Article: Kalpa-sūtra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Details of the 'Lives of the Jinas'

The first part of the Kalpa-sūtra, called the 'Jina-caritra' or ‘Lives of the Jinas’, provides the main inspiration for illustrations in the text. It describes the lives of the four Jinas who are the primary figures of religious worship. The lives of the other 20 Jinas are outlined. All of the biographies follow a fairly strict pattern, including identical key points in the structure of the lives and repetition of individual phrases.

Mahāvīra’s life

First is the biography of Mahāvīra, the 24th and final Jina. All the life stories described in this section follow the same pattern. However, Mahāvīra is the only Jina whose life features the episode known as the 'embryo transfer'.

Conceived by Devānandā

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 incarnation before the last one, when he becomes a Jina, Mahāvīra is a god in the Puṣpottara heaven.

He begins his final rebirth in the womb of the brahmin lady Devānandā, who is married to the brahmin Usabhadatta.

Devānandā has the following 14 auspicious dreams

  1. an elephant
  2. a bull
  3. a lion
  4. the goddess Śrī, who embodies prosperity
  5. a garland
  6. the moon
  7. the sun
  8. a banner
  9. a vase or jug
  10. a lotus lake
  11. the ocean
  12. a celestial abode
  13. a heap of jewels
  14. a flame or fire.

Devānandā tells her dreams to her husband, who explains that they mean the new baby will have outstanding physical and intellectual qualities. Devānandā is full of joy.

Śakra, the king of the gods, is sitting in his palace in the Saudharma heaven.

Knowing through his clairvoyance – avadhi-jñāna – that Mahāvīra has taken the form of a human embryo, Śakra is full of happiness and ready to pay homage to him. He utters an enthusiastic hymn of praise to the Jinas.

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