Article: Henry Thomas Colebrooke and the Jain tradition

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.

Biographical outline

This 18th-century painting of East India House in Leadenhall Street, London, depicts the headquarters of the East India Company. Set up to control trade between England and Asia, the Company developed its own armies and administration, and was the effecti

East India House
Image by Thomas Malton the Younger, 1748-1804 © public domain

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.

Career in the East India Company

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.

Scholarly activity

The word 'Sanskrit' written in Sanskrit using the Devanāgarī script. Sanskrit was the literary language widespread in ancient and medieval Indian civilisations.

The word 'Sanskrit'
Image by OldakQuill © CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

Colebrooke's work on the Jains

As part of his research into all areas of Indian culture, both past and present, Colebrooke encountered the Jains. He was one of the first Western scholars to write about them in detail, providing information on Jain beliefs and practices that were largely unknown outside the subcontinent. His central work on the Jain tradition was his essay in the ground-breaking 1807 journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, although he also wrote about the Jains in other works.

Colebrooke's research and writings on the Jains are undoubtedly very important in 19th-century Indology and in the roots of Jain studies, but suffer from the beliefs standard among European scholars of the period. At one time he concluded that the Jains were a sect of Hinduism and later on he believed that they constituted a sect of Buddhism. Later scholars, particularly Hermann Jacobi, refuted these opinions.

Colebrooke's research methods were unusual for the period. He read texts in their original languages, consulted highly educated locals who were experts in the matters he was investigating and analysed information using works from historical authors. Colebrooke's belief that Jainism was not a distinct religion, however, hampered his research. He failed to distinguish between the languages favoured by the Jains for their scriptures and those used by the Buddhists for their holy texts. Colebrooke collected and copied large numbers of manuscripts and other artefacts during his time in India, getting many of his Jain manuscripts from a Jain individual who had converted to Hinduism.

'Asiatic Researches' 1807 – volume on the Jains

Colebrooke's interest in Indian society extended to the Jains, evidenced primarily in his 'Observations on the Sect of Jains' (1807). This important essay was published in volume nine of the Asiatic Researches, which is a landmark publication as it collects several contributions on Jains from the pens of British people based in India.

The table gives details of all the pieces on Jain topics that appeared in this volume of Asiatic Researches.

Articles on Jain topics in Asiatic Researches, volume 9, 1807




'Account of the Jains, collected from a priest of this sect, at Mudgeri. Translated by Cavelly Boria, Brahmen, for Major C. Mackenzie'

Colin Mackenzie


'Notices of the Jains, received from Cārukīrti Ācārya, Their Chief Pontiff at Belligola, in Mysore'



'History and legendary account of Belligola, communicated by the high priest at that station'



'Extracts from a Journal of Major C. Mackenzie'

Colin Mackenzie


'Particulars of the Jains extracted from a journal by Doctor F. Buchanan, during Travels in Canara'

Francis Buchanan


'Observations on the Sect of Jains'

Henry Thomas Colebrooke


As can be seen simply from the titles, most of the articles from other writers stem from south India, where Major Mackenzie and Francis Buchanan were based or travelled principally. It is important to note that they are based on accounts from:

  • one Indian informant – Cavelly Boria was one of the two 'natives' indispensable to Mackenzie
  • a Jain representative of the religious hierarchy – the bhaṭṭāraka or 'chief pontiff' – of the seat of Shravana Belgola.

These essays are a combination of:

  • what would now be called field notes, specifically relating to how Jains live and practise their faith in Karnatak
  • basic information on the Jain tradition, such as a list of the 24 Jinas, description of concepts such as time or cosmology and the main features of Jain monastic ethics.

Such information was vital at a time when non-Indians knew hardly anything about the Jains and when the position of the Jain tradition in relation to other Indian religious traditions was not clearly defined. Two of the key questions for Europeans who encountered Jainism were whether it was distinct from the majority religion of the subcontinent – Hinduism – and how it related to Buddhism.

