A large male figure stands in the ideal ascetic posture of kāyotsarga – ‘rejection of the body’. Dressed as a Śvetāmbara monk, he wears a lot of jewellery and a kind of tilaka on the forehead.

The kāyotsarga pose of the central figure of the monk indicates that he is so deep in meditation he is indifferent to his surroundings. He wears a garment that represents the white of the Śvetāmbara monastic robe with dots. This convention is balanced by his jewellery and tilaka, which are slightly unusual. However, in the Śvetāmbara tradition Jina images are mostly ornamented.

This painting depicts the spiritual strength and physical endurance of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra.

Mahāvīra stands straight, without any movement or concern for his body, even though fierce lions jump at him and two men introduce spikes into his ears as a torture.

After renouncing worldly life and taking initiation as a monk, Mahāvīra had to face various attacks – the upasarga of the caption in the top right corner. But he “bore them, forgave them, endured them, went beyond them”,  never departing from ascetic behaviour. This lasted for 12 years until he gained omniscience.

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

Other visual elements

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
  • the three diamonds filled with gold ink and surrounded by blue ornamental motifs.

The three diamonds 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 diamonds 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 pṛṣṭhamātrā 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.