Article: Dreams

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Jains’ interest in dreams is connected with their general interest in the field of omens and predictions. Dreams have such importance in the Jain literary, pictorial and religious traditions because the concept is closely connected with those they respect most – the Jinas.

The most famous dreams in Jain belief are those experienced by the woman pregnant with the new Jina. These auspicious dreams are a key feature of the Kalpa-sūtra, a significant text for Śvetāmbara Jains. They also play an important role in celebrations of the annual festival of Paryuṣaṇ, in which the Kalpa-sūtra has a central position.

Depictions of these auspicious dreams are common in various artistic media. Representations of the dreams form striking decorative elements of many Jain temples while Śvetāmbara Jains create ornate manuscript covers and invitation scrolls featuring the dreams. The symbols of these dreams have become auspicious emblems for Śvetāmbaras and are often used as artistic motifs in their own right.

Dream analysis and interpretation

This manuscript painting shows learned men interpreting the dreams of the woman carrying a baby who will grow up to become a Jina. In Jain tradition, dreams often herald the birth of the great individuals whose stories are told in Jain Universal History.

Interpreting dreams
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Interpreting dreams is forbidden to the average monk. Nevertheless, as they could not remain ignorant of any type of knowledge, leading Jain religious teachers have contributed to this area of knowledge in two areas. These are by including passages about dreams in Jain scriptures, commentaries and narrative writings and by copying or quoting non-Jain works dealing with dreams.

Firstly, the Śvetāmbara canonical scriptures contain some elements dealing with dreams.

For example, in the Vyākhyāprajñapti, the fifth book of the canon, XVI.6 contains an important passage on the nature of dreams, in which:

  • dreaming is associated with neither sleep nor being awake, but a state in between the two
  • dreams are classified according to the time of night they are experienced, with those at the end of the night believed to be very spiritually beneficial.

In another instance, in the Sthānānga-sūtra, X.3 discusses ten dreams in some detail, namely:

Secondly, some early teachers of the Jain tradition are credited with deep knowledge of dreams. A well-known example is Kālaka in the Kalpa-sūtra. Other examples see monks:

  • writing about dreams in larger works on the interpretation of omens, such as the Angavijjā in Prakrit and the Bhadrabāhusaṃhitā in Sanskrit
  • composing various short treatises on dreams – such as Svapna-pradīpa and Svapna-saptati
  • frequently including teachings about dreams in their narrative works or in commentaries on the scriptures
  • copying and thus guaranteeing the circulation of non-Jain treatises dealing with the subject, such as Jagaddeva’s 12th-century Svapna-cintāmaṇi, or quoting from it in their own works.

Most of the works devoted to dream analysis are still awaiting publication, possibly because dream interpretation is not usually permitted. When passing on teachings about dreams, mendicants may follow the Āyurvedic analysis in considering that dreams are linked to the individual’s unique biology and the proportions of the elements that make up his body. For instance, in the Tarangavaī, an early Jain novel in Prakrit, the heroine’s father explains the dreams she had the night before and gives examples of shapes that are bad or good dreams.

Jain narrative works provide several examples of dreams and interpretation in practice, like in the Tarangavaī. The dreamer does not usually interpret his dream himself, with a specialist or person close to him interpreting it for him instead. Therefore the dream needs to be communicated. Such narrative scenes, however, are found everywhere in Indian literature, Jain or not.

Function of dreams in religious contexts

This manuscript painting of an elephant shows an important animal in Jain myth. The elephant is the emblem – lāñchana – of Ajita, the second Jina, and appears in parables, stories and auspicious dreams in Jain myths

Elephant
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Dreams play an important part in stories of the origin of certain religious images and usually follow the same pattern. Firstly, a devotee has a dream during the night in which a god or a Jina talks to him, telling that an image is buried or hidden somewhere and he has to bring it to light. The following day the devotee unearths the image as instructed. In the last stage a new temple is created on the site of the find.

This motif is frequently found in the semi-historical semi-legendary works of medieval Jain literature known as prabandhas. It also features in the Vividha-tīrtha-kalpa written by the monk Jinaprabha-sūri in the 14th century, which is an account of many Jain sacred places. Modern reports in booklets that discuss a local Jina image continue this tradition.

The Prince Śreyāṃsa story is well known in the Jain tradition. He was the first person in the world to be able to give proper alms to the first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha, who had been fasting for a full year. The Jina’s visit to his house was announced to him through a dream, although he could not understand the meaning of the dream by himself.

