Article: Highlights of JAINpedia

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Many examples of remarkable manuscripts which Jains have copied or composed are digitised on the JAINpedia website. Articles in this section describe the contents of some of the individual texts available on JAINpedia.

Jain manuscripts capture religious teachings that have previously been passed on orally. Those that have survived date back to the 11th century or later. They are mostly written on palm leaf or paper, but other materials such as cloth are used as well. They also cover a wider range of needs, ranging from ceremonial procedures and philosophical treatises through stories and hymns to records of monastic lineages. Many manuscripts are also good examples of visual art, showing stylistic development in painting as well as conventional devices and patterns.

The digitised manuscripts on JAINpedia take several forms and are often lavishly illustrated. Scriptures preserve Jain religious beliefs and provide support for practices. A particularly interesting element of Jain doctrine is cosmology, the framework for important religious concepts such as the cycle of birth and karma. Embedding Jain values into stories has long been a popular method of passing on religious doctrine. These tales provide heroes and heroines for a minority group within Indian society and help create a Jain heritage. A key part of religious practice for Jains, hymns offer scope for both individual and community worship.

Sacred objects are also available on JAINpedia. Used in worship and meditation, items such as maṇḍalas, aḍhāī-dvīpas and victory banners are frequently artefacts of great artistic merit. Letters from lay Jains inviting mendicants for the rainy season have both practical and symbolic aspects, and are often beautiful objects.

Scriptures

This painting from an Uttarādhyayana-sūtra manuscript is of a Śvetāmbara monk in the kāyotsarga – 'rejection of the body' – meditation posture. He has the third eye and the bump of wisdom on his head. Four-armed gods and a lay man pay homage to him

Right monastic behaviour
Image by Victoria and Albert Museum © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Several key holy texts are highlights of the manuscripts on JAINpedia.

The Kalpa-sūtra is the best-known book of the Śvetāmbara sect. Written in Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit, the Kalpa-sūtra features:

  • biographies of the Jinas
  • lineages of early Jain teachers
  • monastic rules for the rainy season.

It is surely the Jain work that has produced the largest amount of illustrated manuscripts. There are several examples on JAINpedia showing a variety of pictorial styles.

The British Library I.O. San. 3177 and the manuscript Gamma 453 in the Wellcome Library are remarkable specimens from the 15th century that use calligraphy, golden or silver ink, and coloured papers. In contrast, the manuscript Or. 13701 is an example of informal style with Mughal costumes and cursive script. All the other Kalpa-sūtras deserve interest in their own right as they are finely executed artefacts.

The Uttarādhyayana-sūtra is one of the most famous and fundamental books of the Śvetāmbara canon. In Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit, it contains both didactic and narrative material. It is one of the works that have developed an elaborate pictorial tradition. The two complete manuscripts of the Uttarādhyayana-sūtra digitised on JAINpedia offer remarkable paintings. Held by the British Library, the manuscript Or. 13362 and its counterpart in the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), with the shelfmark IS 2-1972, are powerful examples of Jain art.

The Āvaśyaka-sūtra, along with its commentary the Āvaśyaka-niryukti, holds central importance in the practice of Śvetāmbara Jains. It includes the:

One of the JAINpedia manuscripts is from the 15th century, which is noteworthy as it is comparatively early. Found in the British Library, the Āvaśyaka-niryukti manuscript with the shelfmark Or. 13550 dates back to 1466.

Considered with its commentaries, the Jītakalpa-sūtra deals with monastic rules and atonements for transgressions. Such works are not commonly found in manuscripts kept outside India. Therefore the two British Library manuscripts on JAINpedia, under the shelfmarks of Or. 1385 and Or. 1386, are notable. Another reason that makes them remarkable is that they are written on palm leaf, a material rarely found in libraries outside India for manuscripts from Western India.

Cosmology

This 19th-century manuscript painting shows the parable of the tree. Six hungry men suggest ways of reaching the fruit, ranging from chopping down the jambū tree to picking up windfalls. The colours of the men reflect their souls' colours – leśyās.

Parable of the tree
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Writings on the Jain universe form one of the main branches of Jain scriptures. These manuscripts are often illustrated with charts, diagrams and paintings, because visualisation is part of the teaching.

Works of the kṣetra-samāsa variety focus on Jain geography, describing components such as continents, oceans and lands. A good example on JAINpedia is held in the British Library under the shelfmark Add. 26374. The saṃgrahaṇī texts are more concerned with karma and destiny. They deal with the spaces of the Jain universe as places where a soul is reborn, depending on its behaviour. Notable examples presented on JAINpedia are:

To this genre belong the large cloth paintings called aḍhāī-dvīpas – Two and a Half Continents. These have been executed from the 15th century onwards in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Remarkable aḍhāī-dvīpas on JAINpedia include the IS 6565 held at the Victoria and Albert Museum and several examples in the British Library, with the shelfmarks:

Teaching the niceties of karma is one of the most important topics of the Jain faith. Among the manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia are two remarkable items that deal with karma. They are a:

Stories

This manuscript illustration shows the monk Kālaka and an elderly brahmin. Śakra, king of the gods, tests Kālaka's modesty, learning and ability to see the truth by disguising himself. He takes on the form of an aged learned man, who disputes scriptures

Kālaka with Śakra in disguise
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

From the earliest times tales have been regarded as an essential part of teaching, for all types of audiences. The Jinas themselves recounted stories in their preaching. In the course of centuries, some simple anecdotes have developed into full-fledged works of fiction. Some characters who were just names meant to illustrate a notion have turned into heroes at the centre of novel-like works, undergoing ups and downs, losses and gains. In short, they have become figures that fully illustrate the concepts of karma and rebirth, and also inspiring heroes that hold the reader’s attention.

The most popular Jain heroes and heroines have been the starting point of numerous retellings. They also feature prominently in paintings in the manuscripts, which could be shown and used in festivals or temple-halls.

There are several good examples in manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia, especially the:

  • Story of the Teacher Kālaka, often appended to the Kalpa-sūtra, which is connected with the Śvetāmbara festival of Paryuṣaṇ
  • Story of Yaśodhara, held in the Wellcome Trust, which illustrates ahiṃsā
  • Story of Śālibhadra, found in the British Library, shows the power of giving alms to Jain monks
  • Story of Śrīpāla, closely associated with the worship of the siddhacakra
  • Āditya-vāra-vrata-kathā in the British Library, a popular story among Digambaras, which relates to the results of observing or not observing the so-called Sunday’s vow.

Jain authors are also famous for their rewritings of non-Jain stories, which are part of the common Indian heritage. Good examples of such illustrated manuscripts digitised on JAINpedia are the :

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