'Observations on the Sect of Jains' and Jain texts

This 19th-century aḍhāī-dvīpa demonstrates the importance of symmetry and repetition in traditional Jain ideas of the universe. An aḍhāī-dvīpa is a colourful, detailed diagram of the Two and A Half Continents where human beings live

Two and A Half Continents
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Colebrooke was unusual among his peers in India in using historical texts to validate information from living Indians and in cross-checking references in different writings. Two of the works he quotes in his 1807 essay are essential texts in Śvetāmbara Jain thought – the Kalpa-sūtra and the Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi of Hemacandra. Colebrooke also references the key cosmological works of the Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna and the Lokanālī-dvātriṃśikā. He uses these texts to summarise and analyse some of the principal Jain beliefs.

The beginning of Colebrooke's contribution on the Jains is worth remembering and quoting. While it assesses the importance of oral informants who are followers of the faith in knowing what it is, it is novel in attaching equal importance to written sources, namely manuscripts, as relevant for establishing the authenticity of the tradition.

The information collected by Major Mackenzie, concerning a religious sect hitherto so imperfectly known as that of the Jainas, and which has been even confounded with one more numerous and more widely spread (the sect of Buddha), may furnish the ground of further researches, from which an exact knowledge of the tenets and practice of a remarkable order of people may be ultimately expected. What Major Mackenzie has communicated to the Society, comes from a most authentic source; the declarations of two principal priests of the Jainas themselves. It is supported by similar information, procured from a like source, by Dr. Buchanan, during his journey in Mysore, in the year following the reduction of Seringapatam [in 1799, which ended the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War and resulted in the East India Company's control of the Kingdom of Mysore]. Having the permission of Dr. Buchanan to use the extracts, which I had his leave to make from the journal kept by him during that journey, I have inserted [...] the information received by him from priests of the Jaina sect. I am enabled to corroborate both statements, from conversation with Jaina priests, and from books in my possession, written by authors of the Jaina persuasion. Some of those volumes were procured for me at Benares; others were obtained from the present Jagat Set, at Murshidābād, who, having changed his religion, to adopt the worship of Vishnu, forwarded to me, at my request, such books of his former faith as were yet within his reach

1807: 287–288; Balbir's italics

Colebrooke's approach is significant for directly consulting fundamental works on the tradition. This method distinguishes his undertaking from those of Mackenzie or Buchanan, who wrote down information communicated by informants and pandits who had read the books for them.

In the main part of his article, Colebrooke begins to analyse historico-mythological information connected with Jainism on the basis of two works:

I shall […] state the substance of a few passages from a work of great authority among the Jainas, entitled Kalpa-sûtra, and from a vocabulary of the Sanskrit language by an author of the Jaina sect

1807: 302

The Kalpa-sūtra is probably the most widely circulated Śvetāmbara work. Written in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit, it provides, in particular, data about the 24 Jinas.

The vocabulary Colebrooke had in mind is the Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi of Hemacandra. This 12th-century lexicon is one of the most famous dictionaries of synonyms produced in Sanskrit. Hemacandra’s work broadly follows the same pattern as the Amara-koṣa, its most illustrious predecessor. Both lexicons share a large amount of words and definitions, but the Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi is clearly the work of a Jain and the Jain stamp is present in many ways. One of the most visible signs is the mythological information and the list of Jinas found in the first section (I.24ff.). The result was that Hemacandra’s work was significant in the discovery of Jainism by Western scholars and in the intuition that Jainism had its own tenets and view of the world, which differed from those of other Indian religions. A lithographed edition of the Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi had been prepared under Colebrooke's supervision and published in Calcutta in 1807 by his copyist Bābūrāma. The first edition ever, it was later criticised for its numerous flaws. It also contained the homonymic lexicon of Hemacandra, his Anekārtha-saṃgraha.

Colebrooke analyses combined information provided by both works about the 24 Jinas of the avasarpiṇī and other Jain mythological categories of their 'Universal History'. There are 63 'great men' divided into the different categories of Jinas, Cakravartins, Baladevas, Vāsudevas and Prativāsudevas.

