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How to read a Jain manuscript

Manuscripts with paintings

Marked out by coloured boundaries, this manuscript painting has a caption in the margin next to it. The edges of the margin and the central golden shape are ornately decorated. This page is from a Kalpa-sūtra dating from the late 15th to 16th centuries.

Typical manuscript painting
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The standard place for a painting is on the right or on the left of the text. The standard size of a painting is 10 x 8 centimetres. The space is often marked out by lines forming a rectangle.

In some cases this space is empty, suggesting that the scribe perhaps reserved it for an illustration but that the painter did not fulfil his task.

But any other location is possible. There are many examples of small vignettes within the text, of full folios devoted to an illustration and of a large horizontal space for painting.

Not all pictures have captions. When found, they are generally in smaller script at the side of the painting. It is difficult to know who wrote them. It could be the scribe of the main text, who wrote it as an indication for the painter, or the painter himself.

Creators and readers of a manuscript

Each manuscript that has survived was produced by the activities of several people. How are these people involved and how are they identified in the text?

In Jain manuscripts they are often identified in a colophon. The colophon is found at the end, and is similar to the publication information at the beginning of modern books. It usually contains the title and sometimes details of the author, scribe and sponsor. The colophons of Jain manuscripts may also include the names of owners, readers and libraries where they have been stored. They frequently have decorative elements.


It is extremely rare to find the title given at the beginning of the manuscript. It is usually found at the end of the manuscript.

Many Jain manuscripts contain more than one work, however. In these cases the title of the work is given at the end of it, which is not at the end of the manuscript proper.

With works of several different sections, each section has its name at its end. The title of the full work is often also mentioned here.

The word iti usually goes before the title. It means ‘thus’. Therefore, for example iti Tattvārtha-sūtraṃ sampūrṇam can be translated as ‘thus is the Tattvārtha-sūtra finished’.

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