A large figure sits in the lotus position in the centre of a gold-painted circle. Around the perimeter of the circle are animals and birds.

The figure is the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, who is shown as having reached omnisciencekevala-jñāna – following 12 years of suffering extreme physical trials.

The abstract concept of achieving omniscience is usually represented by illustrations of the samavasaraṇa. This word, which means ‘universal gathering‘, refers both to an architectural structure and to the meeting itself. The structure has three walls, with four entrances in each of the four cardinal directions. The circular shape, seen here, is the most common one. A less frequent variant is the square shape.

The universal gathering is the quintessence of the universe, in which the various beings of human, gods and animals each have a particular place. The Jina sits at the centre, where his speech can be heard in all directions by all beings who carefully and respectfully listen to him. He can deliver his teaching only after reaching omniscience. This is why this notion is represented by the samavasaraṇa.

In depictions of the universal gathering, people enter the doorways to pay homage to the Jina. It is common to show animals that are normally enemies peacefully listening in pairs to the Jina’s teaching. On this page, in the:

  • top-right corner, a snake is shown facing its enemy, the mongoose
  • bottom-right corner, a snake faces another of its enemies, the peacock
  • top-left corner, a lion is shown facing its prey, the antelope
  • bottom-left corner, a lion faces its enemy – the elephant.

Lines 5 to 6 of the adjacent text tell how the 24th Jina meditated during 12 years: appāṇaṃ bhāvemāṇassa duvālasa saṃvaccharāiṃ viikkaṃtāiṃ. On line 6 it states that during the 13th year – terasamassa saṃvaccharassaMahāvīra reached omniscience.

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 50 is placed above the sign for 2, meaning 52.

The red disc in the middle of the right-hand margin contains the number 52. 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.

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.