Contributed by Nalini Balbir
British administrator-scholar, Henry Thomas Colebrooke (15 June 1765—10 March 1837) was a leading scholar of Sanskrit and a founder of Western Indology. He spent over 30 years in India, working for the East India Company and becoming familiar with many different aspects of South Asia. Even though, like many scholars of the period, he was not really aware that Jainism is distinct from both Hinduism and Buddhism, he was one of the first Western scholars to point to the existence of a Jain tradition.
While living in India, Colebrooke began publishing his wide-ranging research via the Asiatic Society of Bengal and was a founding member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland on his return to England in 1815. He dedicated the rest of his life to scholarly researches, working from the large collection of original manuscripts and copies he had brought back from the subcontinent.
Instrumental in Colebrooke's exploration of the culture and history of South Asia was his use of original texts, in the form of manuscripts. This is seen in his major intellectual contribution to the origins of Jain studies, entitled 'Observations on the Sect of the Jains', published in 1807. Although some of his conclusions about Jainism were overturned by later scholarship, Colebrooke's work was vital in bringing knowledge of the Jain tradition to a wider audience.
Jain works have a significant place in Colebrooke's collection of Indian manuscripts, which is now in the British Library. The Colebrooke Collection forms a substantial element of the British Library's holdings of Indian manuscripts and artefacts and continues to play a major role in the study of South Asia, particularly Jain studies.
Born in London, Henry Thomas Colebrooke was the youngest son of Sir George Colebrooke, financier and MP. He was educated at home, proving a gifted pupil in mathematics and classics.
In 1782 he joined the East India Company, of which his father was the chairman, and worked in India for 33 years. Unlike many British people in India at this period, Colebrooke became very interested in South Asian culture and languages. He became a renowned Sanskrit scholar and an eminent expert on many aspects of Indian culture, including law, languages, literature, natural sciences and mathematics.
Back to England in 1815, Colebrooke no longer had any official position, but devoted himself to research, promoting knowledge of India and supplying materials to colleagues.
Typically of many British men working in India at that period, Colebrooke had three children with an Indian woman. Only one child survived, who was sent to England for education (Rocher and Rocher 2012: 117ff.). In 1810 he married an English woman, who died shortly before they were due to sail back to England. He had three sons with Elisabeth Wilkinson but only Thomas Edward survived his father. He wrote a biography of his father under the title Life of H. T. Colebrooke (1873), with a bibliography listing his publications.
Colebrooke began studying Sanskit as a way of accessing the knowledge of ancient India and became a celebrated scholar. He used his knowledge in his professional life as well as pursuing scholarly research in numerous fields. He worked differently from most other Europeans studying the culture and languages of India, in that he read the original sources and discussed them with Indian pandits and scribes. He was very active in the scholarly Asiatic Society of Bengal, instituting several ambitious projects during his seven-year tenure as president. Shortly after returning to England, he was prominent in establishing the organisation that is now known as the Royal Asiatic Society, publishing many studies in its journal.
Colebrooke lived in India from 1783 to 1815, working for the British East India Company in various posts. Although he attained high rank in the legal, diplomatic, administrative and even academic spheres, his rise was not as straightforward as it may seem. For example, his actions sometimes diverged from elements of company policy or the approach of the British government in London. His career came to an end after disagreements with the directors of the East India Company and he returned to England in 1815.
Not having any knowledge of Indian languages beforehand, Colebrooke became interested in learning Sanskrit around 1790, when he was in Purnia, in north-eastern Bihar. This interest arose largely out of his curiosity about astronomy, algebra and other sciences that Indian thinkers had developed. His study of Sanskrit grew intense and finally became a central part of his public life, so much so that Colebrooke became widely acknowledged as a leading Sanskritist. His intellectual interests were very broad, demonstrated in publications on castes, ceremonies, languages, literature and philosophy, but also in mathematics, geography, geology, botany and crafts.
