The phrase in the top-right corner says: gaḍharohu – ‘the siege of the fortress’.

Making a ritual hand gesture, a large richly dressed figure sits inside a semicircle, a blue-dappled animal at the opening. Above him is a small female figure, two vessels in front of her. Outside the semicircle are ranged three strangely dressed archers and a man on horseback dressed in a white-spotted garment, similar to that of the woman inside.

This picture shows King Gardabhilla within his fortress of Ujjain, represented by the crenellated semicircle. Sitting in front of a brazier, he is performing a spell, indicated by his gestures. The animal at the entrance of the castle is a she-ass, representing Gardabhilla’s magical powers. Her mouth is wide open to bray.

The woman inside the castle is the nun Sarasvatī, kidnapped by the wicked king. She might be performing magic or a kind of ritual, or be keeping a fast in protection against Gardabhilla, because fasts grant spiritual power. Outside the wall are the besiegers who have come to rescue her. The lowest archer is shooting arrows directly in the mouth of the she-ass. The oddly-dressed Śakas are led by her brother, the monk Kālaka, on horseback.

The Śakas live beyond the Indus river, which traditionally marks the boundary of the Indian subcontinent. Their foreignness is emphasised by their depiction in art, namely:

  • they have full flat faces
  • they have slanting eyes, not the protruding eye typical of Indians in painting from western India
  • their beards have a distinctive shape, similar to those found in Central Asian or Chinese populations
  • their clothes are very different from those of Indians.

This painting illustrates an episode in the life of the prominent ascetic Kālaka. In the course of his wanderings, Kālaka travels to a place known as Śakakūla, beyond the Indus. There live the Śakas, whose chiefs have the title sāhi and whose king is referred to as sāhāṇusāhī. Thanks to his magic powers, Kālaka wins the favour of one sāhi. Kālaka has convinced the Śakas to go to Malwa, the capital town of which is Ujjain, to rescue his sister, the nun Sarasvatī. She has been kidnapped by the wicked ruler of Ujjain, King Gardabhilla.

Kālaka and his allies besiege Gardabhilla in his fortress. Kālaka tells them that when the she-ass opens her mouth to bray, Gardabhilla’s wicked magic will make his enemies faint. He instructs them to shoot arrows into the mouth of the she-ass so she cannot utter a sound.

Other visual elements

There are several notable things about this page, namely that:

  • the original paper is slightly torn and has water stains
  • the bottom of the right margin contains the number 6, which is the folio number.

This version of the Kālaka story is in verse, with numbers at the end of each stanza, often between two vertical lines, like here. On this page they are:

  • 47 in the middle of line 1
  • 48 in the middle of line 3
  • 49 at the beginning of line 6.

The three red circles along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders of the way in which manuscripts were bound when they were on palm-leaf. Here the central one is in a square blank shape. Strings through three holes were used to thread together the loose folios so the reader could turn them over easily. The circles are in the places where the holes would once have been.


The elaborate script is the Jaina Devanāgarī script, in a form which recalls calligraphy. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here Prakrit.

There are a few notable features of this script, namely that:

  • it is an old type in the way the sounds e and o are notated when used with a consonant, known as pṛṣṭhamātrā script
  • the red vertical lines within the text divide the long sentences into smaller parts, but are not necessarily punctuation marks.