātrā script
  • the red vertical lines within the text divide the long sentences into smaller parts, but are not necessarily punctuation marks.

Background

The tale of the renunciation of Neminātha or Lord Nemi – often called Ariṣṭanemi – is a famous episode dear to the Jains’ hearts. This is in part because it underscores the repulsion for taking animal life if it can be avoided and the importance of vegetarianism. This is a key step in Nemi’s journey towards becoming a Jina.

This episode is recounted in chapter 22 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, one of the most famous books of the Śvetāmbara Jain canonical scriptures. Here it is told in a few stanzas:

With such pomp and splendour the hero of the Vṛṣṇis [= Prince Nemi] started from his own palace. On his way he saw animals kept in cages and enclosures, overcome by fear and looking miserable. Seeing them on the point of being killed for the sake of their flesh, and to be eaten afterwards, the great sage spoke to his charioteer thus: ‘Why are all these animals, which desire to be happy, kept in cages and enclosures?’ Then the charioteer answered: ‘Lucky are these animals because at thy wedding they will furnish food for many people’. Having heard these words, which announced the slaughter of many animals, the great sage, full of compassion and kindness to living beings, meditated thus: ‘If for my sake many living beings are killed, I shall not obtain happiness in the next world.’ Then the famous man presented the charioteer with his pair of earrings, his neck-chain and all his ornaments.

translation by Hermann Jacobi

The tale of Rājīmatī and Rathanemi reminds Jains that even though it is hard to keep vows, even for ascetics, determination and spiritual focus can help overcome even the strongest temptations.

The Uttarādhyayana-sūtra is a scripture in the Śvetāmbara canon. It belongs to the class known as Mūla-sūtras, which include the most basic texts new mendicants learn at the beginning of their monastic education. It consists of didactic chapters, stories or parables and ascetic poetry teaching the fundamentals of Jainism. For instance, it opens with a chapter on the rules of respect and politeness that all monks have to observe, especially junior ones. It ends with an extensive chapter describing the rich world of living beings according to the Jain conception.

The Uttarādhyayana-sūtra is one of the most frequently illustrated texts.

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.
Jina
A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation . A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world , but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.
Kāla
Time. One of the five insentient non-material substances that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, called jīvastikaya.
Sāgāra
Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.
Uttarādhyayana-sūtra
An ancient Jain text outlining the rules of monastic conduct, said to be Mahāvīra's final sermon. These 36 lectures provide rules for ascetics but also discuss various topics, such as karma and the substances in the universe, and recount the tale of Nemi's renunciation.
Nemi
The 22nd Jina of the present age, also called Ariṣṭanemi. His symbolic colour is blue or black and his emblem the conch. There is no historical evidence of his existence. The Jains hold that Nemi is the cousin of the Hindu god Kṛṣna. The tale of his renunciation and jilting of his fiancée Princess Rājīmati are famous among the Jains.
Rājimatī
One of the 16 satīs, who are renowned as Jain heroines for remaining virtuous despite tribulations. Rājimatī was about to marry Prince Nemi but he left her at the last minute to become a monk. He later became the 22nd Jina. She remained faithful to him and became a nun.
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.
Monk
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
Nun
A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
Renunciation
Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.
Scripture
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
Nudity
The Digambara mendicants are 'sky-clad' because they believe that all the Jinas and their male ascetic followers went nude as part of their vow of renunciation. This vow entails renouncing all possessions, including clothing. Female Digambara ascetics wear white saris and are thus technically spiritually advanced celibate laywomen. Śvetāmbara mendicants of both sexes, however, wear white clothing. The difference of opinion over whether the vow of non-possession includes clothing was one reason for the Jain community's split into these two major sects early in the Common Era.
Sanskrit
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.
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.
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
Rathanemi
Brother of the 22nd Jina, Nemi. A Jain monk, he asked the nun Rājimatī, who was his brother's jilted fiancée, to accept him as her lover. He was brought back to the right path by her response.
Vegetarianism
In line with the key principle of ahiṃsā – non-violence – Jains are traditionally vegetarian. They do not eat meat, fish, eggs or anything that contains potential life, such as onions, potatoes and aubergines. They do generally eat dairy products.
Folio
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.
Commentary
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.

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