These are only a few examples which show how dreams are connected to the faith and how Jains think of their role.

An instance of dreams announcing a disaster is that of the eight dreams of Puṇyapāla, a contemporary of Mahāvīra. The dreams feature:

  1. an elephant
  2. a monkey
  3. a fig tree
  4. a crow
  5. a lion
  6. a lotus
  7. a seed
  8. a jug.

Some of these items are not negative in themselves, and are among those predicting the birth of a future Jina. In this context, however, Mahāvīra explains them as predicting the progressive disappearance of people who live a pious life and know the scriptures.

Dreams and Jain Universal History

This manuscript painting illustrates Devānandā having the auspicious dreams experienced by the mother of a baby who will grow up to be a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams. The discs of the sun and moon are just above her left hand,

Devānandā's 14 dreams
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

In the Jain tradition dreams have come to occupy a special place because they are connected with the births of the Jinas and the other types of illustrious people that form Jain Universal History or mythology. These are ‘universal monarchs’ or cakravartins, Baladevas and Vāsudevas. The mothers of children who will belong to one of these groups see a certain number of dreams. Or, as some of the sources write, these dreams 'enter their mouths'.

According to the Kalpa-sūtra, a source which has become the standard at least for the Śvetāmbaras, the treatises distinguish between 42 dreams of a common type and 30 great dreams (Jacobi 1895: 246). Only the great dreams are relevant here and the connection is summarised in the table.

Details of the great dreams in the Kalpa-sūtra

Number of dreams

What it foretells

14 dreams

birth of a future Jina or universal monarch

7 of the 14 dreams

birth of a future Vāsudeva

4 of the 14 dreams

birth of a future Baladeva

1 of the 14 dreams

birth of a future māṇḍalika

The lists of dreams foreshadowing the birth of a Jina or universal monarch differ slightly between the principal Jain sects of the Śvetāmbaras and the Digambaras. For both sects, these are fixed lists in a well-established sequence.

Dreams announcing the birth of a Jina or a universal monarch

Śvetāmbara tradition

Digambara tradition

total number: 14

total number: 16

1. white elephant

1. Airāvata, the elephant of Indra

2. bull

2. the best of bulls

3. lion

3. lion

4. goddess Śrī being sprinkled with water by elephants

4. goddess Śrī

5. pair of garlands

5. pair of garlands

6. moon

6. moon

7. sun

7. sun

8. flag

8. pair of full vases with lotuses

9. full jug

9. pair of fishes

10. lotus pond

10. celestial lake

11. ocean

11. rough ocean

12. celestial palace

12. golden lion-footed throne

13. heap of jewels

13. celestial palace

14. smokeless fire

14. palace of the king of snakes

15. heap of jewels

16. smokeless fire

The dreams featuring animals, objects and a goddess are associated with the notions of power, brightness, victory, wealth, good fortune and luck. They are clearly linked to the ideals of kingship. These dreams represent positive symbols in Indian culture generally so some have parallels in other Indian religious traditions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism (see Coomaraswamy 2003 [1935]).

Here is an example of how experts interpreted the meaning of each of the 14 Śvetāmbara dreams for Marudevī, the mother of the future first Jina, Ṛṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. The authoritative 12th-century Jain monk Hemacandra wrote:

  1. [Judging] From the sight of the bull in your dream – a son will be [born] to you, able to lift up the chariot of dharma sunk in the mud of delusion.
  2. [Judging] From the sight of the elephant, your son will be the greatest of the great, and the sole abode of power.
  3. [Judging] From the sight of the lion, your son will be a lion among men, resolute, always fearless, a hero with unflinching valor.
  4. [Judging] From the fact that Śrī was seen, [it] is indicated that your son, the best of men, will be the Lord of the Śrī [Glory] of the sovereignty of the three worlds.
  5. [Judging] From the sight of a wreath in a dream, the sight of your son will be auspicious, his rule worn on the head like a wreath by all the world.
  6. That a full moon was seen in your sleep means that your son will be the creator of the light of the world by destroying the darkness of delusion.
  7. That you saw a sun means that your son will be the creator of the light of the world by destroying the darkness of delusion.
  8. That you saw a great banner in a dream, that means that your son will be a dharma-banner, the founder of a great line.
  9. That you saw a pitcher full of water means that your son will be a vessel filled with all the supernatural powers.
  10. That you saw a lotus pond means that your son will take away the pain of those who have fallen into the desert of saṃsāra.
  11. That your Ladyship saw an ocean means that your son will be inaccessible and accessible.
  12. That you saw a heavenly palace, a marvel to the earth[,] means that your son will be worshipped even by Vaimānika gods
  13. That you saw a heap of jewels with flashing light means that your son will be a heap of jewels of all the virtues.
  14. That you saw flaming fire enter your mouth means that your son will absorb the dignity of other dignitaries

Johnson, pages 102–103, 1931

This list is not a complete one of the dreams that a future Jina’s mother might have.

