The Five Jewels or the Pancharatnani of the Mahabharata - Kashmir or Punjab Hills, India 19th Century
Title: A finely illuminated and illustrated copy of the Bhagavad-gita, together with four other shorter Vaishnava texts. Together these five works are popularly known as the “Five Jewels” (pancharatnani) of the Mahabharata.
Particulars of this manuscript: This copy is undated but is probably 19th century. Its illumination and illustration are clearly Kashmiri in style, although the miniatures show some Pahari influence. The use of illumination may have been adopted from Islamic manuscripts.
Contents: Before the main Bhagavadgita text itself, this copy contains (as often found in manuscripts) the text of the ritual that precedes the Gita’s recitation, the Bhagavadgitamalamantra. The Gita text is then followed by four other short Hindu devotional works: the Vishnusahasranama, the Bhishmastavaraja, the Anusmriti, and the Gajendramoksha.
Significance of the work: The Bhagavadgita is generally regarded as the greatest embodiment of Hindu spirituality. It forms part of the Bhishmaparva (‘the book of Bhishma”, the commander of the Kaurava forces) of the great Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata. It is in the form of a dialogue between the Pandava prince Arjuna, and his charioteer, Krishna. On the eve of the great battle of Kurukshetra, prince Arjuna was struggling with the moral dilemma of whether it was right to go to war against his own family, his Kaurava cousins. Krishna explains the right path to devotion through a life of selfless action. Mahatma Gandhi called the Bhagavadgita his “spiritual dictionary”
Foliation is continuous for Bhagavadgitamalamantra and Bhagavadgita – all other texts have separate foliation sequences.
The author: Authorship of the entire Mahabharata, including the Bhagavadgita, is traditionally ascribed to the sage Vyasa. But this epic is an accretion of stories and texts rather than a single narrative, comprising over 100,000 verses, four times as long as the Ramayana and ten times the size of the Greek epics, the Iliad and Odyssey, combined. The Mahabharata was probably composed over a period of several centuries, and it is impossible therefore that it was the work of a single author – different portions were written at different dates by different people.
Illustrations: The illustrations are inserted at the beginning of the manuscript, between each of the eighteen chapters of the main Bhagavadgita text, and after it. They mostly depict the incarnations of Vishnu even though these are (with the exception of Krishna as charioteer) tangential to the text. The illustrations are described in the the illustrations on the sidebar and below. There are are total of 22 original illustrations and several opening pages.
Technical description: Paper manuscript in pothi format in Sanskrit comprising over 350 folios. Each page has 5 lines of text in Devanagari script in black ink, with the punctuation in red, enclosed in orange and gold rules. Each page has outer purple rules. The first page to each work (and also to most of the chapters within the Bhagavadgita iself) contains just 3 lines (with the central one being written in gold ink) surrounded by a richly decorated border with floral and arabesque patterns in blue and gold. The binding is of green cloth, probably velvet, and there are marbled end-papers – both show signs of damage. The dimensions of each folio are 22cm x 14cm (8.6 in x 5.5in)
Provenance: Private collection
Comparable material: Being one of the most popular texts of Hinduism, manuscripts of the Bhagavadgita are are frequently illustrated and found in many important collections. Similarly illuminated and illustrated manuscripts can be found in John Guy, Palm-leaf and paper: illustrated manuscripts of India and Southeast Asia (Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1982) pp. 37-38; in Manuscripts from the Himalayas and the Indian subcontinent. Catalogue 17 (London: Sam Fogg Rare Books, 1996), pp. 47-48; and in B. N. Goswamy, The word is sacred, sacred is the word: the Indian manuscript tradition (New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2006), pp. 218-221.
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