Kalpasutra manuscript page: Monks and Devotees

Accession Number

Kalpasutra manuscript page: Monks and Devotees


Artist Nationality
Indian (South Asian)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

4 5/16 in x 10 3/16 in (11 cm x 25.9 cm);4 1/4 in x 10 1/4 in (10.8 cm x 26.04 cm)

Credit Line
Museum purchase, Acquisition Fund

Label copy
March 28, 2009
Indian book arts originated in the form of paintings on palm leaves secured between wooden covers. Leaves were pierced in one or two places to allow a cord to be threaded through and bound around the covers. Early manuscripts made from paper, such as this one, preserved the horizontal shape of palm leaf manuscripts but increasingly expanded in format to provide a taller, less restrictive surface. The ubiquitous red ground of earlier palm-leaf manuscript paintings remains, but the chromatic range is extended by the introduction of gold and ultramarine. Golden orbs mimic the perforation holes traditionally provided for the binding cord, though no holes have been made. Here, they are purely decorative, referencing the conventions of a sacrosanct format. Such continuity is particularly appropriate for this canonical text, a copy of the Kalpasutra (Book of Ritual), which provides an extended biography of Mahavira and establishes his historical position as the twenty-fourth tirthankara.
(Label for UMMA South and Southeast Asia Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject matter
Some of the earliest Indian paintings on paper are found in manuscripts of the Kalpasutra, a popular text that recounts the lives the jinas or “spiritual victors” of the Jaina religion. The paper was cut into horizontal pages, following a long tradition of palm-leaf manuscripts. In paper as in earlier palm leaf books, loose-leaf pages were flipped, bottom to top, as one read them; the verso (back or reverse side) of one folio would be seen with the recto (front side) of the following page.
Here monks and nuns sit in rows offering homage to one of the jinas or a teacher, who probably was depicted on the preceding folio. The convention of depicting the faces in profile with a projecting “further eye” is common in early painting throughout northern India. It is only in the early sixteenth century that this “further eye” disappears. This manuscript page is the earliest painting in the exhibition.

Physical Description
The horizontal folio from a Kalpasutra manuscript consists of seven lines of text to the left and center broken by a squarish gold symbol framed in a red line and cusped blue lines. Gold diamond shapes framed in red are at the sides, with a vertical red line between the one on the left and the text. Between the text and the right diamond shape there is a painting consisting of three registers of figures against a red ground. The top row depicts three laymen wearing crowns, the middle two monks and a nun and the bottom row three nuns.

Primary Object Classification
Unbound Work

Primary Object Type

Additional Object Classification(s)

Collection Area

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manuscripts (document genre)

3 Related Resources

Art of the Mughal Empire
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
Introduction to Manuscripts and Early Print
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

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