[Jinas] appear to be the deified saints, who are now worshipped by the Jaina sect. They are all figured in the same contemplative posture, with little variation in their appearance, besides a difference of complexion; but the several Jinas have distinguishing marks or characteristic signs, which are usually engraved on the pedestals of their images, to discriminate them

1807: 304

Ages and periods of time as described in the Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi are also dealt with (1807: 313).

Colebrooke then turns to an exposition of Jain cosmology, saying: 'The Saṃgrahaṇīratna and Lokanāb-sūtra, both in Prakrit, are the authorities here used' (1807: 318 n. 2). The Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna is indeed a standard Jain writing on the universe, known in recensions of different lengths. It is concerned with Jain cosmography as well as with results of karmas and the way they determine rebirths at various places in the universe. The 'Lokanāb-sūtra' is usually known as the Lokanālī-dvātriṃśikāThirty-two Verses on the Tube of the World. This is a concise and technical work. Both texts are classics used even today in the Śvetāmbara monastic curriculum. Colebrooke describes the:

The essay ends rather abruptly with a discussion of Jain conceptions of the universe compared to those of the Hindus as expressed by Bhāskara.

Relationship of Jains to Hindus and Buddhists

Colebrooke's accounts of various Jain texts are correct and reliable but the conclusions about Jainism in his body of work cannot be accepted any longer. Both the scarcity of his sources and Colebrooke's general reluctance to accept a distinct Jain tradition are not supported by later scholarly work.

Colebrooke observes in 1807 that:

the Jainas constitute a sect of Hindus, differing, indeed from the rest in some very important tenets; but following, in other respects, a similar practice, and maintaining like opinions and observations

page 288

Twenty years later, in 1827, he gives a correct reading and translation of an inscription found on a stone slab showing the feet – pādukās – of Gautama-svāmī, in On Inscriptions at Temples of the Jaina Sect in South Bihar. Colebrooke notes that the slab was installed in 1686 of the Vikrama era (1629 CE) by a Jain family, at the instigation of the Śvetāmbara monk Jinarāja-sūri from the sect of the Kharatara-gaccha. He correctly observes that Gautama and Indrabhūti are the same person and refer to the first disciple of Mahāvīra. But he wrongly writes:

It is certainly probable as remarked by Dr. Hamilton and Major Delamaine, that the Gautama of the Jainas and of the Bauddhas is the same personage; and this leads to the further surmise, that both these sects are branches of one stock

ibidem: 520

This misidentification may stem from their knowing that Siddhartha Gautama was the name of the founder of the Buddhist faith, before he was known as the Buddha.

In an article published the same year in the same journal, Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, dealing with 'Indian Sectaries', Colebrooke writes:

The Jainas and Bauddhas I consider to have been originally Hindus; and the first-mentioned to be so still, because they recognised, as they [the Hindus] yet do, the distinction of the four castes

1827: 549

This does not prevent him from giving in the subsequent nine pages a fairly complete description of the main features of Jain doctrine, such as the:

  • nine principles – tattva
  • six substances – dravya
  • eight main varieties of karmakarma-prakr̥ti.

Colebrooke also indicates in this essay some of the differences between the two main Jain sects of the Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras.

Languages of the Jain scriptures

The text is in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit and Sanskrit, written in Devanāgarī script. Read left to right, the verses are divided by vertical red lines. The folio number is in the right margin. This typical verso page is from a 15th-century Uttarādhyayana-sūtra.

Typical manuscript page
Image by British Library © The British Library Board

An accomplished Sanskritist, Colebrooke was aware of the existence of the Prakrit languages, in which the Jain scriptures are mostly written. However, once again his assessment of the texts was hindered by his opinion that Jainism was an offshoot of Buddhism, which was generally shared by European scholarship.

Colebrooke focused on the Prakrit languages in two articles published at a seven-year interval in the journal Asiatic Researches. In his piece in volume seven, published in 1801, Colebrooke mentions Māgadhī and Apabhraṃśa, but does not take note of any relation of Prakrit languages with the Jains.

