At the center of this wooden manuscript cover sits the goddess of arts and learning, Sarasvati. She features in the ancient Hindu text Rig Veda as the personification of the now nonexistent sacred river Sarasvati, and is later revered as the goddess of speech, poetry, music, and learning. She represents the union of power and intelligence. Here Sarasvati is depicted in her typical form--as a beautiful woman, seated on a lotus with the musical instrument vina (lute).
Sarasvati is here being worshiped by four of Hinduism's important male gods: in front are her companion the four-headed Brahma, and Vishnu (now partially damaged); behind her stand Shiva (in a tiger skin) and Indra, god of the sky. Sarasvati is also venerated by Jains and Buddhists, both of whom emphasize knowledge as the means to liberation.
(Object label from Worshiping Women: Power and Devotion in Indian Painting.)