The painting, a highly populated canvas, is essentially a Tantric pata. The ten Mahavidyas, namely, Kali, Tara, Tripura-sundari, Bhuvaneshvari, Chinnamasta, Bhairavi, Dhumavati. Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala, represented in the upper register, are by themselves Tantric deities or rather the Tantric manifestations of the Devi : the Supreme Divine Female, presiding over various Tantric rituals and practices; however, Lord Vishnu’s ten incarnations : Matsya - Fish, Kurma – Tortoise, Varaha – Boar, Narsimha – Half Lion-Half Man, Vamana – Dwarf, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Balarama and Kalki, represented in the lower register, and exactly in the same order as according to the texts they emerged, have been visualized in the painting for accomplishing Tantric objectives.
The artist has rendered this transformation not by visually effecting a change in their iconography or image-forms but by simply associating with each one a ‘Yantra’ – cosmic diagram and the principal instrument in Tantra-sadhana – Tantric practice. Such Yantras have been drawn also under the images of Mahavidyas for further emphasizing these deities’ Tantric nature and hence their power for greater accomplishment. In Tantrism every Yantra has a deity that presides over it; however, this folk visualization of the theme does not contend that the Yantra drawn under a particular deity is that deity’s Yantra and that such deity presides over it. Apart, some of the Yantras are not drawn exactly in the form classified in various Tantric texts.
Though with iconographic forms of the most of the Mahavidyas portrayed alike their exact identity is a bit difficult, the painting seems to adhere to their established order in the texts. The painting represents in its upper register from right to left, the four-armed Kali with a girdle of severed human hands on her waist and a decapitated head in one of her hands; the Fearful One, Bhairavi, with skull-garland around her neck; the lotus-seated Tripura-sundari; the enthroned Bhuvaneshvari in command of the world; Tara, the goddess who guides through life’s turmoil, the goddess of learning carrying book in one of her hands; Chinnamasta, the Self-decapitated goddess with devotee figures on either side she is feeding with her blood; Dhumavati, the goddess with an old age wrinkled face carrying a basket (winnowing basket) type attribute; the two armed Bagalamukhi holding the tongue of an enemy in her one hand and a club to strike with, in the other; the four-armed Matangi seated on an altar or throne carrying in her hands club, sword, noose and goad; and, Kamala, a Tantric transform of goddess Lakshmi carrying in all four hands lotuses.
The bottom register illustrates from right to left : Matsyavatara, Lord Vishnu’s Fish incarnation he had for leading to safety Manu’s boat; Kurmavatara, Vishnu had to let gods accomplish ocean-churning successfully; Varahavatara, Vishnu had for restoring the earth; Narsimhavatara, he had for eliminating the arrogant demon Hiranyakashipu; Vamanavatara, he had for restoring to gods their lost land from the mighty demon Mahabali; Parashurama, the son of sage Jamdagni, eliminating the wrongful Kshatriyas twenty-one times and cleansing the earth; Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, who killed the Lanka’s demon king Ravana; Krishna, crowned with a peacock feather, who killed Mathura’s atrocious demon king Kansa; Balarama, the elder brother of Krishna, holding a plough, who helped Krishna; and finally, Kalki, the tenth, to emerge as a Brahmin’s son, the same as he has been portrayed. Except three figures : Chinnamasta, among Mahavidyas, and Vamana and Kalki in incarnation panel, all figures are wearing lotus crowns, and except Chinnamasta and Varaha all figures have three eyes.
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.