Article: Dreams

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Śvetāmbara auspicious symbols

The Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts use the 14 auspicious dreams as the main topic of illustration. In line with this approach, the Śvetāmbaras have developed the theme of the dreams into an auspicious symbol or decorative motif that is independent of any textual connection.

Manuscript covers

This manuscript cover illustrates the auspicious dreams of the mother of a baby who becomes a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams.

Fourteen auspicious dreams
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Together with the eight auspicious symbols, the 14 dreams have proven one of the favourite themes on manuscript covers – called pāṭhuṃ in Gujarati – since the 18th century.

There are two fine examples of manuscript covers depicting the 14 dreams held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The Ethnographic Museum in Antwerp has a good selection of such covers. They are made of either cardboard covered with cloth or painted wood. They demonstrate features of the pictorial style of the regions where they were made

See pages 101 to 103 of Van Alphen 2000 for photographs and Appendix IV of Shah 1978 for references to other covers. The 1978 book Treasures of Jaina Bhandāras contains a photograph of a 20th-century cover embroidered with tiny pearls on page LXX. This is found on D-70 of the PDF version that can be downloaded from the Jain eLibrary once a free account is created.

For another wooden book-cover showing episodes from the life of the 23rd Jina, Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, including the dreams, see pages 2 to 12 of volume V of the Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art.

Paintings in invitation scrolls

This detail from an invitation scroll shows the goddess Śrī being sprinkled with water by a pair of elephants. Lay communities frequently send highly decorated scrolls – vijñapti-patra – inviting mendicant groups to spend the rainy season with them.

Śrī and elephants
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Invitation scrolls or vijñapti-patras are formal letters inviting a leading monk of a certain monastic group to spend the next rainy season in a certain place. A community of lay Jains sends these letters, the local merchants often sending these on behalf of the wider group.

These invitations take the form of long scrolls with text and paintings. The text consists of poetical description and praises of mendicants and the Jinas. Generally, the opening paintings are the 14 dreams or the eight auspicious symbols. The tradition of painting the dreams in invitation scrolls can be explained by the connection with the rainy season and thus the major Śvetāmbara festival of Paryuṣaṇ.

An example of an invitation scroll is in the Jain collection at the British Library, under the shelfmark of Or. 16192.

These invitation letters are found in Rajasthan and Gujarat from the 17th century onwards. They are a speciality of the Śvetāmbara Kharatara-gaccha and Tapā-gaccha communities.

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