Sep 7, 2021
Sep 7, 2021

Mahavira's Initiation Tonsure, Folio 37 (verso), from a Kalpa-sutra

Mahavira's Initiation Tonsure, Folio 37 (verso), from a Kalpa-sutra

c. 1475–1500

Part of a set. See all set records

Gum tempera, ink, and gold on paper

Overall: 12.5 x 25.7 cm (4 15/16 x 10 1/8 in.)

Edward L. Whittemore Fund 1932.119.37.b



When Mahavira chose to renounce his life as a prince to seek omniscience and ultimate liberation, he traveled from his palace to the countryside until he came to a wooded park. The text states that under an ashoka tree in the park, Mahavira removed his ornaments and garlands and plucked out his hair with his fists in five handfuls. In the illumination he unflinchingly grasps a fistful of hair, his pectoral muscle flexed with the effort. Indra, the four-armed king of the gods, sits under a royal canopy on a lower level than Mahavira and praises his extreme act of self-mortification. The dramatic moment is effectively conveyed through the pert and wiry line drawing and bold palette of pigments made from lapis lazuli, vermilion, and lavish amounts of gold.

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