The barely legible caption in the upper-right corner says: Paṃcāgni or ‘five fires’. However, this does not match the image, but refers to another episode in the life of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, where a Hindu ascetic called Kamaṭha practises the penance of the five fires.

The picture has two scenes, each depicting different stages in Prince Pārśva’s rejection of the world to become a monk.

Top level

A richly jewelled figure dressed in elaborate clothing sits on an ornate throne. An old white-bearded man stands on the right. Two small figures stand at the top.

The large figure is Prince Pārśva, shown with all his worldly privileges. The old man represents the poor. The two men at the top may be the Laukāntika gods.

The Laukāntika gods have come to awaken Pārśva spiritually and inspire him to give up his possessions. They exclaim:

Victory be to the joy of the world!
Victory be to one with auspicious marks!
Glory be to thee, oh bull among best kṣatriyas
Awake, oh Lord, Master of the Universe!
Establish religion and order
For the well-being of all living beings.

Then Pārśva knows that the time is right for him to renounce the worldly life. He spends the following year giving all his possessions to the poor.

Bottom level

On the left side a male figure wearing a single garment sits under a tree. He catches his long hair in his hand. On the right is a man with four hands seated on a throne.

The figure on the left is Pārśva, who has now given up all the possessions of a prince. Even so, he is often shown in pictures as keeping his jewellery. Sitting under an aśoka tree, he is about to pluck out his long hair in five handfuls. This is the symbolic gesture of giving up worldly life and entering religious life. Jain monks and nuns still perform this act of dīkṣā today.

The figure watching him is the god Śakra, who is present at the key points of Pārśva’s life. Deities are often depicted with four or more hands in Jain art. Here Śakra is shown with a pair of his hands ready to receive the hair of the future Jina.

Pārśva performs his initiation ceremony in public in a park outside the city of Bārāṇasī. According to some sources, this park is on slightly raised ground. This is symbolised here by the bottom row, which represents mountain peaks.

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

Other visual elements

Some of the other elements of the picture are ordinary features of a manuscript, while others indicate that Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts are special objects.

The bottom of the right margin contains the number 55, which is the folio number.

The aim of making the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself is signalled by the:

  • use of gold in the paintings, margins and ornamental motifs
  • decorated border with blue floral motifs
  • three diamonds filled with gold ink and surrounded by blue ornamental motifs.

The three ornamental 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.

Three diamonds mean a verso side.


The elaborate script used is the Jaina Devanāgarī script, which is here like calligraphy. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here for Ardhamāgadhī Prakrit.

There are a few notable features of this script, which:

  • is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, known as pṣṭhamātrā script
  • contains red vertical lines within the text divide the long sentences into smaller parts, but are not necessarily punctuation marks
  • uses the number 2 to avoid repeating a word or a phrase already mentioned. For example in line 4 is the phrase: niggacchai 2ttā – ‘he goes out, after having gone out’.

In this particular folio, xra6 is written in the left-hand margin next to line 6. This indicates that the syllable ra must be inserted in that line. Here it refers to the ra in Bāṇarasiṃ – on the right side, after the second vertical red line – which seems to replace an earlier syllable.