The former of the two myths expands into emergence of Brahma riding a lotus rising from the navel of Lord Vishnu and effecting Creation on Vishnu’s behest. The two myths, thus, appear to contradict each other; they however represent only two stages of thought-evolution or of the process. The earth-related myth asserts only that the earth – lifeless mass, emerged riding the head of Shesha, literally meaning ‘the last’ or ‘what lasted’; summarily, Shesha lasted the Great Deluge, and the earth, carried over its head, was the ‘foremost of what lasted’. The aggregation of the two myths is that on one hand Shesha couriered Lord Vishnu, the enlivening divine power, and on the other, the earth, the ‘lifeless mass’ to be enlivened, which Lord Vishnu accomplishes by producing Brahma from his navel and assigning him the act of Creation, that is, the act of enlivening this ‘lifeless mass’. Thus, on Lord Vishnu’s behest Brahma created life enlivening the lifeless matter : the earth, and accomplished the Creation infusing life into ‘the lifeless’. Many myths acclaiming restoration of the earth to its axis also support this position and is in agreement with the modern evolution doctrines that perceive precedence of dead mass and its evolution and emergence of life as subsequent.
The cloth-painting, rendered using a wide range of brilliant colours, all major techniques of cloth-painting : dying, block or screen printing and painting, and those of drawing outlines or forms using pen and geometry with amazing thrust, represents in its centre Lord Vishnu reclining on the coils of the great serpent Shesha and his consort Lakshmi massaging his feet : the primary theme of piece. It is obviously a decorative hanging with a mythical theme known in the domain of textile art as Kalamakari, a term meaning ‘drawn’ or ‘painted’ with ‘kalama’ – pen, a tradition evolved in the South, especially Andhra and Karnataka, parallel to the North Indian Pichhawai tradition, both still practised and with far greater thrust and trans-regional boundaries denoting two painting styles rather than two geographies. Unlike a Pichhawai which is a regular painting : a complete brush-work, exclusively with Krishna, it theme, Kalamakari does not confine to a particular kind of theme or imagery, and is primarily the work of pen, though, as in this piece too, now in consideration of cost-factor a Kalamakari drawn completely with pen is a rarity.
As it appears from the presence of gods to include Indra with his thunderbolt, sages to include Narada with his lyre, attendants to include Hanuman and the trident carrying Shiva-duti, besides Vishnu’s mount Garuda, all gathering around or moving toward Lord Vishnu, the art-piece seems to celebrate the cosmic event of Lord Vishnu’s emergence over the surface of Kshirasagara represented in the painting at bottom as dotted blue space. He is reclining on the golden-hued checks-drawn coils of the serpent Shesha. An exact circle, the great serpent’s head consists of seven blue-coloured hoods. The four-armed figure of Lord Vishnu is carrying in the right upper, a flower, in the left upper, conch, in the left lower, a lotus, and the lower right is held in interpretive posture. His usual mace is held under his right arm. With her normal two hands Lakshmi is massaging Vishnu’s feet. In her other two hands she is carrying lotuses, her regular attribute. With a round front face, large roundish eyes and an elevated neck Lakshmi reveals great beauty. There rises from Lord Vishnu’s navel a full-blooming large lotus enshrining Brahma on its top. The four-faced and four-armed Brahma is carrying in two of his hands the Veda and a rosary, while the other two are held in ‘abhaya’ and ‘varad’.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.