The caption 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.

This picture shows King Gardabhilla within his fortress of Ujjain, represented by the crenellated semicircle. He is seated on his throne and his gestures indicate that he is performing a spell. The animal at the entrance of the castle is the 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 into the mouth of the she-ass. The oddly dressed Śakas are led by her brother, the monk Kālaka, on horseback.

This painting illustrates an episode in the life of the monk Kālaka. In the course of his wanderings, Kālaka travels to a country beyond the Indus. There live the Śakas, whose chiefs have the title sāhi and whose king is referred to as sāhāṇusāhī. Thanks to his magical powers, Kālaka wins the favour of one sāhi and convinces the Śakas to go to Malwa, the capital of which is Ujjain. The monk and his allies aim 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. The monk instructs the men to shoot arrows into the mouth of the she-ass so she cannot utter a sound.

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

  • 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.

Other visual elements

The number 117 at the bottom of the right-hand margin is the folio number. It is a high number because this manuscript is the continuation of the Kalpa-sūtra manuscript Or. 13959.

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 one or more 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.

These red circles are ornamented with diamonds and floral motifs. The margins are also decorated with blue patterns. This is common in manuscripts of the Kalpa-sūtra and the Kālaka story, which are objects used in ritual during the Paryuṣaṇ festival.


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

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

  • 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, which, though they are used to divide the long sentences into smaller parts, are not necessarily punctuation marks.

Here, each pair of red lines surrounds the stanza number, which is at the end of each stanza. In red ink, the stanza numbers on this page are:

  • 35 in the middle of line 2
  • 36 at the beginning of line 6.