Devi Bhadrakali stands on the prostrate form of a man on the grass. Except for the hints of adornment on His arms, neck, and lobes, He is naked. The dominant colour of the background is the rich golden yellow of the tropical sunset. A layer of thick, pale blue clouds have been painted along the arc at the centre of which is an embossed aum syllable in smooth silver. The foreground comprises of the glowing green grass on which the ensemble stands, superimposed with a jet of water. The pristine silver of the foundation rims the composition. This statement pendant would inspire whoever sets eyes on it with an eerie curiosity about Devi Bhadrakali.
Krishna, mischievous as he is particularly when inventing ways for teasing Radha, is already standing before her but disguised as a Gopi and, as he had pre-meditated, Radha fails to recognise him not only because he is in a Gopi’s guise or has his face covered with the sari’s end, but also because with her bent head she is able to see only his feet and the sari worn around his legs. As if all this is not enough, for further beguiling her Krishna alternates his peacock feather-crest with an elaborate ‘benda’ – a forehead ornament, and instead of his usual flute carries a vina – a stringed instrument, like Todi Ragini manifesting the mood of separation in love. Except his blue body colour he has merged his identity completely with the Gopi’s. Maybe, Krishna struck the strings of his lyre but Radha, lost in his thought, might not have heard it at all, and this might have inspired Krishna to tease her more and more. Allegorically, Krishna as Gopi, that is, one as Radha – the soul in devotion, herself, asserts that a heart would find Him like itself if it truly merges in Him.
Obviously, it was after the Bhagavata Purana and the Jaideva’s Gita-Govinda discovered dimensions of Krishna’s divinity in his love’s sport, there developed a huge body of myths that sublimated not only Krishna’s fondness for Radha, or Radha’s passionate yearnings for him but also many lighter aspects of life, the essence of Krishna’s Vaishnavism that accepted the life as it is and discovered its divinity in its sublimation. The great masters like Vallabha and Chaitanya added to such narrative and poetic dimensions of the Bhagavata and the Gita Govinda philosophical perspective and devotional cult and elevated them to the status of God’s divine sport with Krishna manifesting Him, and Radha being its timeless medium. When the fanatic Mughal rule of the later days sought to trample Vaishnava icons under its boots and the institution of Vaishnavism was in great peril, Rajasthan emerged as the timeless sanctuary of Krishna’s worship cult and there emerged not only a huge body of art portraying Vaishnava myths but also numerous shrines.
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.
This fine bronze of the Devi Durga is an apt representation of this complex deity. She has eighteen arms, each wielding a unique heavenly implement, and rides the lioness no less fierce than She is ('simha' in Sanskrit is lion; 'vahini', one who rides). She is seated in lalitasana on Her back, Her stance unswerving, Her gaze determined. She is bedecked in a silken saree and ample golds that serve to bring out Her superlative beauty. Her haloed countenance bears a composure of maternal affection, which goes with Her anterior-most hand raised in blessing. The features are carved in such lifelike detail as could be found only in Swamimalai, the home of bronze. Together with Her vahana, She is placed on a sturdy tri-layered pedestal of relatively simple form.
The ivory tassels along the breadth of this rug bring out the flush of earthy tones and pastels that make up the colour palette. The one-of-a-kind floral and rangoli-esque motifs are best appreciated by zooming in on each of the delicately edged panels, separated by strips of the pristine foundation. They are made through the signature knotting technqiue of the Orient, using threads of silk against the cotton foundation. One could spend hours chilling indoors on this beauty, beating the winter with a large fire and gazing at the handiwork of Kashmiri artisans.
Like the quintessential piece of temple jewellery, this necklace has a charm that is otherworldly. It is for the regal - nay, divine - appeal of traditional South Indian temple jewellery that classical dancers have been donning them in their devotional routines. This one is but a series of miniscule clasps with dangling paisley-shaped nuggets of precious metal. Each series is punctuated by a Devi Lakshmi figurine, the largest of which lies at the bottom of the necklace in enshrined padmasana (lotus-seat) glamour. Fashioned from sterling silver, this is a classic South Indian temple jewellery number that would be a statement addition to your jewellery-box. Note the dreamy pink stones that dot the glittering surface of this piece, enhancing its feminine appeal.
In this one-of-a-kind watercolour, She sits atop a delicate pink lotus in full bloom, Her tender foot rested on a lotuspad. Her figure is full and broad, adorned with ample golds and pearls and jewels. From beneath Her elaborate ruby- and emerald-studded gold crown emerges a sea of superbly curly, frizzy black tresses that seemingly have a life of their own. Note the glow of the third eye that suffuses the Devi's even temple.
Undulating hills, their verdant coat set off by the grace of the twilight sun, constitute the background, together with a couple of temple-like structures to the left of the painting.
Made from the popular medium of brass but with features as beauteous as if they were sculpted from bronze, the rest of the Sarasvati iconography is intact. She has the lithe form of a classical dancer, Her limbs bent in the most gracious of natya motions. An ornate crown as tall and slender as She is rests on Her brow. A dhoti of super-fine silk is draped navel downwards, while Her torso as well as arms and ankles are laden with layers of shringar fit for a heavenly deity. Apart from the veena in Her anterior hands, She holds a pothi and a rosary in the posterior hands. The sashes emerging from Her lotus-petalled halo spread about Her shoulders, while the ones descending from Her waist add balance to the composition. She is placed on a pedestal that has four layers featuring lotus petal engravings (alternate layers) and pistil-shaped carving (the topmost).
It is indeed the pale ivory creme and pastels of the dense madhubani border that bring out the blue of this saree. Having traditionally been done on mud walls and primitive canvases, the sharp geometric curves and the natural colour palette of this style of painting have been reproduced here on the delicate silk fabric. The border consists of one long sprig of foliage held in by panels of miniscule cursive and triangular motifs. The all-important endpiece, as well as the part of the border across the pleats leading up to the same, feature a rustic black-haired beauty dancing in the woods. More elaborate motifs of the evergreen florals of Bihar could be found in the gracious falls of this saree.
The depiction of Radha-Krishna in this painting is most unusual. While Radha is seen to dance to Her Krishna's music in many compositions, this one has the Krishna figure at the pistil. A figure of Radha is painted on each of the petals that surround it. Her arms are raised, Her ghagra flowing to the motions of the dance. Her jet black hair cascades down Her back. Despite the minimalistic strokes of the brush that are atypical of Madhubani paintings, the 12 figures in this painting are each replete with befitting shringar. Krishna's flowing silks and elaborate crown have been painted with painstaking detail, the trees behind Him the very picture of the Vrindavan of His boyhood.
Pilgrims to Tiruvanjali, where the samudra-manthan is said to have taken place, pray to the Shveta Ganpati on the banks of the Kaveri to this day. Polished almost the colour of rose gold, this sculpture of Ganesha brings out the innocence and generosity of His demeanour. Seated in lalitasana on a blooming lotus, He is draped in the silks and shringar fit for the heavenly being that is Shiva-Parvati's offspring. His trusty vahana, the mouse, stands at His feet, offering Him another laddoo (that plump belly is proof that no amount of sweets is enough for the Lord!). The usual implements are in His hands - weapons, His own broken tusk, and of course the laddooes. The superb crown, together with the ornately engraved halo and shapely, generously adorned elephant ear-flaps, conveys a great deal of majesty. Note how lifelike are the eyes of the Lord, and the tattooed trunk that curls down over His torso.
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