The Āvaśyaka-niryukti is an early verse-commentary in Prakrit, which comments on the names of each of the 24 Jinas. It explains some of these names by referring to a specific dream, not in the list, that the mother had during her pregnancy. This can be understood as a way of emphasising the importance of the pregnancy and pre-birth period as times rich in promise.

For women pregnant with Baladevas, the list of their great dreams varies in the two main Jain traditions.

Dreams announcing the birth of a Baladeva

Śvetāmbara tradition

Digambara tradition

number of dreams: 4

number of dreams: 4

1. elephant with four tusks

1. moon

2. bull

2. elephant

3. moon

3. ocean

4. pond with lotuses

4. sun

The list of auspicious dreams which the mothers of the Vāsudevas experience also differs according to sect.

Dreams announcing the birth of a Vāsudeva

Śvetāmbara tradition

Digambara tradition

number of dreams: 7

number of dreams: 7

1. young lion

1. sun

2. Śrī sprinkled with water by elephants

2. moon

3. sun

3. Śrī

4. full pitcher

4. celestial palace

5. ocean

5. fire

6. heap of jewels

6. banner

7. smokeless fire

7. disc made of jewels

Kalpa-sūtra and the 14 dreams

This manuscript painting depicts some of the dreams of the woman carrying a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbaras, she has 14 dreams while the Digambaras say 16. Twelve Śvetāmbara dreams are shown here, minus the sixth and seventh – the moon and the sun.

Dreams of an expectant mother
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

In the Śvetāmbara tradition, the first detailed description of each of the 14 dreams is found in the Kalpa-sūtra. This is a sacred book written in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit, the first part of which narrates the lives of the 24 Jinas, starting with that of Mahāvīra.

The dreams of Mahāvīra’s two mothers are given in considerable detail four times in this tale, as follows:

  1. When at first the brahmin lady Devānandā is pregnant with the future Mahāvīra, she has the 14 dreams announcing that her child will become a Tīrthaṃkara.
  2. When the embryo has been transferred to Triśalā, a lady from the kṣatriya caste, in which a future Jina must be born, she has the same dreams.
  3. After Triśalā awakes from these dreams, she tells her husband, who understands that they predict the birth of a boy who will be the glory of the family. As the night has not yet ended, Triśalā goes back to bed but decides to stay awake. She does not want possible bad dreams to counteract these auspicious dreams so she listens to good religious stories (Jacobi 1895: 240).
  4. The next morning, the king orders the hall of audience to be ceremoniously prepared and readies himself to welcome the dream-interpreters for whom he has sent. They tell him that the 14 dreams are experienced by mothers of universal monarchs or Jinas (Jacobi 1895: 246).

The mothers of three other Jinas are described as having the same dreams but they all experience the dream of the bull first, not second. These Jinas are:

Together with Mahāvīra, these individuals are the four most popular Jinas. The text does not go into detail about the dreams of the mothers of the other 20 Jinas.

Fourteen dreams in the text

This manuscript painting illustrates some of the auspicious dreams of the mother of a baby who becomes a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams. The dreams pictured here run from the first onwards.

First six auspicious dreams
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

When the brahmin lady Devānandā has her 14 dreams, they are listed in a stanza.

When Triśalā has the same dreams the identical stanza is used, but is followed by a description of each of the dreams.

This description is in sophisticated prose. It features extremely long descriptive compounds, characteristic of old Indian poetical style. The physical appearance of the animals, the goddess Śrī and the various objects is a focus of description. There are detailed comparisons, for example when describing colours, along with rich vocabulary.

Other devices used in this lyrical style include listing and meticulous description. An example of the first is the list of a large variety of flowers in the description of the garland in dream number 5 while the birds of the lotus pond in dream number 11 are listed in detail.