Colebrooke was a real polymath. First and foremost, he 'developed into the leading expert of Hindu law and Sanskrit studies, concerns that were intertwined in colonial practice' (Rocher and Rocher 2012: 33). Studying and codifying Hindu law and understanding its various schools were closely linked to its application in the courts in which Colebrooke worked as a judge. Practical matters connected to colonial work functioned as starting points for several areas of study, but Colebrooke's intellectual achievements go far beyond this. Their scope and quality has led to comparisons with the great Indologist Sir William Jones (Gombrich 2004–5).
From the start, Colebrooke surrounded himself with Indian traditional scholars – pandits – who provided him with original manuscripts or purpose-made copies of Sanskrit texts, whether grammars, lexica, law treatises and so on. Among them was the Bihari pandit Citrapati, whom Colebrooke came to know in Purnia. He also employed two copyists whom he met in Mirzapur, called Ātmarāma and Bābūrāma (Rocher 2007). The three of them followed him to Calcutta. Colebrooke encouraged Bābūrāma to found a Sanskrit press in Calcutta, but did not consult him on scholarly matters. He also recruited some pandits in Banaras and later a Bengali pandit in Calcutta. In contrast with most Europeans of the period, Colebrooke valued the work of the 'natives' and believed that British servants of the East India Company should learn Indian languages, especially Sanskrit (Rocher 2012: 198).
Having become a member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1792, Colebrooke became its very energetic president in 1807 and occupied this position until his resignation in 1814. He composed 20 contributions to issues of its journal, the Asiatic Researches, including his first ever article, 'On the Duties of a Faithful Hindu Window' in 1795. Further, he initiated large-scale Asiatic Society projects of publications and translations of texts.
Back in England, he was the leading force for the foundation of the Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1823. He declined the presidency but was very active in the society, contributing numerous articles to its Transactions.
Apabhraṃśa is an umbrella term for the dialects that were the forerunners of modern Indian languages. Taken from the Sanskrit term apabhraṃśa, which literally means 'corrupt' or 'non-grammatical language', Apabhraṃśa was used to write a large number of Jain texts. Though Apabhraṃśa developed over the 6th to 13th centuries, literary works date back to the 8th century.
A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.
The regressive or descending half-cycle in the Jain conception of time. With the second half, the progressive one, avasarpiṇī forms a complete cycle of time.
One of the five types of 'great men' – śalākā-puruṣas or mahā-puruṣas – in Jain Universal History, Baladevas are the older half-brothers of the Vāsudevas, sharing the same fathers. They are both demi-Cakravartins or half Universal Rulers. In the part of the universe where humans live, nine Baladevas are born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time. Baladevas are devout Jains who, after renouncing the world to become monks, are usually liberated but may be reborn as gods in one of the heavens. Baladevas are also known as Balabhadras.
Sankrit term meaning 'pontiff'. This title is given to a type of Digambara clergy who are not mendicants. Instead of practising the 'wandering life' – vihāra – of Jain monks and nuns, a bhaṭṭāraka stays in one place, living in a kind of monastery called a maṭha. There are several bhaṭṭārakas in south India, who lead the local Jain community.
Title meaning ‘Enlightened One’ in Sanskrit and Pali. It is most frequently used for Siddhārtha Gautama, whose teachings form the basis of the Buddhist faith. He lived about 563 to 483 BCE in the north-eastern area of the Indian subcontinent, around the same time and in the same area as Mahāvīra, the last of the 24 Jinas.
His life story is similar to that of the Jinas in certain ways, such as:
After six years he reached enlightenment while meditating and from then on was known as Buddha – 'Awakened One' or 'Enlightened One'.
The religion founded by Buddha, often called the 'Middle Way' between the self-indulgence of worldly life and the self-mortification of a very ascetic way of life. Buddhism has similarities to Jain belief but some significant differences. For example, Buddhists hold that the world around us is a short-lived illusion and do not believe in individual, everlasting souls.
A follower of Buddhism. There are two main schools of Buddhism, namely:
Both sects are practised in India.
