About Jain Manuscript Art

In the fifth century, a massive famine happened in Gujarat. To rescue the manuscripts from the disaster, a convention of Jain monks had been arranging in 453 century. On that summit, some resolution had been approved to save those valuable jewels. In such a good project, an initiative assumed by some wealthy persons of Jain community. In the era of ages, all the valuable Jain manuscripts had stored in such a secure way in the Jain monasteries.

A drawing of the Jain manuscript of 1733.

 I found the name of two notable monarchs who had given their efforts to encourage in the preservation process of those manuscripts. It was a proverb that one of the kings named Jaisingha patronaged more than 300 manuscripts and made duplicate a few of those to rescue from getting demolished. He copied in several numbers of demolished manuscripts and distributed in the monasteries of Jain community. In a similar way, another ruler named Kumarpal founded 21 libraries of Jain manuscripts across the country in his reign from 1134 to 1175. He, however, employed 700 writers to recast the ancient manuscripts furthermore. It's astonishing to find out that in his period the writing ink made from gold. I don't know how did it; however, possibly there was something that looked like gold by mixing with writing ink. Getting passionate in education, the ministers of those rulers also contributed with their kings and founded three of the libraries by donating lakh of money in that era! The name of those ministers was Vastupal and Tejpal. Later, we found another name of a minister of the king Jai singha whose name was Pather Shah founded libraries of Jain manuscripts in the seven cities of Gujarat in 1213.


It’s notable that those libraries not only preserved the manuscripts of Jain community but also conserved and even supported the valuable scriptures of other spiritual communities. It was a motive to arrange several discussion between Jain and other spiritual communities to grow knowledge in the right way. Those libraries redound to achieve the objective. Please also note that those libraries maintained and recognized by the Svetambara[1] branch of the Jain community. There was also a few manuscript libraries led by the Digambara[2] branches of Jain community located at the Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan.

 Before the 20th century, it was not possible for an outsider to inspect or even have a glance at those manuscripts except the community of Jain, however, later in the 20th century a catalog of Jain manuscript published by Ananda Coomaraswamy after having the several hard efforts. The name of that catalog was, - “Catalog of the Indian collections in the museum of fine art”. It was published from Boston.

A 15 century Jain manuscript art contained Devi Saraswati, the goddess of art and education, found from Gujarat.
Jain temple and library of Sree Patan.

 Getting acknowledge of the above-stated catalog, it has defined that up to 15 century, the manuscript painting was not just an art, tied up with the style and values of sculpture that ignored the impact of  Indian traditional artistry which valued the ornamental style. Rather, the illustrations of the manuscript published in the first half of the 20th century proved the versatile talent of artists. Actually, illustration art germinated in the 15th century that started in the last half of the 14th century.


The Shree-patan, located at the Ahmedabad authenticated as the main and even the earliest center point of the manuscript art because an ancient illustrated manuscript named Gyan Sutra wrote in the 12th century discovered here with an illustration of Jain Devi named Ambika. It’s distinguished as the earliest Jain manuscript of India; author unknown.  


According to the assumption of historians, Western India mainly Gujarat, was the primary and pivotal center of the manuscript art. The second important center was Mandu, located in Malware. Based on the preserved manuscript in the national museum of Delhi named ‘Kalpasutra’, historians got some new information about it and they even get informed that such illustrated manuscripts known as the name of ‘Kayla Pustaka’. In those manuscripts, illustration art were reverted again to the Indian traditional ornamental design form and disregarded the sculpture-like values. Historians also discovered some important ancient manuscripts after the Kalpasutra. Those were respectively, ‘Kalk Acharya tale’, probably composed in Shree-Patan, next to the same manuscript found in Mandu. Another Kalk Acharya tale they noticed as the oldest one than others, wrote in 1348 and at last, a manuscript titled ‘Supasana’, composed in 1423 they found made in Udaipur, Rajasthan.  


will continue in next episode


1.  The Śvētāmbara  Sanskrit: श्वेतांबर  is one of the two main branches of Jainism, the other being the Digambara. Śvētāmbara "white-clad" is a term describing its ascetics' practice of wearing white clothes, which sets it apart from the Digambara "sky-clad" Jainas, whose ascetic practitioners go naked. Śvētāmbaras, unlike Digambaras, do not believe that ascetics must practice nudity.

Śvētāmbaras also believe that women are able to obtain moksha. Śvētāmbaras maintain that the 19th Tirthankara, Māllīnātha, was a woman. Some Śvētāmbara monks and nuns cover their mouth with a white cloth or muhapatti ( a piece of cloth used to cover the mouth) to practice ahimsa (non-violence) even when they talk. By doing so they minimize the possibility of inhaling small organisms.


2.  Digambara is one of the two major schools of Jainism, the other being Śvētāmbara (white-clad). The word Digambara is a combination of two words: dig (directions) and ambara (sky), referring to those whose garments are of the element that fills the four quarters of space. Digambara monks do not wear any clothes. The monks carry picchi, a broom made up of fallen peacock feathers (for clearing the place before walking or sitting), kamandalu (a water container made of wood), and shastra (scripture). One of the most important scholar-monks of Digambara tradition was Kundakunda. He authored Prakrit texts such as the Samayasāra and the Pravacanasāra. Other prominent Acharyas of this tradition were, Virasena, Samantabhadra and Siddhasena Divakara. The Satkhandagama and Kasayapahuda have major significance in the Digambara tradition.


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Last updated on - 07.12.2023