In the centre a large jewel-bedecked figure is seated in the lotus posture, holding an infant on his lap. On each side stand two attendants holding jugs of precious substances. Above each of them is a bull. The mountain peaks below show that the scene takes place in a palace on a mountain.

During the night Mahāvīra is born, the Jain deities descend and ascend constantly from the heavens, causing a great light. The servants of Kubera, the god of riches and treasures, pour wealth into King Siddhārtha’s palace. Then the town is fully decorated to celebrate the event.

The various groups of gods take part in the celebrations ‘in order to celebrate the lustral bath at the birth of the Jina‘. This is the event depicted here, expanded on in the literary tradition.

The largest figure is the god Śakra, who intervenes at key points in the lives of the Jinas. During the night, he has placed a false baby at the side of the sleeping Queen Triśalā so he can take the newborn Mahāvīra. He brings the infant to the cosmic axis of Mount Meru, where the ritual of anointment takes place. The two bulls could represent the crystal bulls, which, the tradition says, Śakra created to stand in the four directions.

This anointing ceremony is the archetype of Jain festivals and finds an echo in the modern celebration of Mahāvīr Jayantī.

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 red disc 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 disc is in one of 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’, in the left-hand margins of the verso sides.

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 3, the small number 97 added above the end of the line is the paragraph number
  • above lines 2 and 3 are Sanskrit explanations of Prakrit words in the text.

In many manuscripts the paragraph numbers are part of the text, but here they have been added afterwards.

The lines in smaller script above and below the main text and in the margins are 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 the left-hand margin the words x dev’ujjoe / egāloe loe devā sannivāyā / 3 appear in larger script. This means that the phrase should be added within the text at the beginning of line 3. A sign in the text also indicates this.