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Chaturbhuja Bhadrakali Pendant Round

Chaturbhuja Bhadrakali Pendant Round

Contained in a small, circular pendant, this image of the Devi Bhadrakali is as awe-inspiring and ferocious as they get. Portrayed on sterling silver, the iconography is stunningly replete. She is dark-complexioned and long-limbed. Her tresses fall in wild curls about Her shoulders, and a sliver of the silver moon rests on Her brow. Her pearls-and-jewels shringar is what practically clothes her besides the girdle of severed human arms around Her loins. In Her four arms (ashtabhuja) are the remains of vanquished adharmees and the sword She has weilded against them. The aspect of her that truly conveys Her power as Devi are Her large, bloodshot eyes, and their fierce, determined gaze.

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.

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Krishna Disguised as a Gopi Teasing Radha

Krishna Disguised as a Gopi Teasing Radha

Rendered in Marwar idiom of Rajasthani art style, pursuing the theme, style and everything of an early nineteenth century miniature from Jodhpur, in its exactness except the painting’s size and the background colour of the circle in the centre containing the figures of Radha and Krishna, the painting portrays a grieving Radha for Krishna’s failure to reach there despite the promise he had made her, and Krishna disguised as a Gopi standing before her. Radha had brought with her lotuses for Krishna but the same now lie on the ground. She is unable to raise her head and dispel her disappointment which further aggravates when she thinks how for him she had adorned herself like a bride and had come so far in the night. The full large moon and the colourful nature around make her more miserable. The night is advancing and she does not know if he would join her or she shall have to pass the night in this grove of trees all alone save a few compassionate cows as eagerly awaiting Krishna’s arrival.

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.

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Simhavahini Durga, Wielding A Weapon In Each Of Her Eighteen Arms

Simhavahini Durga, Wielding A Weapon In Each Of Her Eighteen Arms

No finite number of limbs suffices for the most ferocious of the Indian pantheon. The Devi Durga's force is invincible; Her weapons to vanquish all traces of adharma, many. While devies of ihloka (the earth) and parloka (the latter realm ie the heavens) are born to serve their respective husbands, Ma-Durga was born to conquer the most demonic and lord of asuras Mahisasura. When most devies adorn themselves with gold and jewels befitting their status in society, the finest of weapons such as the trishool that towers over Her head and the numerous goads and swords in Her many hands are Her primary shringar. Despite Her widely venerated ferocity, Her beauteous form is not wasted on devoted artisans who try to capture Her in their art and sculpture.

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.

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Almond-Cream Handloom Carpet from Kashmir with Knotted Flowers All-Over

Almond-Cream Handloom Carpet from Kashmir with Knotted Flowers All-Over

Nothing like a statement handloom rug from India to add some personality to your space. This sturdy, luxuriantly knotted number would be a great pick. Its pure cotton foundation gives it much-needed sturdiness, while the sheer variety of skilfully knotted flowers in the foreground oozes with traditional glamour. Kashmir has been the home of such signature rugs of the Orient, the exclusive artistry for which has evolved over generations of professional weaver families. In fact, the skill that has gone into the gorgeous silk embroidery as well as the kind of flora that has been reproduced in the pattern are both endemic to the valley.

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.

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Laskhmi Necklace With Pink Gemstones (South Indian Temple Jewellery)

Laskhmi Necklace With Pink Gemstones (South Indian Temple Jewellery)

The Indian jewellery tradition is rich with both beauty and meaning. Of the three types that all the jewellery made in the subcontinent could be classified into, temple jewellery is the most beauteous. The other two are spiritual jewellery, which are astrological prescriptions of gems and beads; and bridal jewellery that draws from the aesthetics of temple jewellery and the luxuriance of spiritual jewellery. Temple jewellery is dominated by the king of precious metals, gold, and are designed to adorn the idols in India's magnificent temples. The Lakshmi necklace that you see on this page is a fine example of temple jewellery of the South, where the best of Indian temples reside and consequently the best of gold jewellery is made.

