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Browsing: Kālakācārya-kathā (Or. 13475)

Image: Laying siege to Ujjain

Title: Laying siege to Ujjain

The British Library Board
Or. 13475
Date of creation:
perhaps 15th century
Folio number:
117 verso
Total number of folios:
Place of creation:
Rājanagara (modern Ahmedabad), Gujarat
Sanskrit in Devanāgarī script
opaque watercolour on paper
28 x 12 cms
CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)
Image copyright: Creative Commons Public Domain


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.


Prince Kālaka was the son of King Vajrasiṃha and of Queen Surasundarī in the town of Dharāvāsa and an accomplished young man. Once he went for a horse ride in a park. He heard a deep voice and went towards it. He discovered that the voice was that of the Jain monk Guṇasundara, who was teaching. He sat down to listen to him respectfully. Convinced by the teaching, Kālaka asked his parents' permission to enter monastic life.

The Kālakācārya-kathāStory 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 one known as Śrīvīravākyānumatam. These are the words that start the text. It is written in Sanskrit and represents a short recension, where the story is told in simple language without poetical embellishments. By an unknown author, it is one of the most popular versions.


Follower of the 24 Jinas or an adjective describing Jain teachings or practices. The term 'Jaina' is also used although 'Jain' is more common.
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.
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 Sanskrit term that describes the wandering lifestyle of Jain mendicants. Jain monks and nuns are expected to travel around, not stay in one place as householders do. They wander constantly on foot, never staying more than a few days in one place. They may walk around 30 kilometres a day in small groups. However, every year, during the monsoon, monks and nuns stay in one location to avoid travelling.
A classical language of India, originally used by priests and nobility. Sanskrit has a rich literary and religious tradition. With only a few thousand native speakers nowadays, it is predominantly used in Hindu religious ceremonies and by scholars.
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.
A public commemoration of a religious ritual. Often a celebration that involves holding a religious ceremony to mark an important event in a religion's history. 
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.

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