In the second article, however, which was published in volume ten in 1808, he makes use of the 12th-century grammar by Hemacandra, which describes Prakrit in its eighth book. He correctly observes that 'specimens of it [i.e. Prakrit, are] in the Indian dramas, as well as in the books of the Jains' (1808: 393). As seen above, the 'Observations on the Sect of Jains' (1807) are largely based on Jain texts in Prakrit. However, they are described as 'composed in the Prakrit called Māgadhī' (1807: 310), which is not correct. Canonical works such as the Kalpa-sūtra are predominantly in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit while texts such as the Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna or the Lokanālī are in Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit. The time had not yet come for a differentiation of Prakrit dialects.

The holy texts of Buddhism are principally written in Pali. The impossibility of accepting the Buddhist and Jain traditions as different from each other also led to the inability to recognise the languages of their scriptures as distinct. Thus Colebrooke could write: 'I believe [the Prakrit called Māgadhī] to be the same language with the Pali of Ceylon' (1807: 310 note). This belief was probably further encouraged by the fact that Buddhists use the term 'Māgadhī' to refer to the original language of their scriptures. Twenty years later Colebrooke held to the same position:

Both religions have preserved for their sacred language the same dialect, the Pali or Prakrit, closely resembling the Māgadhī or vernacular tongue of Magadha [in modern-day South Bihar]. Between those dialects [Pali and Prakrit] there is but a shade of difference, and they are often confounded under a single name.

1827: 521

Such statements are no longer tenable. The correct situation can be described roughly as being that:

Source of Colebrooke's Jain manuscripts

The initial passage from the 'Observations on the Sect of Jains' quoted above gives valuable information about where Colebrooke obtained his Jain manuscripts. They were acquired in Benares and Murshidabad, and point to Colebrooke's personal connections with prominent personalities, easily explainable through the high administrative positions he held and his scholarly reputation.

Murshidabad is a town in the north of Calcutta. It was the home of several Jain families from Rajasthan who had emigrated there for economic reasons in the 18th century. They form the so-called Marwari community. The Jagatseths, whom Colebrooke mentioned, are one of those families, described as 'the Rothschilds of India' (Little 1920). Colebrooke mentions on another occasion the Jagatseth member who converted to Hinduism, and thus did not need his Jain books any longer. He describes the convert as 'The representative of the great family of Jagat-śeṭh, who with many of his kindred was converted some years ago from the Jaina to the orthodox faith' (1827: 549–550). This individual can be identified as Harakh Chand, who died in 1814, and who:

was the first of the family who abandoned the Jain religion and joined the [Hindu] sect of the Vaishnavs. He was childless and being extremely anxious to have a son he faithfully followed all the ceremonies enjoined by the Jain religion in such a case but with no result. At length a member of the Vaishnav sect advised him to propitiate Vishnu. He did so and obtained his desire. [...] He and his successors have been respected as much as before by the members, of their old religion. In fact it is doubtful whether the members of this family ever renounced entirely their Jain religion

Little, 1920, part 2: 104–105

Few of the manuscripts Colebrooke was given by Harakh Chand have colophons indicating where they could have been copied. But it is likely that some of them were copied in Rajasthan and carried by the family to eastern India, with the Jagatseths probably commissioning others after they settled near Calcutta.

Colebrooke's manuscripts at the British Library

Bust of the eminent Sanskrit scholar Henry Thomas Colebrooke. While in India working for the East India Company, Colebrooke developed an interest in Sanskrit and then in wider intellectual and cultural life in India.

Bust of Colebrooke
Image by unknown © public domain

Colebrooke originally gave the manuscripts and other items he had gathered during his period in the subcontinent to the India Office Library shortly after his return from India. The impact of this extensive collection was very important in the development of Indological scholarship in Europe. The holdings of the India Office Library were absorbed into the British Library in 1982. Even though the Jain manuscripts were not identified as Jain at the time of donation, they comprise a large part of the Colebrooke Collection.

