Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jain manuscript at the National Museum, Delhi

This Jain manuscript was commissioned in the 1400's at Mandu in Madhya Pradesh, under the reign of Sultan Mahmud. This folio is from the collection at the National Museum. It shows a Tirthankara figure turning beads in meditation. Devotees flank the main figure.

It is an illustration from the Kalpa Sūtra, a Jain text containing the biographies of the Jain Tirthankaras, notably Parshvanatha and Mahavira, including the latter's Nirvāna (liberation from cycle of rebirth). Bhadrabahu, a Jain Acharya (guru), is considered the author of the Kalpa Sutra. It is traditionally said to have been composed somewhere in the 3rd century BCE.
Jaina manuscript painting is likely a very old tradition, but currently there is physical surviving evidence only from the 1100's onwards. Originally it was done on palm-leaf, because paper had not yet arrived in India. After the arrival of paper somewhere in the 12th century (paper came to India from Iran), the Jain monks starting using it.

By the end of the 1300's, deluxe manuscripts were produced on paper, brilliantly adorned with gold, silver, crimson and a rich ultramarine derived from imported lapis lazuli. The photo I posted above is one of those.

The Jains are even today, a book-loving community, placing emphasis on documentation in their bhandars (monastery libraries). We have to thank the Jain Chalukya kings who ruled Gujarat, Rajasthan and Malwa for their patronage of Jain libraries. One of them, Kumarapala, who ruled in the 1300's from his capital city Patan in Gujarat, commissioned and distributed hundreds of copies of the Kalpa Sutra. Can you imagine hundreds of such handmade painted books? What a sight it must be! Kumarapala founded 21 bhandars in Patan.

The major centres of Jain manuscript production were Ahmedabad and Patan in Gujarat. Other centres included Jaisalmer, Gwalior and Delhi. There were also manuscripts written in Kanarese and Tamil in south India. Illustrations were traditionally painted both on the wooden cover (patli) and on the folios. The patrons were Jain merchant communities, who considered the commissioning of illustrated books and their donation to libraries to be an important merit-making activity.