What is a Jain manuscript?


A traditional manuscript is made up of loose folios or sheets of paper or other material.

A folio has two sides – recto and verso. These are often referred to as ‘r’ and ‘v’ or ‘A’ and ‘B’.

First the reader reads the recto and then turns the folio over to read the verso side.

When folios are numbered, the number is generally found on the verso side, at the bottom of the right-hand margin.

Manuscript covers

An ornamental motif is frequently used as the front cover of a manuscript. This cover is an example from a manuscript of the Śrīpāla-rāsa copied in the 17th to 18th centuries.

Ornamental motif as a cover
Image by British Library © The British Library Board

A book is bound, which means it has a spine into with the pages are glued or stitched so a reader can easily turn over the pages. A traditional manuscript is unbound but sometimes it has a manuscript cover.

A manuscript cover has two parts. One is at the beginning, the other at the end. They are made of paper, cloth, cardboard or wood. They can be decorated and painted.

Not all manuscripts have a manuscript cover but in modern times at least a minimal paper cover has been added to most manuscripts. In well-equipped libraries, such as the British Library, glass or elaborate boxes are used to protect the documents in the best possible way.

Jain works printed in India often use the traditional format of unbound manuscripts. They are known as pothī.


From the 18th century onwards Jain manuscripts produced in northern India sometimes took the book format typical in the West. However, it was not very common.

Today Jain texts are commonly printed in the bound-book form which is more familiar to us.

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