Article: Karma-prakr̥ti

Contributed by Jean Arzoumanov

Journey to British libraries

An 1851 mezzotint of Horace Hayman Wilson, Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford. In 1842 he sold two manuscripts to the Bodleian Library, the university library. One of these is the 'Karma-prakṛti' or 'Karma-kāṇḍa' (NPG D37023).

Horace Hayman Wilson
Image by William Walker, after Sir John Watson-Gordon © National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1842 the Bodleian Library bought a pair of manuscripts from the Oxford Sanskrit Professor, Horace Hayman Wilson. The British Library – at that time the British Museum – acquired the other two manuscripts in 1861, from a London bookseller, Bernard Quaritch. He was reputed to hold the largest catalogue of Oriental books in the West.

Unfortunately, only a small part of the history of these objects can be traced with certainty. They are believed to have been in the collection of the French polymath Claude Martin in Nawabi, Lucknow, as he commissioned the copies. They must have left Lucknow just after Claude Martin’s death in 1800, with the bulk of his Persian manuscripts sold at auction in Calcutta. Many of these manuscripts found their way into the libraries of famous scholars, such as Colebrooke. Most of them are now deposited in various libraries in the United Kingdom.

Languages and scripts

For these four manuscripts, the most striking feature is the presence of two different scripts – the Devanāgarī script and the Arabic script. Looking further, it becomes plain that behind these two scripts there are not only two languages, but three.

Languages and scripts of the manuscripts

Text

Language

Script

Nemicandra's verses – gāthās

Jain Śaurasenī, the standardised Middle Indian language used by Digambara philosophers in their verse work

Devanāgarī

Sanskrit translation of the verses, often called chāyā – 'shade' – in Sanskrit

Sanskrit

Devanāgarī

Hemrāj’s commentary

Persian – translation of the original Braj glosses
Sanskrit – original language

Arabic script

The Devanāgarī text is very badly written in all four manuscripts.

'Karma-kāṇḍa' or 'Karma-prakṛti'?

A typical Digambara representation of a siddha, shown as an empty space. This underlines the idea that a siddha has no body and is a soul that has recovered its original purity. It regains this purity when it is liberated from the cycle of rebirth. In thi

Image of a siddha
Image by Hindi Granth Karyala © Public domain

Even though both the manuscripts in the British Library and the Bodleian Library are labelled Karma-kāṇḍa, the text belongs to a work more widely known as the Karma-prakṛti. These manuscripts follow the practice of various commentators, who designate the text as Karma-kāṇḍa. In the tradition there are thus two different names for a single work.

The Karma-prakṛti, a brief treatise on the nature of the bond between the soul and karma, is credited to Nemicandra, a thinker of the Digambara sect, who was active in the 11th century. The name for the Karma-prakṛti in these two manuscripts is the Karma-kāṇḍa, which is the same title as another, more famous, work attributed to Nemicandra. His Gommaṭasāra – Compendium [composed for] Gommaṭa – is divided into two parts, the second of which is the 'Karma-kāṇḍa' – 'Chapter on Karma'.

There are strong similarities between these texts by Nemicandra, with identical verses used in both compositions. Some earlier scholars have tended to assume that Nemicandra wrote the Karma-prakṛti before the Gommaṭasāra but some modern scholars have disputed this convention. Dating texts from this era is difficult, with little firm evidence either way.

The practice of calling the Karma-prakṛti the Karma-kāṇḍa appears to be longstanding, with many historical sources using the latter name. It is likely, therefore, that the translator of these two manuscripts, along with other commentators and translators, knew this text as Karma-kāṇḍa. Despite this, however, contemporary scholars know the text as the Karma-prakṛti from its 1964 critical edition.

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Contents

Related Manuscripts

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    Bodleian Library. MS. Wilson 262. Nemicandra. 21 July 1796

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