On 15 April 1819 Colebrooke officially presented his collection of Indian manuscripts to the India Office Library of the British government via the East India Company (see, for example, Rocher and Rocher 2012: 139). The gift amounted to 2,479 items and Colebrooke continued to borrow them for his research. The famous sculpture of Colebrooke by Francis Chantrey was executed at the proposal of the East India Company directors as a gesture of gratitude and was to be placed in the library.

The India Office Library collections are today housed in the British Library building at 96 Euston Road, London. Chantrey's bust can be seen at the entrance of the reading room of the Asia and Pacific Collections, as they are known today. The presence of this vast manuscript collection 'brought about a shift in venues for western Indological research' (Rocher and Rocher 2012: 145), prompting scholars to visit London instead of the French National Library, as they had used to do till then.

Colebrooke's Jain manuscripts

This handwritten list of Jain manuscripts is among the India Office Library's collection of Colebrooke's papers, which he donated to it in 1819. In Devanāgarī script, the list enumerates 27 items, some with English translations alongside. Now in the holdi

List of Colebrooke's Jain manuscripts
Image by unknown © British Library Board

Jain manuscripts form quite a large proportion of what Colebrooke collected and at that point they were among the first to be available outside India in any public library. The mass arrival of Jain manuscripts in Western Europe happened much later, from the 1870s onwards.

Colebrooke's Jain manuscripts were obviously not identified as such in the preliminary categorisation done when the collection was donated to the India Office Library (see, for example Rocher 2012: 139–140). They probably come under the general heading of 'MSS. of all kinds'.

They include an important selection of canonical and non-canonical Sanskrit and Prakrit works, as well as an interesting set of texts written in Gujarati. Among noteworthy items are manuscripts of the:

  • Kalpa-sūtra dated V.S. 1614, with the shelfmark I.O. San. 1638, which served as the basis of Colebrooke's 'Observations on the Sect of Jains'
  • Saṃgrahaṇī-ratna, a famous cosmological treatise in Prakrit, which has the shelfmark I.O. San. 1553B.

Colebrooke specifically wrote about both these manuscripts in his 1807 article. He described the Kalpa-sūtra manuscript as 'The most ancient copy in my possession and the oldest one which I have seen, [and which] is dated in 1614 Saṃvat: it is nearly 250 years old'. (1807: 313 note).

It is fortunate that there is a surviving list, albeit incomplete, of Colebrooke's Jain manuscripts in the form of a folio present in the India Office Library collection. The manuscript I.O. San. 1530 (E) lists 27 titles in Devanāgarī script, accompanied by the number of pages in 22 cases. They correspond to manuscripts that are available today.

Jain manuscripts in the Colebrooke Collection, as listed in I.O. San. 1530 (E)


British Library shelfmark

Catalogue number in Balbir et al. (2006)

Summary of contents


I.O. San. 1530 (B)


Prakrit version of the Kālaka story by Dharmaprabha-sūri


I.O. San. 1603 (A)


Ritual to be followed at the ultimate hour of fasting unto death


I.O. San. 1596 (D)


Narrative poem in Gujarati


I.O. San. 1354 (D)


Prakrit treatise on daily monastic routine


I.O. San. 1354 (C)


Gujarati story based on the Mahā-niśītha-sūtra, a Śvetāmbara book on atonements and confession


I.O. San. 1530 (H)


Hymn to the 24 Jinas


I.O. San. 1558 (A)


Liturgy for repentance


I.O. San. 1166


Narrative poem in Gujarati


I.O. San. 1553 (D)


Brief treatise on living beings


I.O. San. 862 (B)


Gujarati commentary on a Prakrit treatise dealing with rules relating to mendicants' alms-search


I.O. San. 1363 (C)


Gujarati explanation of a narrative text on Mount Shatrunjaya


I.O. San. 1363 (D)


Seventh Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara Jain canon


I.O. San. 862 (A)


Sanskrit commentary on the ritual of homage to Jain temples, called the caitya-vandana


I.O. San. 1558 (B)


Liturgical text on the six duties – ṣaḍ-āvaśyaka – with Prakrit and Sanskrit hymns or formulas and Gujarati commentary


I.O. San. 1596 (B)