Instances of the second device include the lively nature of the animal portraits and the account of Śrī. The goddess’s body is described in the traditional fashion suitable for non-human beings, which goes from the feet to the head. She is said to be seated on a lotus while elephants sprinkle her with water using their trunks. This element is often shown in iconography.

Some scholars assert that the mention of a 'garland of dīnāra-coins' as an ornament around Śrī’s neck suggests that the dream section dates from a period when this type of coin became popular in India. If so, it is perhaps later than the rest of the text (Shah 1987: 18).

On the other hand, it has been shown that the prose description contains some archaic stylistic features. The main one is some compounds that are written in metrical prose (Jacobi 1885).

Fourteen dreams in illustrations

This manuscript painting illustrates some of the auspicious dreams experienced by the mother of a baby who will grow up to be a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams. The dreams pictured here run from the seventh dream onwards.

Second six auspicious dreams
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

The dreams of the pregnant woman are represented in several stock ways in manuscripts of the Kalpa-sūtra. The artist may use all of them or choose a few.

A common method is to show the pregnant mother lying on her bed, with the 14 dreams pictured in small size at the top, arranged in one or several rows. In the case of Mahāvīra, both his mothers, Devānandā and Triśalā, have the dreams. The dreams can thus be shown once or twice in the same manuscript, as in these two folios in the British Library. The traditional sequence of dreams may be rearranged, depending on the space available.

Painters sometimes copy the scene for the sections dealing with the births of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, Neminātha or Lord Nemi and R̥ṣabhanātha or Lord Ṛṣabha. This is not found frequently, however, so it seems as if the 14 dreams have always been closely connected with Mahāvīra alone.

When portraying the 14 dreams, painters might show them in a group or individually. If the dreams are illustrated as a group, either they are all the same size or the fourth one, the goddess Śrī, is much larger than the others.

Depicting each dream individually is less common because it uses a lot of space. A rare instance is provided by the manuscript 'Hg', shown in W. Norman Brown (1934: figures 21 to 33). Here 13 paintings are devoted to the 14 dreams, with the flag and the pitcher in one illustration. But this manuscript contains 64 miniatures in total, which is unusually high.

Sometimes several of the dreams are shown in successive small vignettes. This manuscript held in the British Library under the shelfmark Or. 13455 has individual pages featuring the:

Another comparatively rare artistic decision is where the illustration of the auspicious dreams is spread over successive pages. This example found in the British Library under the shelfmark of Or. 13701 shows on different pages the:

When only one dream is represented individually, it is always Śrī. An explanation could be that as a female deity her protective role is primary, and she is more recognisable than objects.

Dream-interpreters

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).

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.

Images

  • Interpreting dreams This manuscript painting shows learned men interpreting the dreams of the woman carrying a baby who will grow up to become a Jina. In Jain tradition, dreams often herald the birth of the great individuals whose stories are told in Jain Universal History. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Elephant This manuscript painting of an elephant shows an important animal in Jain myth. The elephant is the emblem – lāñchana – of Ajita, the second Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, the elephant is the first of the 14 dreams experienced by the mother of a baby who will grow up to be a Jina. Elephants also appear in parables, stories and other auspicious dreams described in Jain myths. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Devānandā's 14 dreams This manuscript painting illustrates Devānandā having the auspicious dreams experienced by the mother of a baby who will grow up to be a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams. The discs of the sun and moon are just above her left hand, while the other 12 are arranged above them.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Dreams of an expectant mother This manuscript painting depicts some of the dreams of the woman carrying a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams, which differ slightly from the Digambaras' 16 dreams. Twelve Śvetāmbara dreams are shown here, with the sixth and seventh – the moon and the sun – on another page. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • First six auspicious dreams This manuscript painting illustrates some of the auspicious dreams of the mother of a baby who becomes a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams. The dreams pictured here run from the first onwards. Beginning with the elephant, the dreams feature a bull, lion, the goddess Śrī, a pair of garlands and the moon – frequently symbolised by a deer in Indian art. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Second six auspicious dreams This manuscript painting illustrates some of the auspicious dreams experienced by the mother of a baby who will grow up to be a Jina. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, she has 14 dreams. The dreams pictured here run from the seventh dream onwards. Beginning with the sun, the dreams feature a flag, a full jug, a lotus pond, the ocean – symbolised by a ship – and a palace in the heavens.. Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
  • Monk and pupils A Śvetāmbara monk sits before a bookstand – sthāpanācārya – which is a symbol of his role and authority as teacher. It holds a scripture wrapped in protective cloth. He sits on a low plaform while his pupils sit on the floor and listen. Religious beliefs were originally passed on orally, with junior monks memorising what their teachers said. Today, monks and nuns still learn in large part from senior monks.. Image by Chandu Shah © Chandu Shah
  • Double garland and moon 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 dreams – which vary according to the sect – indicate the greatness of the Jina-to-be. The dreams are a favourite theme in all kinds of Jain religious art and worship.. Image by Ravin Mehta © Ravin Mehta
  • Fourteen auspicious dreams 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. The dreams feature an elephant, bull, lion, pair of garlands, the moon, the sun, a flag, a full jug, a lotus pond, the ocean – symbolised by a ship – a heavenly palace, a heap of jewels and a smokeless fire. The largest picture is of the fourth dream, the goddess Śrī.. Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Śrī and elephants This detail from an invitation scroll shows the goddess Śrī being sprinkled with water by a pair of elephants. According to the Śvetāmbara sect, this is the fourth of 14 dreams experienced by the mother of a baby who becomes a Jina. Lay communities frequently send highly decorated scrolls inviting mendicant groups to spend the rainy season with them. These vijñapti-patra often feature colourful paintings of the 14 auspicious dreams. . Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Further Reading

