Mahāvīra’s renunciation is shown in two successive scenes. In chronological order, the lower scene has to be read first and the top one second.

Upper level

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

The figure on the left is Prince Mahāvīra, who has now given up all the possessions of a prince. He is preparing to pluck out his long hair in five handfuls. This is the symbolic gesture of giving up worldly life and entering religious life known as keśa-loca. Monks and nuns still perform this act of dīkṣā today. The tree before him is the aśoka tree under which this event is said to have happened. The figure watching him is the god Śakra, who is present at the key points of Mahāvīra’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.

Mahāvīra performs his initiation ceremony in public in a park outside the city of Kuṇḍapura.

Lower level

A large figure sits in a palanquin carried by four men, who are lined up along the bottom.

The painting shows Prince Mahāvīra on his way to the park outside the city of Kuṇḍapura, where he will renounce the worldly life. The god Śakra has prepared the elaborate palanquin, which resembles an architectural structure, and has the name Candraprabhā – ‘as bright as the moon’ in Sanskrit. This name appears in the first line of the facing text: Candapābhāe siyāe – ‘on the palanquin C.’

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 margin inside the red disc (see Kapadia 1937).

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 8, meaning 48.

The red disc in the middle of the right-hand margin contains the number 48. 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 corrections in smaller script. For example, on line 3 the scribe had written the word maṃgaliya – ‘auspicious’ – instead of laṃgaliya – ‘proclaimers’. The confusion came from the fact that maṃgaliya occurs slightly later in the same sentence.

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. On this page the glosses are especially numerous.