On the left, sitting under a tree, is a man dressed in a simple white garment. He is holding up his long hair in one hand. Behind him is a four-armed figure sheltered by an ornamented canopy. At the foot of the painting is a tiny elephant next to some red and blue triangles.

This picture shows a key event in the life of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra. Having now given up all the possessions of a prince, Mahāvīra wears only a single garment but is often shown in the pictures sporting his jewellery. He is catching his long hair in his hand, preparing to pluck it out in five handfuls. This is the symbolic gesture of giving up worldly life and entering religious life. Jain monks and nuns still perform this public act of dīkṣā today. On the right is the god Śakra, who is present at the most important points of the Jinas’ lives. Here he is shown seated under a canopy, indicating royalty, with a pair of his four hands ready to receive the hair of the future Jina.

Mahāvīra is sitting under an aśoka tree in a park, which is on slightly raised ground, represented by the blue and red mountain peaks. Mahāvīra has travelled to the park on the elephant shown at the bottom.

The long protruding eye is a typical feature of western Indian painting. Its origin is not clearly known.

Other visual element

This is a good example of an average Kalpa-sūtra manuscript. The paintings have a red background, but there are no other signs of an aesthetic object of special value.

The red circle in the centre is a symbolic reminder of the way in which manuscripts were bound at one time. Strings through holes in the paper were used to thread together the loose folios so the reader could turn them over easily. The circle is in the place where the hole 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.