Narrative poem in Gujarati on the first Jina's marriage


I.O. San. 1609 (B)


Narrative poem in Gujarati


I.O. San. 1571 (B)


A Gujarati version of the Story of Kālaka


I.O. San. 1561b


Narrative poem in Gujarati


I.O. San. 1524


Sixth Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara Jain canon, which is here called Meghakumāra-caritra


I.O. San. 1363 (A)


Collection of Prakrit profane poetry


I.O. San. 1015


One of the Mūla-sūtras of the Śvetāmbara Jain canon


I.O. San. 1399


Gujarati commentary on the Samādhi-tantra, a Digambara work

Ṣaṭdravyapancāsikā-bhagnapatra 1

Fifty Stanzas on the Six Substances, with one mutilated page

This list is valuable but does not exhaust all the Jain manuscripts in Colebrooke's collection. These manuscripts have been described in the following catalogues:

  • Catalogue of the Sanskrit and Prakrit Manuscripts of the India Office (vol. 2) by A. B. Keith
  • Catalogue of the Gujarati and Rajasthani Manuscripts in the India Office Library by J. F. Blumhardt, (revised and enlarged by A. Master, Oxford University Press, 1954).
  • Catalogue of the Jaina Manuscripts at the British Library by Balbir, Sheth, Tripathi (2006).

Many of the Gujarati manuscripts were therefore known to M. D. Desai, author of the encyclopaedic work Jain Gūrjar Kavio, and he has quoted substantial extracts from these manuscripts.


  • East India House This 18th-century painting of East India House in Leadenhall Street, London, depicts the headquarters of the East India Company. Set up to control trade between England and Asia, the Company developed its own armies and administration, and was the effective ruler of India for a century, until 1858.. Image by Thomas Malton the Younger, 1748-1804 © public domain
  • The word 'Sanskrit' The word 'Sanskrit' written in Sanskrit using the Devanāgarī script. Sanskrit was the literary language widespread in ancient and medieval Indian civilisations.. Image by OldakQuill © CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Two and A Half Continents This 19th-century aḍhāī-dvīpa demonstrates the importance of symmetry and repetition in traditional Jain ideas of the universe. An aḍhāī-dvīpa is a colourful, detailed diagram of the Two and A Half Continents where human beings live, according to Jain cosmology.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Typical manuscript page A typical manuscript page with an illustration. The text is in the Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit and Sanskrit languages, written in Devanāgarī script. Read left to right, the verses are divided by vertical red lines. The folio number is at the bottom of the right margin. This verso page is from a Uttarādhyayana-sūtra copied in perhaps the 15th century.. Image by British Library © The British Library Board
  • Bust of Colebrooke Bust of the eminent Sanskrit scholar Henry Thomas Colebrooke. While in India working for the East India Company, Colebrooke developed an interest in Sanskrit and then in wider intellectual and cultural life in India. Returning to England after 30 years in India, he donated his large collection of Indian manuscripts to the India Office Library in 1819 and led the foundation of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1823. This collection forms a significant part of the British Library's important holdings of Indian manuscripts and papers.. Image by unknown © public domain
  • List of Colebrooke's Jain manuscripts This handwritten list of Jain manuscripts is among the India Office Library's collection of Colebrooke's papers, which he donated to it in 1819. In Devanāgarī script, the list enumerates 27 items, some with English translations alongside. Now in the holdings of the British Library, the page has the shelfmark I.O. San. 1530 (E) but the author is unknown.. Image by unknown © British Library Board

Further Reading

Catalogue of the Jain manuscripts at the British Library: including the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum
Nalini Balbir, Kanhaiyalal Sheth, Kalpana Sheth and C. B. Tripathi
British Library & the Institute of Jainology; London, UK; 2006

Full details

Catalogue of the Gujarati and Rajasthani Manuscripts in the India Office Library
J. F. Blumhardt
Oxford University Press; Oxford, England; 1954

Full details

‘On the Sanscrit and Pracrit Languages’
Henry Thomas Colebrooke
Asiatic Researches
volume 7

