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Browsing: Uttarādhyayana-sūtra (Or. 13362)

Image: Parable of the tree

Title: Parable of the tree

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


The painting is divided into two parts of unequal size.

Bottom panel

In the lower panel, six men stand in a row. Two of them wear the same white garment. Three wear a red garment, and one a green one. These characteristics do not seem to be significant. What is relevant is the number – six. Combined with the scene in the upper panel, this indicates that they represent the various colours of the Soulsoul – the leśyās.

Cosmological manuscripts clearly differentiate the men from their body complexions, in accordance with the traditional gradation. However, Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscripts do not always emphasise this.

Top panel

This illustrates the parable of the tree. Emphasis is put on the action each man performs but the colour that goes with it is not shown literally.

The man at the bottom left is shown picking up the fruit that are falling from the tree.

The man at the bottom right seems about to cut the tree at its root, destroying it completely.

Of the four other men, one is climbing the tree while the three others seem to have climbed it already. One of the climbers is trying to pick bunches of fruit and the other two reach towards the branches or the boughs.

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.

In some illustrations of this parable each of the men is clearly associated with a particular colour. In some paintings of the parable, however, the overall meaning is more important than the details. In this painting it is rather difficult to precisely identify each action with each colour. Attempts made in this direction, such as those by Norman Brown on page 48 (1941) are not clearly successful.

In this case only two men can be identified as representing specific colours. The man on the bottom left has the best attitude because he rejects violence. He represents the colour white. The man holding the axe demonstrates the worst attitude because he embraces violence. He represents black.

Other details

In the lower-right corner of the page, 113 is the folio number.

The middle portion of the text facing the image contains verses at the end of chapter 33 of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra. The chapter title is given at the end, as usual, in red ink: Karma-prakṛty-adhyayanaṃ – ‘Chapter on the categories of karma’. Here is the part covering the end of verse 19 up to verse 25. Verse numbers appear at the end of each stanza, here after a double vertical line. The language of this portion of the page is Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit.

Then starts chapter 34 on leśyās, of which the very beginning can be read on the last line: les’ajjhayaṇaṃ pavakkhā[mi] – ‘I will now expose the chapter on the colours of the soul’.

On the final line of the main text is a sequence of letters in red ink. The character //§O// is an auspicious sign used to signal the beginning, of a work or a chapter.

Above and below this central portion, in smaller script, is a Sanskrit commentary. This type of manuscript, which is divided into three parts, is called tri-pāṭha. This page contains the commentary on chapter 33. On the last line, after the blank space, the commentary on chapter 34 starts.


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.


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.
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'.
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.
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.
A principle or system of teachings, especially religious philosophy.
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
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.
Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit
A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.
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.
Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 
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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