What Is The “Kalpa Sutra” In Jainism?

Not to be confused with Hindu’s textbook on erotic love called Kama Sutra, the Kalpa Sutra is a biography on numerous Tirthankaras with a primary interest in Mahavira and Parshvanatha. The text is mostly used by the Sventambara (one of the two main sects of Jainism). The oldest copies unearthed date to around the 14th century and were written in India, which is the largest hub for Jain followers (although the faithful live all over the world in smaller numbers). 

Newer copies of the text (meaning any that were transcribed after the oldest copies) began to be illustrated sometime in the 15th century. Often, they were painted to show the life history of the figures detailed within. 

The text was likely written down by Acarya Bhadrabahu, who was believed to be the last Shruta Kevalin (even though the Svetambara sect believes the last Shruta was a different man). He also wrote four other Chedda sutras and a number of commentaries on Jain scriptures.

Radha Kumud Mokerji wrote, “The oldest inscription of about 600 AD associated ‘the pair (yugma) Bhadrabahu along with Chandragupta Muni.’ Two inscriptions of about 900 AD on the Kaveri near Seringapatam describe the summit of a hill called Chandragiri as marked by the footprints of Bhadrabahu and Chandragupta munipati.”

Keep in mind that Acarya Bhadrabahu lived from approximately 367 to 298 BCE. 

Mokerji continued, “A Shravanabelagola inscription of 1129 mentions Bhadrabahu ‘Shrutakevali’, and Chandragupta who acquired such merit that he was worshipped by the forest deities. Another inscription of 1163 similarly couples and describes them. A third inscription of the year 1432 speaks of Yatindra Bhadrabahu, and his disciple Chandragupta, the fame of whose penance spread into other words.”

The Tirthankara “Parshvanatha” was sometimes called “Parshva” or “Paras,” and was the 23rd of 24. He likely lived during the 8th or 9th century BCE, or slightly later according to most historians, and was known to have revived Jainism from bankruptcy.  

When we say “bankruptcy,” we don’t mean in the traditional sense. It isn’t possible for a Jain monk or nun to go bankrupt, which means the concept has little meaning to the most devout followers of Jainism. They have no belongings of their own, and male monks typically don’t even wear clothing! Visit website for more information on bankruptcy. Although the term has more meaning elsewhere, one might say that a Jain monk or nun with no access to historical texts, temples of worship, or fellow Jain members, would be bankrupt. 

Like most religions, Jainism has had high points and lows. Parshvanatha was simply a man who brought the religion out of one of those low points.

“Mahavira” was the 24th of 24 Tirthankaras, and sometimes he was also called “Vardhamana.” He was of royal blood, and was born early in the 6th century BCE somewhere in Bihar, India. He was known for his utter obedience to the five vows of Jainism, including ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha.