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Browsing: Kālakācārya-kathā (Beta 365)

Image: Kālaka and the Śakas defeat Gardabhilla

Title: Kālaka and the Śakas defeat Gardabhilla

Wellcome Trust Library
Beta 365
Date of creation:
probably 15th to 16th centuries
Folio number:
6 verso
Total number of folios:
Place of creation:
western India
Māhārāstri Jaina Prākrit
watercolour on paper
28 x 11 cm
Wellcome Library, London
JAINpedia Copyright Information


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.


The Kālakācārya-kathā'story of the religious teacher Kālaka' – emphasises the connection between religious practice and magical abilities. As an accomplished Jain teacher, Kālaka can master various magical sciences and transmute brick into gold. He uses his powers to help the Śakas, a foreign population. In exchange, the Śakas help him destroy the wicked king Gardabhilla.

This eventful tale belongs to the Śvetāmbara Jain tradition. It is known in several versions in various languages and is often illustrated.

The story is frequently found as an appendix to the Kalpa-sūtra because the last part of the story explains how Kālaka changed the date of Paryuṣaṇ. This annual festival was moved from the fifth day of the bright half of the month Bhādrapada – roughly equivalent to August to September – to the fourth. The Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in Paryuṣaṇ.

The version of the story here is that of Bhāvadeva-sūri, a Jain Śvetāmbara author of the 13th century CE. It is written in Jaina Māhārāṣṭrī Prakrit and represents a short recension, where the story is told in simple language without poetical embellishments.


[When Kālaka and the Śakas surround Gardabhilla in his fortress, the Śakas realise the fortress is empty and ask why. He replies:] "Today is the eighth day, [when] the king is trying to master the great magic power called 'she-ass'. Just see."
While they were looking they saw the magic power and informed the monk.
He said: "Once it has been mastered, the she-ass will make a noise such that, on hearing it, the full army [of an enemy] will lose consciousness. Therefore, take all two-legged and four-legged creatures and stand at a distance of two leagues away, then place 108 accomplished soldiers at my side."
They did so. And when the animal opened its mouth wide, the soldiers immediately filled its mouth with arrows, following the monk’s instructions. The she-ass was then made speechless.

translation by Nalini Balbir


1. [rāyā ajja mahā-vijjaṃ gadda]hiṃ nāma kattha vi /47/ sāhei. tā niruveha /  te-
2. hiṃ aṭṭālae tao / nirūvaṃtehiṃ sā vijjā / diṭhā 
3. siṭṭhā ya sūriṇo /48/ teṇ’ uttaṃ gaddahī 
4. saddaṃ / taṃ kāhī kaya-sāhaṇā jaṃ so-
5. ccā savva-sennaṃ pi / hohī niviṭṭha-ce-
6. yaṇaṃ/ 49/ to gāoya-dugaṃ tubbhe osaritūṇa ci-
7. ṭṭhaha / savve savvaṃ pi giṇhettā / duppayaṃ ca cauppayaṃ

[on the following missing folio:
 /50/ saddavehīṇa johāṇa aṭṭhottara-sayaṃ puṇo ṭhaveha mama pāsammi. tehiṃ savvaṃ tahā kayaṃ /51/ aha jāva tirikkhīe dūram ugghāḍiyaṃ muhaṃ tīe akaya-saddāe ceva johehiṃ tāva taṃ /52/ sūri-sikkhāe tūṇaṃ va jhatti bāṇehiṃ pūriyaṃ. haya-satti tti sā naṭṭhā viṭṭhaṃ kāuṃ niv’ovari / 53/]


Common Era
The period of time starting with the year when Jesus Christ was traditionally believed to have been born. Using CE is a more secular way of dating events in a multinational, multi-religious world.
The Book of Ritual attributed to Bhadrabāhu. It has three sections:
  1. 'Jina-caritra' – 'Lives of the Jinas'
  2. 'Sthavirāvalī' – 'String of Elders'
  3. 'Sāmācārī' – 'Right Monastic Conduct'.
A significant sacred text for Śvetāmbara Jains, the Kalpa-sūtra has a central role in the annual Paryuṣaṇ festival.
An eight-day festival in August / September, which is the most important event of the religious calendar for Śvetāmbara lay Jains. They fast, read, spend time with monks and meditate. The last day is the occasion for public repentance. Reading the Kalpa-sūtra and sponsoring new manuscripts or editions of this canonical book are associated with this festival.
'White-clad’ in Sanskrit, the title of one of the two main divisions of Jainism, in which both male and female mendicants wear white robes. There are some differences of doctrine or belief between these two sects and to some extent their followers consider themselves as belonging to distinct branches. Divisions can be fierce in practical matters, for example, over the ownership of pilgrimage places, but all sects see themselves as Jains.
Someone who withdraws from ordinary life to meditate and practise physical hardships in order to advance spiritually. Jain ascetics or mendicants beg for food from devout lay followers and wander the land. Also used as an adjective to describe the practice of rigorous, even extreme, physical hardships in the belief that it leads to a higher spiritual condition.
Giving up or limiting food or specified foods for a period of time, usually as part of a religious practice. Fasting is a key part of Jainism, chiefly because it is believed to:
  • help destroy karmas that bind to the soul
  • gain merit – puṇya.
A man who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to formally enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, monks perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
A woman who has taken a public vow to withdraw from ordinary life to enter religious life and advance spiritually. Frequently, nuns perform physical austerities or undergo physical hardships in order to progress spiritually.
A sequence of actions that must be followed to perform a religious ceremony. The set of actions is largely symbolic, for example offering food to statues symbolises sacrificing to a deity. The ritual actions are often accompanied by set phrases.
A term for any of the dead vernacular languages of ancient and medieval India. It may be contrasted with classical Sanskrit, the language used by priests and the aristocracy. The Jains used a large variety of Prakrits, with the Jain canon written chiefly in Ardhamāgadhī Prākrit.
Bright fortnight
The half of the lunar month in the traditional Indian calendar in which the moon is at its fullest.
Jaina Devanāgarī
The distinctive version of the Devanāgarī script found in Jain manuscripts.
Māhārāṣṭrī Prākrit
A dialect of the Prākrit language used in some Jain writings.
A single sheet of paper or parchment with a front and a back side. Manuscripts and books are written or printed on both sides of sheets of paper. A manuscript page is one side of a sheet of paper, parchment or other material. The recto page is the top side of a sheet of paper and the verso is the underside.
The Indian or South Asian subcontinent is a term for the geographical area roughly covering modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The very popular Story of the Ācārya Kālakā recounts the adventures of the Śvetāmbara monk Kālakā. Emphasising the connection between religious practice and magical abilities, the story is frequently found as an appendix to the Kalpa-sūtra because it explains how Kālaka changed the date of Paryuṣaṇ . This annual festival gives a central role to the Kalpa-sūtra scripture.

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