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How to read a Jain manuscript

Owners and readers

This colophon shows that yellow pigment over the original script. Colophons often include information about the owners and readers of the manuscript, who change over time, as well as its creators and the date it was copied.

Partly erased colophon
Image by Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

It often happens that basic information, such as the title and author, is followed by records of the owner or reader.

The various names are frequently written in different hands, demonstrating how ownership changes.

Sometimes it is clear that an owner or reader has replaced an earlier name with his own, using yellow or white pigment as erasers.

Library references

Any library references are found at the end of a manuscript, either after the text or on the reverse of the folio. They are added after the creation and delivery of the manuscript.

Library marks are generally in the form: ‘manuscript number X, box number X’. These refer to the traditional way of keeping manuscripts in Jain temple libraries, where several manuscripts are put in large wooden boxes until they are full. These may then be put in cupboards. Hence the reference system is meaningful only at a local level.

When the manuscript is out of context, the meaning of these numbers disappears. For modern readers, these library marks have lost their significance.

Final manuscript page with library reference number. Manuscripts are traditionally stored in boxes in temple-libraries and given references, in the form of ‘manuscript number X, box number X’. This page is from a 1777 copy of the Mahāniśītha-sūtra

Library number
Image by Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

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