Sanskrit for 'universal monarch'. There are 12 in the continent of Bharata in each progressive and regressive half-cyle of time. They have 9 treasures and 14 jewels they can use to conquer their enemies and become 'universal monarchs'. The cakravartin form one of the five groups of '63 illustrious men' in Jain mythology.
Hindu society is traditionally divided into numerous jātis or classes, which are usually grouped into the four varṇas – often called 'castes' – of:
Relating to ritual purity, castes are hereditary and probably based on occupation. Members of different castes performed particular socio-economic roles and did not mix or eat the same food. People outside the caste system were usually looked down upon.
Formally recognised leaders within a religion. The clergy often perform rituals, lead worship and instruct believers in religious principles. Lay men and women usually complete formal study before being initiated into the clergy. Clerics are active among lay believers, often living in society. They may have specific roles or ranks and may progress through a hierarchy to become top leaders of the religious organisation.
Found at the end of a Jain manuscript, a colophon 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 and very commonly contain a wish for good fortune for any readers. Written mainly by the scribes who copy texts, Jain colophons are often written in Sanskrit.
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
A belief system about the universe that covers its origin, structure and parts, and natural laws and characteristics such as space, time, causality and freedom.
A script for writing in different Indian languages, still used today. In Devanāgarī each letter has a horizontal line above it.
An active follower of a religion, especially one who passes on teachings to others.
Substance. There are two main types of substances in the universe in Jain belief:
The second type is divided into pudgala – non-sentient matter – and the non-material substances of:
The last is not always included in this category.
In 1600 Queen Elizabeth of England granted a royal charter for a company to carry out trade with the East Indies, a term Europeans used at that time for parts of Asia. Many European countries established similar companies in this period. Gradually, the British East India Company became the effective ruler of large parts of South Asia, with its own armies and administration.
A single sheet of paper or parchment with a front and a back side. Manuscripts and books are written or printed on both sides of sheets of paper. A manuscript page is one side of a sheet of paper, parchment or other material. The recto page is the top side of a sheet of paper and the verso is the underside.
The language that developed in Gujarat, in western India. It is also spoken in neighbouring states. Also a term for someone or something associated with or coming from Gujarat.
Follower of the majority faith in India and an adjective describing something belonging to Hinduism. Hindus have numerous gods and diverse beliefs and practices, though many believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Roughly a billion Hindus comprise the third largest religion in the world.
The majority faith in India, often called Sanātana Dharma or Eternal Law. With no single named founder, Hinduism has a pantheon of gods and a range of different beliefs. Most Hindu traditions revere the Veda literature but there is no single system of salvation or belief, although many Hindus believe in the soul, karma, the cycle of births and liberation. Large Hindu communities exist in southern Asia, with smaller groups across the world.
The academic study of the civilisations found in the Indian subcontinent, chiefly their history, languages and literature. Also known as South Asian studies, Indology covers the modern states of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Chief disciple of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. From a brahmin family, he was the first of Mahāvīra's 11 chief disciples. He became enlightened on the day Mahāvīra was liberated. He achieved liberation himself 12 years later.
Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
A variety of Prakrit. A spoken language, it became used primarily for drama in northern India during the medieval period and is the language used for the main Digambara scriptures.
A 'victor' in Sanskrit, a Jina is an enlightened human being who has triumphed over karma and teaches the way to achieve liberation. A synonym for Tīrthaṃkara, which means 'ford-maker' or one who has founded a community after reaching omniscience through asceticism. The most famous 24 – Ṛṣabha to Mahāvīra – were born in the Bharata-kṣetra of the middle world, but more are found in other continents. There have been Jinas in the past and there will be some in the future.
Time. One of the five insentient non-material substances that make up the universe along with the sentient substance, called jīvastikaya.
The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:
A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.
Action or act, thought of as physical in Jainism. Created by mental or physical action, karma enters the soul, which then needs religious restraints and practices to make it flow out. Karma can be both:
Both types of karma trap a soul in continual rebirth. A pan-Indian concept, karma has extremely complex, detailed and technical divisions and subdivisions in Jainism.
