A lady holds a baby while lying on the couch in her richly decorated bedroom.

The reclining woman is the kṣatriya lady Queen Triśalā, into whom Mahāvīra’s embryo was transferred. She cradles the newborn Mahāvīra in her arm. The baby’s face is shown very close to his mother’s, which underlines their close relationship.

This is the standard scene used to show Mahāvīra’s birth, and, more generally, for the births of all Jinas.

Note the painter’s care for details of the figures as well as those of the furniture and decorative elements.

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

Other visual elements

In many Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts, there is a clear intention to make the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself. Here this is achieved in a rather modest manner. This aim is signalled by the:

  • ornamental motif in the central margin
  • calligraphic script.

The three red discs along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders 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 discs are in the places where the holes would once have been.

This manuscript belongs to a rather early phase of Kalpa-sūtra paper manuscripts, the beginning of the 15th century. This is evidenced by the:

  • format of the paper, which is rather narrow
  • old system of folio numbering, using ‘letter-numerals’, which is visible in the left-hand margins of verso pages.

In the system of ‘letter-numerals’, each number or digit from 1 to 10 is represented by a different letter. The number 20 is represented by a particular letter, which is different from those used for 30, 40 and so on. The number 100 has its own letter, while 200 has another letter, 300 its particular letter and so on up to 400. Numbers with more than one digit, such as 34 or 258, are represented by two or three of these letters placed one above the other. On this page the sign for 40 is placed above the sign for 1, meaning 41.

The red disc in the middle of the right-hand margin contains the number 41. This is the folio number. It is written again in smaller script in the bottom-right corner of the page.


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

This manuscript was read after it was copied and this page shows additions or corrections in smaller script, namely:

  • in line 1, the small number 95 added above the beginning of the line is the paragraph number, with the number 96 found at the end of line 6
  • above the middle of line 1 the word samaeṇaṃ – ‘in that age’ – has been added, which was missing from the text
  • at the beginning of line 3 the word bahule – ‘dark’– has been corrected above the line into suddhe – ‘bright’ – and bahulassa into suddhassa.

In many manuscripts the paragraph numbers are part of the text, but here they have been added afterwards. The references to ‘dark’ and ‘bright’ are to the two halves of each month in the lunar calendar. To Jains, the ‘dark fortnight‘ refers to the period when the moon is fairly new and thus is hard to see while the ‘bright fortnight‘ means when the moon is quite full and very noticeable in the night sky.

In the middle margin the words in smaller script are also explanations in Sanskrit of phrases found in the central part. The two small parallel lines like slanted = after the words are meant to separate the explanations in the margins. The parallel lines around words in the text indicate which words are glossed. In this page they are especially numerous. The phrase in larger script – x dārayaṃ 1 – means that the word should be added within the text at the end of line 1 from the bottom. The word dārayaṃ means ‘boy’ in Prakrit.