A boy perches on the shoulder of a bearded figure while two other children play. The tree, flowers and peacocks indicate the scene is an outdoor one. A long black snake is wound around the trunk of the tree.

This episode has become part of the conventional account of the childhood of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra. It emphasises his courage and steadiness during a children’s game. According to the caption in the upper left corner, which says āmalīkrīḍā 19 – ‘the game of āmalī, [illustration number] 19 [in this manuscript]’,  the game is āmalākīkrīḍā, which is played around a tree.

This ancient game’s name refers to the tree around which it is played but all of the rules have not survived. The serpent coiling around the tree is a disguised god who wants to test the courage of the young Vardhamāna. While the other boys are frightened, Mahāvīra continues playing undisturbed.

Another part of the game is that the winner rides on the back of the loser. The larger, bearded figure is a god jealous of Vardhamāna’s strength when the young boy succeeds in riding on his back as well as on the back of all other children.

This is the first of a long series of trials – upasarga – of Mahāvīra’s courage and steadiness. The episode is not narrated in the Prakrit text of the Kalpa-sūtra but is known from other sources and has become part of the conventional account of Mahāvīra’s youth.

The long protruding eye is a typical feature of western Indian painting. Its origin is unclear.

Other visual elements  

But, as with many Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts, there is a clear intention to make the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself. This aim is signalled by:

  • the shape and style of the script, which is close to calligraphy
  • the red background of the painting
  • the profusion of gold in the paintings
  • the thick red borders with blue floral arabesques
  • the three circles filled with red ink and surrounded by blue and gold ornamental motifs.

The three circles along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders of the way in which manuscripts were bound at one time. Strings through three holes in the paper were used to thread together the loose folios so the reader could turn them over easily. The circles are in the places where the holes would once have been.


The elaborate script used for the main text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script, in  a form which recalls calligraphy. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here for Prakrit.

There are a few notable features of this script:

  • it is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, known as pṣṭhamātrā script
  • the red vertical lines within the text divide the long sentences into smaller parts, but are not necessarily punctuation marks.

In this particular folio there are occasional rings above the main line of writing. These notate the nasalised vowels and are used instead of simple dots. There are examples above the first line.