State in south-west India.
Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century.
The universe in Jain cosmology, composed of the upper, middle and lower worlds. Human beings can live only in part of the Middle World.
A dialect of the Prākrit language used in some Jain writings.
The 24th Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is yellow and his emblem the lion. Mahāvīra or 'the great hero' is his title. His birth name was Vardhamāna, meaning 'ever increasing'. His existence is historically documented but the two main sects of Digambara and Śvetāmbara Jains have slight differences in their accounts of his life.
The petrified footprint of a dead mendicant or holy figure, which is treated as a commemorative sacred object.
'Learned one' in Sanskrit and used originally for a Hindu brahmin scholar and teacher. Nowadays a Jain pandit is a scholar who has been educated traditionally and is expert in the sacred texts of at least one of the Jain sects.
Someone who is learned in many types of knowledge. For example, someone may demonstrate expertise in several languages and deep familiarity with physics, botany and philosophy.
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
One of the five types of 'great men' – śalākā-puruṣas or mahā-puruṣas – in Jain Universal History. In the part of the universe where humans live, nine Prati-vāsudevas are born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time. Each one personifies the forces of evil and battles his mortal enemy, one of the Vāsudevas. After the Vāsudevas kill them, the Prati-vāsudevas are reborn in hell. Prati-vāsudevas are also known as Prati-nārāyaṇa and Prati-śatru.
Sanskrit for 'worship' or 'homage'. All Jains perform rites of honour to the 24 Jinas. Rites of worship take place daily, with more elaborate ceremonies performed on holy days. Mendicant and lay Jains perform different rituals. Some sects worship images – mūrti-pūjaka – and others do not, and different sects have various practices. Focused on images or not, worship can be:
The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.
Giving up something. A lay person who becomes an ascetic renounces the life of a householder within society, instead choosing the physical hardships of being a monk or nun. The formal renunciation ceremony in Jainism is dīkṣā.
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
Someone who copies manuscripts for a living. Scribes are common in societies where literacy is rare. In the past, however, scribes could not always read and write fluently.
Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.
An organised group of believers in a religion, often distinguished from other groups within the same religious faith who have differences of doctrine or practice.
The Indian or South Asian subcontinent is a term for the geographical area roughly covering modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
'Reality’, defined in the seven principles that form the basis of the Jain system of thought:
This list comes to nine items when good action – puṇya – and bad action – pāpa – are counted separately. One who has reached right insight – samyag-darśana – believes the tattvas as an item of faith.
One of the five types of 'great men' – śalākā-puruṣas or mahā-puruṣas – in Jain Universal History, Vāsudevas are the younger half-brothers of the Baladevas, sharing the same fathers. They are both demi-Cakravartins or half Universal Rulers. In the part of the universe where humans live, nine Vāsudevas are born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time. Each one battles his mortal enemy, one of the Prati-vāsudevas. For breaking the principle of non-violence, the Vāsudevas are reborn as hell-beings – nārakis. Some may then become Jinas in their next lives. Vāsudevas are also known as Nārāyaṇa.
The everyday or common language spoken by people in a particular country or region, often contrasting with the literary form or the national or official language. Similarly, vernacular architecture reflects local conditions and conventions more than other considerations, such as national or international design trends, and may be built by non-professional architects.
Often abbreviated, Vikrama-saṃvat is the calendar associated with Emperor Vikramāditya. It begins in about 56 BCE so the equivalent date in the Common Era can be calculated by subtracting 57 or 56. Based on Hindu traditions, it is a lunar calendar often used in contemporary India.
The chief protective god in Hinduism and one of the triad of major deities, along with Brahmā the creator and Śiva the destroyer or transformer. Viṣṇu is the preserver or protector, and is often shown as dark blue, with four arms, holding a lotus, mace, conch and wheel. He has a thousand names and ten avatārs, the best known being Rāma and blue-skinned Kṛṣṇa.