Whatever Shiva's forms, or in whichever forms he split himself, or contains in him, are manifestations of Linga, the ante-form of all forms, an entity beyond form. The Shiva Maha Purana has repeatedly emphasised on Shiva's Linga and Ber aspects, Linga being his formless aspect, and Ber, his anthropomorphic. The painting seeks to synthesise this duality of Shiva by portraying within a Linga icon, which is also the 'jyoti' - flame, Shiva's all major twenty-five manifestations or 'lilas', which the twenty-five faces of the image symbolise. Appearing in various parts of the Shiva Maha Purana, as also in other texts, these lilas/manifestations are broadly tabulated as under :
Uma-Maheshvara - living with Uma, the basic image in this painting; Vrashavahana - having the bull as his mount; Chandrashekhara - carrying moon on his coiffure; Tandava, dancing to annihilate; wedding Parvati; Bhikshatana - the beggar; one who burnt Kamadeva; subduing Yama -the god of death; Tripurantaka - destroyer of Tripura; annihilator of the demon Jalandara; Gajantaka - one who killed the elephant demon Gaja; creator of Virabhadra; Hari-Hara; Ardhanarishvara; Kirata - his hunter transformation; assuming the form of Kankala - skeleton; Neelakantha - on who drank poison; redeemer of Chandushvara; one who gave Sudarshana-chakra to Vishnu; progenitor of sons with Uma; one who destroyed all obstacles; manifesting as Eka-pada Rudra; being in Sukhasana - a posture of ease; Dakshina-murti; and, assuming Linga form.
Two forms are basic in this representation of the theme, the flame-like shaped Linga, and with Uma seated on Shiva's left thigh, Uma-Maheshvara. Astonished Uma is looking at Shiva and at this strange phenomenon; thus, astonishment is the leading sentiment of the painting. Numerically, this form combines five forms in his Sadashiva or Pancha-mukha manifestation for besides the main Uma-Maheshvara icon with fifty arms and nine faces in its ascendance it grows with four more torsos, at least the bust-parts, having on them seven, five and three faces; the last one having just one. Thus, the figure combines five forms, in aggregate, assignable to each five faces and ten arms.
In Shivite tradition of thought, Shiva's five faces represent primarily his five manifestations as Tatpurusha, Vamadeva, Aghora, Sadyojata and Ishan. Under another school of Shaivite thought these five faces symbolise 'pancha-bhutas' - five cosmic elements, the constituents of the cosmos, perceiving the cosmos as existing in Shiva. Other traditions perceive variously Shiva's five faces as five jnanendrian - physical senses, five karmendrian - organs of operation, and five directions or cosmic regions. The Tantrika perceives them as five Kundalini-chakra in place of five jnanendrian. Maybe, instead of creating five Sadashiva images for representing these five sets of symbols, the artist has conceived his image combining in it five Sadashiva forms representing their total symbolic breadth.
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.