Full details

‘On Sanscrit and Pracrit Poetry’
Henry Thomas Colebrooke
Asiatic Researches
volume 10

Full details

‘Observations on the sect of Jains’
Henry Thomas Colebrooke
Asiatic Researches
volume 9

Full details

‘On Inscriptions at Temples of the Jaina Sect in South Bihar’
Henry Thomas Colebrooke
Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society
volume 1: 3

Full details

‘On the Philosophy of the Hindus: Part IV: On Indian Sectaries’
Henry Thomas Colebrooke
Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society
volume 1: 3

Full details

Life of H. T. Colebrooke
T. E. Colebrooke
volume 1
Trübner; London, UK; 1873

Full details

‘Colebrooke, Henry Thomas (1765–1837)’
Richard F. Gombrich
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison
Oxford University Press & British Academy; Oxford, England, UK; 2004–2005

Full details

Catalogue of the Sanskrit and Prakrit Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office: Brahmanical and Jaina Manuscripts
A. B. Keith
volume II
Clarendon Press; London, England, UK; 1887–1935

Full details

The House of Jagatseth
J. H. Little
Calcutta Historical Society; Calcutta, India; 1967

Full details

‘Henry Thomas Colebrooke and the marginalization of Indian pandits’
Rosane Rocher
Pramāṇakīrtiḥ: Papers dedicated to Ernst Steinkellner on the occasion of his 70th Birthday
edited by Birgit Kellner, Helmut Krasser, Horst Lasic, Michael-Torsten Much and Helmut Tauscher
Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde series; volume 70.2
Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien; Vienna, Austria; 2007

Full details

The Making of Western Indology: Henry Thomas Colebrooke and the East India Company
Rosane Rocher
and Ludo Rocher
Royal Asiatic Society & Routledge; London, UK; 2012

Full details



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.

Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit

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:

  • his mother had significant dreams on the night of conception
  • he was born a prince into a kṣatriya family
  • as an adult he renounced his wealthy, pleasurable life to seek the meaning of life through asceticism.

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:

  • Theravāda – 'the Teaching of the Elders' in Pali – is older and is found chiefly in Sri Lanka and continental South East Asia
  • Māhayana – 'Great Vehicle' in Sanskrit – is the larger sect and is followed mainly in East Asia and the Himalayan nations.

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:

  • Brāhmaṇa – priest
  • Kṣatriya – warrior
  • Vaśya – merchant or farmer
  • Śūdra – labourer.

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.

Common Era

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:

  • jīva – non-material, sentient substance
  • ajīva – substance without soul.

The second type is divided into pudgala – non-sentient matter – and the non-material substances of:

  • ākāśa – space
  • dharma-dravya – principle of motion
  • adharma-dravya – principle of rest
  • kāla – time.

The last is not always included in this category.

East India Company

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.

Indrabhūti Gautama

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.

Jaina Śaurasenī

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:

  1. 'Jina-caritra' – 'Lives of the Jinas'
  2. 'Sthavirāvalī' – 'String of Elders'
  3. 'Sāmācārī' – 'Right Monastic Conduct'.

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:

  • negative – deriving from harmful acts
  • positive – arising from beneficial actions.

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.

Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit

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:

  • external or material – dravya-pūjā – involving offerings of food, drink and precious substances
  • internal or mental – bhava-pūjā – including singing hymns of praise, reciting mantras and meditating.


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.


'Great man' – also known as a mahā-puruṣa – whose story is told in Jain Universal History. Born in each progressive and regressive half-cycle of time, there are five types of 'great men':

  • 24 Jinas
  • 12 Cakravartins
  • 9 Baladevas
  • 9 Vāsudevas
  • 9 Prati-vāsudevas.


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:

  • jīva – sentient entities
  • ajīva – non-sentient entities
  • āsrava – influx of karma into the soul
  • bandha – bonding of karma with the soul
  • saṃvara – stopping the inflow of karma
  • nirjarā – progressive elimination of karma
  • mokṣa – liberation.

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 HistoryVāsudevas 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.

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