‘How to Sleep? What to Dream?: Sleep and Dreams Dos and Don’ts in the Jain Tradition’
Nalini Balbir
The Indian Night: Sleep and Dreams in Indian Culture
edited by Claudine Bautze-Picron
Rupa & Co; New Delhi, India; 2009

Full details

The Indian Night: Sleep and Dreams in Indian Culture
Claudine Bautze-Picron
Rupa & Co; New Delhi, India; 2009

Full details

‘The Great Men of Jainism in Utero: A Survey’
Eva De Clercq
Imagining the Fetus: The Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture
edited by Vanessa R. Sasson and Jane Marie Law
Oxford University Press; Oxford, England UK; 2009

Full details

‘The Conqueror’s Life in Jaina Painting: Explicitur Reductio Haec Artis ad Theologiam’
Anand K. Coomaraswamy
Essays on Jaina Art
edited by Richard J. Cohen
Collected Works of Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy series; volume 15
Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Manohar; New Delhi, India; 2003

Full details

Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India
John E. Cort
Oxford University Press USA; New York, USA; 2001

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The Temples at Kumbhārīyā
M. A. Dhaky
and U. S. Moorti
American Institute of Indian Studies and Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Institute of Indology; New Delhi and Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 2001

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Jaina Temple Architecture in India: The Development of a Distinct Language in Space and Ritual
Julia A. B. Hegewald
Monographien zur Indischen Archäologie, Kunst und Philologie series; volume 19
Stiftung Ernst Waldschmidt, G+H Verlag; Berlin, Germany; 2009

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‘Indische Hypermetra und hypermetrische Texte’
Hermann Jacobi
Indische Studien
edited by Albrecht Weber
Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft series; volume 17
F. Dümmler (Berlin), F. A. Brockhaus (Leipzig); Berlin and Leipzig, Germany; 1885

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Triṣaṣṭiśalākapuruṣacaritra: Lives of the Sixty-three Illustrious Persons
Hemacandra
translated by Helen M. Johnson
Gaekwad's Oriental series; volume 1
Oriental Institute; Baroda, Gujarat, India; 1931

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'The Kalpa Sûtra of Bhadrabâhu'
Bhadrabāhu
translated and edited by Hermann Jacobi
Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes
Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft series; series editor Otto Loth; volume VII: 1
F. A. Brockhaus; Leipzig, Saxony, Germany; 1879

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'Kalpa Sûtra'
translated and edited by Hermann Jacobi
Jaina Sutras: Âkârâṅga Sûtra and Kalpa Sûtra
Sacred Books of the East series; series editor F. Max Müller; volume 22: 1
Clarendon Press; Oxford, England UK; 1884

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‘Common Dream and its Interpretation according to Indian Narrative Material’
Jean-Pierre Osier
The Indian Night: Sleep and Dreams in Indian Culture
edited by Claudine Bautze-Picron
Rupa & Co; New Delhi, India; 2009

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Studies in Jaina Art
Umakant Premanand Shah
Abhinav Publications; Banaras, Uttar Pradesh, India; 1955

