Article: Dreams

Contributed by Nalini Balbir


The Kalpa-sūtra text does not give any information about the social status or the origin of the dream-interpreters. Their ceremonious welcome only indicates that they are important.

In paintings of the dream-interpreters they are usually represented as old men with white beards. They are depicted with the same type of costume and appearance as brahmins in Jain manuscript illustration. In most scenes, two interpreters are shown in discussion, sometimes holding manuscripts and writing implements in their hands. These are the treatises from which they draw their knowledge on the subject.

Dreams in Paryuṣaṇ

A Śvetāmbara monk and a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – which symbolises his role and authority as teacher. It holds a scripture in protective cloth. He sits on a low plaform while pupils sit on the floor. Religious beliefs were originally passed on orally

Monk and pupils
Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah

The 14 dreams play a specific part in the festival of Paryuṣaṇ, which is celebrated towards the end of the rainy season. The dreams are involved on the fifth day of the festival, which lasts seven days. On that day, the monks read aloud or narrate the portion of the Kalpa-sūtra dealing with Mahāvīra’s birth to the lay community gathered in the ascetics’ dwelling-hall.

In addition, the dreams are displayed to the congregation in the form of silver models, which are put on trays or hung from the ceiling. The Śvetāmbara Mūrti-pūjaka Jains organise auctions to choose who gains the right to perform religious acts. In this case, the winner has the right 'to swing the dream, to garland it with āsopalav leaves or flowers, to garland it with [a] gold or silver necklace, and to place the dream on a table in the center of the upāśray' (Cort 2001: 155; 153–157 for full description and two photographs).

Displaying the dreams as sacred objects, making offerings to them and also staging the dreams as tableaux are important components of celebrating Paryuṣaṇ that involve the active participation of the Jain lay communities. For example, the 2005 Paryuṣaṇ celebration by Oswal Jains from north-west London demonstrates some of these practices.

Dreams in the Jain temple

A double garland and a deer decorate a temple chest holding tools used in religious rituals. These represent the fifth and sixth dreams of the woman carrying the child who will become a Jina. In Indian art, the moon is symbolised by a deer. These 12 to 14

Double garland and moon
Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta

More generally, the 14 dreams of the Śvetāmbara or the 16 dreams of the Digambara are a central part of Jain religious life. They are a commonplace sight in many temples in the form of:

  • bas-reliefs or sculptures on temple walls
  • metal objects that are free-standing, or on wooden and metal stools and platters used for making offerings (an example is Plate III in Johnson 1931)
  • mural paintings of all periods, including contemporary works, in Śvetāmbara or Digambara temples (Hegewald 2009: figures 11 and 266).

There are numerous instances of classical sculptures from the medieval period, such as the:

  • exquisite panel showing Triśalā on her bed fanned by attendants, with the 14 dreams above her in the form of an arch in the Pañcāsara Pārśvanātha Temple at Patan, Gujarat (good photograph in Hegewald 2009: figure 12)
  • architrave with the 14 dreams in the hall of the main shrine in the Kharataravasahi Caumukha at Delvada at Mount Abu, Rajasthan
  • 14 dreams with a Jina’s mother form part of a panel on the fourth rectangular ceiling in the Mahāvīra temple at Kumbharia, North Gujarat (Dhaky, Moorti 2001: figure 59)
  • 14 dreams with a Jina’s mother form part of a panel on the seventh rectangular ceiling in the Mahāvīra temple at Kumbharia, North Gujarat (Dhaky, Moorti 2001: figure 62)
  • 14 dreams with a Jina’s mother above the door lintel of the Pārśvanātha temple at Kumbharia, North Gujarat (Dhaky, Moorti 2001: figure 134)
  • 14 dreams form part of a ceiling panel portraying the life of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva at Kumbharia, North Gujarat (reproduced, for instance, in Shah 1955: figure 83)
  • wooden panel presenting the 14 dreams at Patan (Shah 1955: figure 87).
  • door frame of a cell in the Śāntinātha shrine and other shrines at Khajuraho (Shah 1987: 18).
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