What is a Jain manuscript?

The Jain community has a long tradition of scholarship and it has made significant contributions to Indian classical and popular literature. Jains have written on many non-Jain subjects so what is considered a ‘Jain manuscript’ must be defined.

Typical features of Jain manuscripts are outlined, such as the format and material, including the inks used.

The method of writing on the manuscript and which scripts are frequently used are also important.

What makes a manuscript a Jain manuscript?

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

All Jain manuscripts have been created in the Indian subcontinent.

The majority of Jain manuscripts are handwritten copies of texts belonging to the Jain tradition.

Many other Jain manuscripts are handwritten documents on which a Jain scribe or author has copied or commented on a text belonging to the wider Indian heritage.

For instance, over the centuries several Jain monks have written well-known commentaries on classics of Sanskrit literature such as the works of Kālidāsa. Manuscripts of these commentaries are found in Jain libraries. Jain scholars have also read and commented upon Buddhist philosophical works and thus they are considered to belong to the Jain heritage as well.

Format

Changes in technology and available materials over time have altered the format that Jain manuscripts take. Manuscripts take a traditional 'landscape' shape, in which the page is a rectangle with short sides on the right and left. This comes from the material on which the first texts were written.

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