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Treasures of Jaina Bhandāras
Umakant Premanand Shah
L. D. series; volume 69
L. D. Institute of Indology; Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India; 1978

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Jaina-Rūpa-Maṇḍana
Umakant Premanand Shah
Abhinav Publications; New Delhi, India; 1987

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Steps to Liberation: 2500 Years of Jain Art and Religion
Jan van Alphen
Etnografisch Museum Antwerpen; Antwerp, Belgium; 2000

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Glossary

Alms

Food, money, medicine, clothing or anything else given to another person as a religious or charitable act. Asking for and giving alms is a significant part of Jainism, as it forms a daily point of contact between lay people and mendicants. Seeking, donating and receiving alms are highly ritualised ceremonies in the Jain tradition, and spiritual purity is essential for both giver and recipient. Giving alms is a way for lay Jains to gain merit – puṇya.

Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit

A dialect of the Prākrit language used for many Śvetāmbara Jain scriptures.

Ascetic

Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land.

Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.

Auspicious

Favourable or lucky. Auspicious objects bring good fortune and may predict good events or a bright future. 

Āyurveda

Traditional system of medicine in the Indian subcontinent, based on the principle of balancing the three types of energy – doṣa – each person has.

Baladeva

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.

Brāhmaṇa

A member of the highest caste in Hinduism, the priests or brahmins. 'Brahminical' means 'of or like brahmins'.

Buddhism

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.

Cakravartin

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.

Commentary

An essay explaining a text. Commentaries on the scriptures are common in the Jain tradition and there are various types, including the:

  • bālāvabodha
  • bhāṣya
  • cūrṇi
  • niryukti
  • ṭīkā.

Congregation

A gathering of believers that has come together to perform group acts of worship.

Deity

A god or divine figure, often with physical powers beyond those of a human and with superhuman abilities.

Devānandā

The original mother of Mahāvīra, who was from the brahmin caste. The king of the gods, Śakra, caused the embryo to be transferred into the womb of a kṣatriya woman because Jinas-to-be can only be born to the kṣatriya caste.

Devotee

An enthusiastic follower of a religion. Can also describe a keen enthusiast of an individual, concept or activity.

Dharma

Duty, religious codes or principles, the religious law. Jains think in terms of dharma or underlying order in the universe.

Related to this, the term is also used for the true nature of an object or living entity. For example, the dharma of:

  • fire is to burn
  • water is to produce a cooling effect.

The 15th Jina of the present age is called Dharmanātha or Lord Dharma. His symbolic colour is gold and his emblem the vajra – diamond thunderbolt. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

Digambara

'Sky-clad' in Sanskrit, used for one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which monks are naked. 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.

Fast

Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:

  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.

Festival

A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history. 

Gujarāt

The westernmost state in India, which is a stronghold of Śvetāmbara Jainism.

Gujarati

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.

Hinduism

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.

Iconography

Conventions or rules governing how images, symbols and the placement of elements and figures are used in art to represent ideas and convey meaning. Also the term for the academic study of such artistic conventions.

Idol

An image of a deity or concept that is worshipped either as a god or as a representation of the deity.

Jain

Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.

Jina

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.

Jinaprabha

(1261–1333) Kharatara-gaccha monk famous for writing Vividha-tīrtha-kalpaGuidebook to Various Pilgrimage Places. He also visited the court of the Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq.

Kalpa-sūtra

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.

Kevala-jñāna

Omniscience, enlightenment or perfect knowledge – the highest of the five types of knowledge, where one knows everything wherever and whenever it is. It is extremely difficult to attain, equivalent to the 13th stage of spiritual purity in the guṇa-sthāna. Digambaras believe only men can achieve it whereas Śvetāmbaras believe that both men and women can become enlightened.

Kharatara-gaccha

Subsect of the Śvetāmbaras, chiefly found in Rajasthan and Mumbai and established in the 11th century. 

Kṣatriya

The Indian caste of warriors and kings, with the role of 'protectors'. Jinas are born into this caste.

Laity

Believers in a religion who are ordinary worshippers, not clergy or members of religious orders. In Jainism, lay people are often called 'householders', indicating that they live in houses and have domestic responsibilities, unlike ascetics.

Lotus

A plant noted for its beautiful flowers, which has symbolic significance in many cultures. In Indian culture, the lotus is a water lily signifying spiritual purity and detachment from the material world. Lotuses frequently feature in artwork of Jinas, deities, Buddha and other holy figures.

