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Folio from a Kalpasutra manuscript

16th century


Unknown Artist

No image
  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Gujarat India
    Cultural origin
    16th century
    Media category
    Materials used
    opaque watercolour on paper
    11.0 x 25.3 cm
    Gift of Dr Jim Masselos 2022
    Not on display
    Accession number
  • About

    The most popular of all the Jain scriptures was the Kalpasutra, or ‘Book of precepts’, which is believed to have been composed around 300 BCE. This sutra is a biography of the last jina, or conqueror, Mahavira (c599–527 BCE)and contextualises his position in relation to his 23 predecessors.The Kalpasutra is one of the principle canonical text of the Svetambara sect of Jains. This text laid down the codes of behaviour for Jain laity, monks and nuns.

    In the earlier Jain manuscripts, images did not correspond with the narrative content of the text and instead were intended to provide an auspicious or talismanic presence. In this regard the image should not be described as an illustration but rather as a testament to the power of the sacred word.

    Later, books had both a narrative and a symbolic function that earned them a place as objects of reverence within the Jain temple. For instance, at the annual Paryushana festival celebrated by Svetambara Jains both the recitation and the holding of the Kalpasutra manuscript are performed as ritual acts symbolising the dissemination and reception of knowledge.

    As concern increased over the need to preserve Jain written texts it was customary for a donor to commission the copying of a Jain text as a meritorious act. These manuscripts were largely produced in the studio workshops of the two main cultural hubs, Patan and Ahmedabad and were were offered to spiritual teachers and were stored in monastic libraries where they were the subject of religious and artistic interest. Although painted on paper, the pages retain the rectangular form of palm-leaf manuscripts. The red circles recall the holes through which leaves were bound using cord. Three red dots mark the front of a page while a single dot indicates the back.