Article: Kalpa-sūtra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Embryo transfer

A illustration of the gods Hariṇaigameṣin and Śakra in a manuscript of the Kalpa-sūtra. King of the gods, Lord Śakra instructs his antelope-headed commander to move the embryo of Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina, from the womb of a brahmin woman

Śakra and Hariṇaigameṣin
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Then Lord Śakra realises that 'it never happened, nor does it happen, nor will it happen, that arhats, cakravartins, baladevas or vāsudevas, in the past, present, or future should be born in low families, mean families… brahmanical families'.

They are always born in high, noble families, in families of kṣatriyas.

Thus he decides that the embryo of Mahāvīra must be removed from the brahmin lady Devānandā and placed in the womb of the kṣatriya lady Triśalā, wife of King Siddhārtha.

He calls Hariṇaigameṣin, the commander of his foot troops. Śakra orders him to transfer the embryo and then to report to him.

Hariṇaigameṣin accepts this order, magically transforms himself, enters Devānandā’s house at night, puts the whole household to sleep and removes Mahāvīra’s embryo from her womb.

He goes to the house of the kṣatriya couple, puts the whole household to sleep and implants Mahāvīra’s embryo in Triśalā’s womb. He takes the embryo she was carrying and transfers it to the brahmin lady. Then he reports to his master.

Trisala's 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.

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

That same night the kṣatriya lady Triśalā has 14 auspicious dreams, the same as those of Devānandā. Each of them is described at length in the text.

Queen Triśalā goes to her husband Siddhārtha, wakes him up and describes her dreams.

Siddhārtha explains that they foretell the birth of a boy with outstanding physical and intellectual characteristics.

Triśalā stays awake the rest of the night to avoid having any bad dreams.

Before the day dawns, King Siddhārtha calls his servants. He tells them to get the hall of audience ready and to erect the throne.

At sunrise, Siddhārtha gets up and goes to the hall to do his physical training, in the form of jumping, wrestling and fighting. Afterwards servants rub him with oil, shampoo his hair and prepare him to enter the bathing room. After he has bathed, servants scent his body with perfume, arrange his hair and array him in rich ornaments. He puts on the insignia of kingship. He then sits on his throne, surrounded by dignitaries.

He summons the family servants and orders them to call for professional dream-interpreters.

After paying homage to Siddhārtha, the interpreters sit and answer the king’s questions about the 14 dreams. They confirm the outstanding qualities of the expected baby and predict that he will become either a universal emperor or a Jina. After delivering this news, they are dismissed politely.

The king reports the good news to his wife, who quietly retires to her own apartments.

Mahāvīra's birth

A painting from a 15th-century manuscript of the Kalpa-sūtra shows Queen Triśalā and her newborn son. He will grow up to become Mahāvīra, the 24th Jina. This is a conventional way of illustrating the birth of a baby who will become a Jina

Mahāvīra and his mother Triśalā
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

From that night on, countless treasures of all sorts are brought to the palace by the various ranks of gods at Śakra’s request. From that night on, silver, gold and wealth go on increasing in the palace. Hence the king and his wife decide that the child they are expecting will be named Vardhamāna – ‘the Increaser’.

Out of compassion for his mother’s comfort, Mahāvīra decides to remain quiet without moving. Triśalā, thinking that the baby has died, is overwhelmed with sadness. She remains ‘reposing her head on her hand, overcome by painful reflections and casting her eyes on the ground’. Joy is silenced in the palace.

Becoming aware of this, Mahāvīra moves a little. Joy returns to his mother’s heart and to the palace.

Seeing the effect of his actions, Mahāvīra decides not to give up living in the world to become an ascetic as long as his parents are alive.

Triśalā’s pregnancy is spent as it should be, in peace and comfort. After nine months and seven and a half days, in the first month of summer, she gives birth to a perfectly healthy boy.

Celebrations of this blessed event last ten days. Prisoners are freed, taxes are lifted and so on. Legions of gifts are offered and a huge banquet is organised.

At the name-giving ceremony the child receives the name Vardhamāna from his parents. Later on he is also known as Śramaṇa – 'Ascetic’ – and Mahāvīra – ‘Great Hero’.

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Related Manuscripts

  • Blank first page of Kalpa-sūtra

    Blank first page of Kalpa-sūtra

    British Library. Or. 13701. Sukha-sāgara for the commentary. 17th to 18th centuries

  • Text


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

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