Title: King Siddharta Listens to an Astrologer Forecast the Conception and Birth of His Son, the Jina Mahavira: Folio from a Kalpasutra Manuscript
Date: Late 14th century
Culture: India (Gujarat)
Medium: Opaque watercolour on paper
Dimensions: 3 3/8 x 13 13/16 in. (8.6 x 35.1 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of Asian Art, Evelyn Kranes Kossak Gift, 1997
Accession Number: 1997.133
The story of Mahavira as recounted by Hemachandra tells of the Jina’s father, King Siddhartha, summoning astrologers to his court to interpret Queen Trisala’s dreams of a future son. They foretell that their son will be either a universal ruler (chakravartin) or a universal religious savoir, a Jina. The dynamic and engaging scene shows a masterful control of form-defining line and a sensitive use of gesture. Both figures wear finely embroidered translucent muslins and are sheltered by honorific umbrellas.
The earliest Jain illuminated manuscripts are inscribed and painted on prepared palm-leaves and bound with cords passing through holes in the folios. The folios are encased in wooden covers that are often decorated with religious or historical themes. Book covers continued to be made in later centuries.
After the introduction of paper into western India from Iran around the 12th century, Jain texts were increasingly written on this new and more versatile medium. The use of paper permitted larger compositions and a greater variety of decorative devices and borders, although the format of the palm-leaf manuscript was retained. By the end of the 14th century, deluxe manuscripts were produced on paper, brilliantly adorned with gold, silver, crimson and a rich ultramarine derived from imported lapis lazuli.
The major centres of Jain manuscript production were Ahmedabad and Patan in Gujarat. Other centres included Jaisalmer, Gwalior, and Delhi. The patrons were mainly Svetambara Jains, who considered the commissioning of illustrated books and their donation to Jain temple libraries (bhandars) to be an important merit-making activity.
Symbolism or Symbolic art has been frequently associated with Jainism since its inception. There can be no better evidence than the 14 great dreams that Trishala Mata saw before giving birth to the 24th Tirthankar, the Mahavir Swami.
These dreams are considered so symbolically auspicious that any pregnant woman seeing these 14 dreams is believed to be giving birth to a Tirthankar. Interestingly, KalpaSutra is believed to be one of the sources of ancient dream interpretation theories.
Comments by Guy, John:
Masterful control of form-defining line and sensitive use of gesture animate this painting. The two figures are given further fidelity through the finely hatched beards and animated styling and patterning of the textiles. The use of the saturated red ground projects the figures into the foreground, a pictorial device already employed in the earlier book covers.
References: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 1985–2007. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008, pp. 28–29, 43.