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How to read a Jain manuscript

Sections or chapters

This page where a chapter finishes emphasises the title with orange powder and has a Jina as the auspicious symbol. This example is from an 18th-century copy of the Jasahara-cariu

End of a chapter
Image by Wellcome Trust Library © Wellcome Library, London

In cases where a work is divided into several different sections, the section title and number may be given at the end of each one. It may be either in the normal black ink or in red or emphasised with red or orange powder.

Levels of text on a page

This manuscript page shows the different levels of text often found in pages of Jain manuscripts. In this 19th-century example of the Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna, the text proper is in Prakrit in the centre while the smaller Gujarati commentary is above and below.

Different levels of text on a page
Image by British Library © British Library Board

Many Jain texts are accompanied by an explanatory commentary in the same language as the main text or in a different one. There are a few ways of handling this visually on a page.

One method does not use a visual sign to distinguish the text from the commentary. They just follow each other without any special indication.

Another way shows just a few lines of large writing on the page. Each line is followed by blank spaces in which the commentary or glosses are found in smaller script. This layout is often used when the text is in Prakrit or Sanskrit and the commentary or glosses are in a vernacular language, such as Gujarati. Here, the commentary is more or less a word-for-word translation.

Finally, another technique has extensive commentary in the margins, as described above.

Central space

It is quite usual in Jain manuscripts to see a blank space in the centre of a page.

This blank space can be shaped like a square, rectangle or lozenge. It can be empty, filled with a red disc or a more ornate, colourful pattern, or filled with letters from the text itself, sometimes in an artistic way.

This space is a reminder of the hole found in earlier palm-leaf manuscripts. A cord was inserted through the hole and used to string together all the folios into one manuscript.

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