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Painted against a flat almost formless background, except a narrow strip of green on the bottom defining the earth and some patches of blue suggestive of clouds, the eight-armed blue-bodied Bhadrakali, Kali in her benign aesthetic bearing with ferocious and repulsive aspects shed, stands on a dead body lying with its face down. She has before her the figures of the four-faced and four-armed Brahma, ‘pitambara’ – yellow costume wearing Vishnu, and the three-eyed Shiva clad in tiger-skin, all with their hands folded paying her homage in supplicating gestures. Besides his folded hands in the other two Brahma is carrying a ‘kamandala’ – a water-pot with a spout and handle, and a book symbolic of the Vedas that he is acclaimed to have written. Though not as large as the Devi’s, the three figures have been elaborately delineated and are quite large, though as suggest the gestures of their bodies, in relation to the goddess they have only a subsidiary status. In Basohli style crown-wearing figures, male or female, carry lotuses, usually three, in their crowns. As Shiva does not wear a crown or alternates it with his ‘jata’ – coiffure, and a lotus in ‘jata’ would have only ridiculed his appearance, the Basohli artists painted, as in this painting, his ‘jata’ to itself look like a large lotus bud or a lotus just to bloom.
This form of Kali, without her usual garland of severed human heads, girdle of human hands, a skull-bowl in one of her hands, a blood-smeared lolling tongue, crows in the sky and jackals and burning corpses around, is known in the iconic tradition as Bhadrakali, the exceptionally graceful and majestic form of the goddess. Instead of, in the painting the goddess has been conceived carrying attributes like ‘vina’ – a kind of lyre, in one hand, and a lotus in the other, and a few other in her crown, adding to her aesthetic aspect: the essence of Bhadrakali iconography. She has been portrayed with a round face except a little protruding chin, large lotus eyes, broad forehead, small elegantly shaped lips and sharp nose, and above all, a gracious figure and sublime form: all revealing her aesthetic charms. Apart, she has been portrayed as carrying a sword, pestle, lotus and chopper in her hands on the right, and conch, goad, noose and ‘vina’ in those on the left. Her figure has been enormously bejeweled and elegantly costumed.
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.