Contributed by Kathy Lazenbatt
The Royal Asiatic Society is a scholarly body in London, which was set up in 1823 to further the study of Asia. Since its foundation, the society has played a critical role in expanding and deepening the understanding of Asia through its publications, lectures and events. The Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) also has collections of important items from all over Asia, especially South Asia, which were mainly acquired in the 19th century.
The RAS holds a small but significant collection of Jain objects. Some of the Jain treasures in the collections are available on JAINpedia, and include:
The diagram is a kind of maṇḍala or yantra, which both mendicants and lay people use in meditation and worship. This item is a rare and valuable sūri-mantra-paṭa, which only Śvetāmbara monks use, and is also one of the earliest surviving examples. It is also interesting because, during the conservation process for the yantra, two smaller uninscribed diagrams were found in different layers of the fabric. This unusual sūri-mantra-paṭa is a highlight of JAINpedia.
The oldest institution in the UK devoted to a deeper understanding of Asia, the Royal Asiatic Society was established amid growing interest among 19th-century Europeans in the cultures of Asia. The RAS has a respected history of intellectual engagement with all parts of Asia, particularly the Indian subcontinent. This tradition continues today with publications, projects and events, which are open to everyone who is interested in Asia, not just professional academics.
The Royal Asiatic Society was the first British organisation dedicated to the study of Asia. It was founded at a time when Europeans were beginning to learn Asian languages in a systematic way, gaining a real knowledge of Asian cultures, history and religions. The society was instrumental in encouraging an exchange and transfer of cultural understanding, a process which is still ongoing today. In Britain it was at the heart of that process, fulfilling a national role in Asian studies, and it collaborated with organisations and scholars worldwide.
The society was founded in 1823 by the eminent Sanskrit scholar Henry Thomas Colebrooke ‘for the investigation of subjects connected with and for the encouragement of science, literature and the arts in relation to Asia’. Many distinguished scholars have been associated with its work, including:
Today the Royal Asiatic Society provides a forum, independent of government, in which professional scholars join those with a general interest in Asia. To fulfil its aims the RAS:
All activities and access to the library are free of charge to the general public.
The Hindi phrase for 'Two and A Half Continents' describes the only part of the universe where human beings live in the Middle World of Jain cosmology. It is made up of the central continent, Jambū-dvīpa, the second continent, Dhātakīkhaṇḍa, and Lavaṇa-samudra, the circular ocean that separates them. Kālodadhi is the ring of ocean around Dhātakīkhaṇḍa, dividing it from the 'half' continent, which is the inner part of the Puṣkara continent.
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 god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.
Sanskrit for 'meditation', one of the six internal austerities or tapas that help purify the soul of karma. Meditation is deep thought about religious doctrine or mental focus on spiritual matters over a period of time. An important part of many religions, meditation is especially important in Jain belief because it forms key elements of religious practice and spiritual development.
A donor gives freely. He or she may give alms to a mendicant or money to an institution. This donation may be for specific items or purposes, such as the creation of art. A donor, sponsor or patron may be named or pictured in the artwork.
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.
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.
An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.
Nur-ud-din Salim Jahangir, Mughal ruler of India from 1605 to 1627. A great patron of the arts, Emperor Jahangir was also tolerant of the many faiths of his subjects.
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 '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.
The very popular Story of the Ācārya Kālakā recounts the adventures of the Śvetāmbara monk Kālakā. Emphasising the connection between religious practice and magical abilities, the story is frequently found as an appendix to the Kalpa-sūtra because it explains how Kālaka changed the date of Paryuṣaṇ. This annual festival gives a central role to the Kalpa-sūtra scripture.
Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century.
'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.
A widely used language in northern India for hundreds of years, developed in modern south-western Iran. Used for administration and literary works in areas ruled by Islamic regimes across northern India, it became associated with culture, education and science, and was the official language of the Mughal Empire. Persian influenced other languages in India and was gradually supplanted by English and Hindustani – the forebear of modern Hindi – in the 19th century.
The origin of something, especially its history of ownership. This is used in art and archaeology, in particular, to help establish the age and creator of an artwork or other artefact.
The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.
An ethnic group probably descended from warrior castes, who claim their ancestors were Hindu gods. Rajput clans dominated large parts of the northern, western and central areas of the Indian subcontinent from around the sixth century until the rise of the Mughal Empire. After the Mughals fell, Rajput princes ruled many of the 'princely states' of the British Raj.
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.
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.
A title of respect often used to indicate holiness or divinity. It honours a person or place and is also added to the name of written or sung texts, such as scriptures. It is added before the name, for example Śrī Ṛṣabha.
The Indian or South Asian subcontinent is a term for the geographical area roughly covering modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
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.
Sanskrit for 'instrument' or 'machine', a yantra is a mystical diagram used in religious rituals. Yantras are typically formed of symmetrical, concentric circles and may also have the diagram of a lotus in the middle of numerous squares. Containing the names of the Jinas and sacred mantras, such as oṃ, yantras are meditation aids.
Royal Asiatic Society. 069.001. Pandit Tilokacanda Dayacanda. 1816
Royal Asiatic Society. Tod MS 34. Unknown author / Bhavadeva-sūri. 1404