Mahāvīra

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.

Monk

A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.

Nemi

The 22nd Jina of the present age, also called Ariṣṭanemi. His symbolic colour is blue or black and his emblem the conch. There is no historical evidence of his existence.

The Jains hold that Nemi is the cousin of the Hindu god Kṛṣna. The tale of his renunciation and jilting of his fiancée Princess Rājīmati are famous among the Jains.

Pārśva

The 23rd Jina of the present age. His symbolic colour is green and his emblem the snake. Historical evidence points to his living around 950 to 850 BC.

Paryuṣaṇ

An eight-day festival in August / September, which is the most important event of the religious calendar for Śvetāmbara lay Jains. They fast, read, spend time with monks and meditate. The last day is the occasion for public repentance. Reading the Kalpa-sūtra and sponsoring new manuscripts or editions of this canonical book are associated with this festival.

Patan

A small town in Gujarat that was a capital city in medieval times, a Jain centre of learning and art with beautiful temples. Some of these and remains of other structures can be seen today. Old name: Aṇahilla Paṭṭaṇa.

Prākrit

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.

Rainy season

The annual four-month rainy period in India, lasting roughly from June / July to October / November. Heavy rain, strong storms and gale-force winds are very common during this period. Mendicants cannot travel around and must stay in one place to avoid breaking their vow of non-violence and because the monsoon makes travelling on foot difficult and dangerous. It is known as cāturmāsa in Sanskrit, comāsa in Hindi and comāsu in Gujarati.

Rajasthan

The largest state in India, in the north-western part of the country.

Sāgāra

Sanskrit term meaning 'with a home’ – that is, a ‘householder’ or lay Jain. A synonym for a lay person, emphasising that he or she is a member of a household, with responsibilities to the family, community and society that a Jain mendicant does not have.

Saṃsāra

Cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth caused by karma binding to the soul as a result of activities. Only by destroying all karma can this perpetual cycle finish in mokṣa – liberation. The karma gained in life affects the next life, and even future lives, for example:

  • in which of the three worlds the life is lived out
  • which of four conditions – gati – the body takes, namely human, divine, hellish or as a plant or animal.

Sanskrit

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.

Scripture

Set of sacred texts that believers accept as authoritative within a religion. Synonymous with canon.

Sect

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.

Shrine

A small structure holding an image or relics, which may be within a temple or building designed for worship. A shrine may be a portable object. Worshippers pray and make offerings at a shrine, which is often considered sacred because of associations with a deity or event in the life of a holy person.

Śrī

Hindu goddess of wealth, Śrī is the personification of spiritual energy and is closely associated with the lotus. Also a name for Lakṣmī, Hindu goddess of beauty, wisdom, fertility and wealth.

Śvetāmbara

'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.

Tapā-gaccha

A Śvetāmbara mūrti-pūjaka sect, first established in the 13th century and reformed from the 19th century. Today nearly all mūrti-pūjak mendicants belong to this sect.

Temple

A building reserved for public worship or prayer, usually dedicated to one religion and run by members of that religion's clergy.

Three worlds

In Jain cosmology three worlds make up world space, where life exists:

  • ūrdhva-loka – upper world
  • madhya-loka– middle world
  • adho-loka – lower world.

These are frequently represented in art as the Cosmic Man, a human figure whose legs stand for the lower world, whose waist symbolises the middle world and whose torso represents the upper world.

Triśalā

The kṣatriya birth-mother of Mahāvīra. Queen Triśalā was married to King Siddhartha.

Upāśraya

Dwelling-hall near a Jain temple where wandering ascetics stay. They may stay for a short time during their travels or for the long rainy season. There is usually a main room where lay Jains come to listen to sermons. Lay people may also perform fasts here, such as upadhāna tapas or rituals such as posadha that involve leaving household activities for a while.

Vaimānika

Deities in the upper world of the Jain universe, who each have celestial vehicles or mounts. There are 26 in the Śvetāmbara tradition and 39 according to the Digambara sect. There are two types:

  • the kalpopapanna-devas in the lower heavens
  • the kalpātīta-devas in the higher heavens.

Vāsudeva

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.

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Related Manuscripts

  • Manuscript cover of paper

    Manuscript cover of paper

    British Library. Or. 11921. Unknown author. 1488

  • Text

    Text

    Victoria and Albert Museum. IM 161-1914. Unknown author. 16th century

Related Manuscript Images

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