On the top level a man is seated in the lotus posture, with hands folded and wearing a single white garment. He wears a strange headdress. There are two fires either side of him. 

In the bottom panel a black snake comes out of a rectangle on the left, by a man holding an axe. On the right a male figure sits astride a horse.

The caption in the right-hand margin says: Kamaṭha paṃcāgni – ‘Kamaṭha [and] the five fires’. The man in the top panel is the heretic Kamaṭha, with the sun represented by the unusual headdress. The four fires and the hot sun beating down from overhead comprise the ‘penance of the five fires’. 

The snake is coming out of a log that has been split by the man with the axe. The figure on the horse is Prince Pārśva.

This scene illustrates a famous episode. Pārśvanatha or Lord Pārśva follows crowds on their way to worship the ascetic Kamaṭha. Pārśva knows that a snake is hiding inside one of the logs being added to one of the fires. He orders a servant to take out this piece of wood and to split it carefully. A large snake slithers out, half-burnt but alive.

The long protruding eye is a typical feature of western Indian painting. Its origin is unclear.

Other visual elements 

As with many Kalpa-sūtra manuscripts, there is a clear intention to make the manuscript a valuable and remarkable object in itself. This aim is signalled by:

  • the shape and style of the script, which is close to calligraphy
  • the profusion of gold in the paintings 
  • the decorated borders with blue floral arabesques 
  • the three circles filled with red ink and surrounded by blue and gold ornamental motifs.

The three circles along the central horizontal plane are symbolic reminders of the way in which manuscripts were bound at one time. Strings through three holes in the paper 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 used for the main text is the Jaina Devanāgarī script, in a form which recalls calligraphy. It is used for writing numerous Indian languages, here for Prakrit.

There are a few notable features of this script:

  • 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.

In this particular folio there are occasional rings over the writing. These notate the nasalised vowels and are used instead of simple dots. There are examples above the first line.