Article: Kalpa-sūtra

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Styles of painting

Kalpa-sūtra paintings may demonstrate all types of artistic style. However, there are two prevailing styles – the ‘classical’ and the ‘popular’.

The classical Western Indian style is easily recognisable thanks to the rigid conventions of:

  • red background
  • figures with typically protruding eyes
  • monks and nuns in stereotyped white clothing with white or golden dots.

The ‘popular’ style has no such stylistic traditions and seems to show more freedom in the colours and in the realism of clothing, faces and so on.

Story of Kālaka

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)

Examining manuscripts of the Kalpa-sūtra shows that it is closely associated with the story of the monk Kālaka or Kālakacārya. Some Jain authors of medieval times claim this connection is vital. All early manuscripts of the Kalpa-sūtra, they say, also have the story of Kālaka (Dundas 2007: n. 10). Both texts are considered to have equal authority for Śvetāmbaras

The Story of Kālaka is known in several Sanskrit, Prakrit and Gujarati versions from the 12th century. It serves as a starting point for illustrations in manuscripts of the Kalpa-sūtra, where it follows the main scripture or is supported independently.

There are two main reasons for the connection between the Kalpa-sūtra and the Kālakācāryakathā or Story of Kālaka. The first is the influence of the early religious teacher or sūri, Kālaka, on the date of the festival of Paryuṣaṇ. The second is the tale of Kālaka himself, who wields great power because of his spirituality, which he uses for good. Certain elements of his life story are similar to those in the biographies of the Jinas, which are related in the first part of the Kalpa-sūtra.

Kālaka and Paryuṣaṇ

The monk Kālaka is closely linked to Paryuṣaṇ, which gives a central role to the Kalpa-sūtra. According to tradition he fixed the date of the final day of this festival, which became known as Saṃvatsarī.

Saṃvatsarī is the day of the festival on which the whole community practises pratikramaṇa – general repentance for breaking Jain regulations. Originally, in Mahāvīra’s time, it took place on the fifth night of the light half of the month Bhādrapada, which is roughly the four weeks from mid-August to mid-September. Under Kālaka’s authority this became the fourth night. 

This change in a Paryuṣaṇ ceremony is supposed to have been introduced in 466 at the behest of King Śātavahana, to avoid a clash with a Hindu festival. Although this change is said in earlier sources to have met general approval, there is also evidence to show that it became a controversial and sectarian issue (see Dundas 2007 for more details). 

In the course of his wandering life, Kālaka comes to the city of Pratiṣṭhāna in Mahārāṣṭra. King Śālivāhana welcomes the monk enthusiastically.

In due time the Paryuṣaṇa season arrived. There in the land of Mahārāṣṭra, on the fifth [night] of the bright half of the month [of] Bhādrapada, a festival of Indra took place. Then the king made representation to the sūri, “Reverend sir, on the day when the Paryuṣaṇā falls, there is to be a celebration by procession for Indra, in accordance with the custom of the folk. For that reason there will be so much confusion that I shall not be able to worship, bathe and otherwise honour the images of the Jinas. Therefore be so very kind as to celebrate the Paryuṣaṇā on the sixth.”

Then the reverend monk said, “…the Paryuṣaṇā may not come later than the night of the fifth. For it is said in the Scripture [Kalpa-sūtra]: ‘As the reverend Mahāvīra, when a month and 20 nights of the rains had passed, observed the Paryuṣaṇā, so too the Gaṇadharas …; as our masters, so too we observe the Paryuṣaṇā: it must not come later than that night.’”

The king said, “If that is so, then let it come on the fourth.”

The sūri answered, “So be it! There is no harm in that.”

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Related Manuscripts

  • Text


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

  • Section on Mahāvīra

    Section on Mahāvīra

    British Library. Or. 13342. Unknown author.

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