The large figure of a monk sits in the lotus posture of meditation on a high seat in a temple-like structure. Two smaller monks stand nearby.

The central monk wears the white robe of the Śvetāmbara monk and holds the broomrajoharaṇa – under his right arm. He is being worshipped by two monk-disciples. Peacocks – symbols of royalty in Indian culture – and his large earrings underline the monk’s high status.

Mahāvīra had eleven direct disciples who received his teaching and were in charge of handing it down to later generations. One of them, standing for them all, is pictured here.

This painting does not illustrate a story. Instead, it symbolises Jain teaching and is thus a suitable representation of the facing text, which is the last paragraphs of the Kalpa-sūtra.

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 coloured background for the text instead of the ordinary colour of the paper
  • the white ink instead of the standard black ink for the writing
  • the profusion of gold in the painting
  • the blue and red borders around the text and the picture
  • the division of the text into two parts by a central border of geometric red shapes.

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

Note that this script is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant. It is known as pṛṣṭhamātrā script.