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.

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Mahavidya Matangi

Mahavidya Matangi

The Goddess Matangi is a blend of the serene and the fierce from the Hindu pantheon of goddesses. She is the shyaam-rang (dark-complexioned) form of the Goddess Saraswati Herself, Who manifested herself as the daughter of the chandala, Rishi Matang. This was because of his intense aspiration to Brahminhood through the acquisition of knowledge (Saraswati is the goddess of learning). Mahavidya Matangi (of great learning) wields in her four hands the sickle indicative of her ferocity, a kapala symbolic of her association with cremation grounds (chandalas have traditionally been responsible for the rituals following death), and a slender veena that likens Her to Saraswati. In other words, Mahavidya Matangi is the Tantric form of Saraswati.

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.

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Sarasvati Plays On Her Veena And Dances

Sarasvati Plays On Her Veena And Dances

Of all the Sarasvati murties that have been made in India, this superbly elegant cocoa-finish sculpture is a rare example of Her iconography. She is widely revered as the Devi of learning and the arts, venerated especially by students, lovers of books, and performing artistes across the subcontinent. Wife to Brahma Himself who is responsible for creation of the world, the knowledge that She presides over is a prerequisite to the process He presides over. She is never idolised without the musical instrument of Her choice, the veena that She strums on to produce divine music. In this unusual sculpture of the Devi, She is portrayed in the midst of a complex dance routine - a knee is bent with the ankle raised midway through the length of the other leg, which is in turn balanced on the toes.

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).

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Nautical-Blue Madhubani Radha Krishna Sari

Nautical-Blue Madhubani Radha Krishna Sari

There is much to Bihar that makes it one of India's culturally most significant states. It is the home of superfine Indian silk weaving as well as the most exquisite of tribal folk arts, the Madhubani painting. The beauty of both have been captured in the gorgeous saree you see here. Dyed a blue so deep and gray it reminds one of dangerously deepening oceans. Zoom in on the solid-coloured field to appreciate the precision of such skilfull weaving, something that has been perfected by the region's venerated weaver families across generations. Team this with some statement silver pieces and probably a few jewels that match the colours of the madhubani border.

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.

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Krishna Surrounded By His Dancing Radha

Krishna Surrounded By His Dancing Radha

The charm of Madhubani paintings is multifold. Perfected by the women of the Mithila region of Bihar, this folk art form came about as a means to beautify the mud dwellings of the region. While these paintings have evolved to more mobile media such as fabric, canvas, and handmade paper such as the one you see here, the themes and technicalities of workmanship remain traditional. The dyes used are naturally derived vegetable-based pigments, often used in addition to lampblack and ochre. The lines and shapes employed, minimalistic. The themes are of a devotional nature, with the finished paintings giving away the spiritual inclinations of the artist who made it. This is a painting of the best-loved of Hindu deities, Krishna Himself. He is playing the characteristic flute, to the music of which dances His precious Radha.

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.

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Richly Adorned Kamalasana Ganesha, His Lifelike Gaze Encompassing The World

Richly Adorned Kamalasana Ganesha, His Lifelike Gaze Encompassing The World

It is not just His childlike innocence that makes Ganesha one of the most popular deity of the Indian pantheon. The adorable form of a chubby little boy, His generosity with blessings and boons, and that unfailing love of laddooes - so much so that His iconography is incomplete without a bunch of the delectable Indian sweetmeat in the picture - endear Him to His devotees. The fateful samudra-manthan episode of the Bhagavatapurana establishes Ganesha's role in restoring the necessary balance to the universe. It is He who ensured that the nectar obtained after much ado from the depths of the ocean is efficiently accrued. This He did by raising an obstacle that disheartened the devas themselves. When the devas and the asuras began to churn the ocean with the serpent Vasuki tied around the Mandara mountain, it gave way and plunged into the ocean. Vishnu realised that none other than the mischievous Ganesha had caused it to happen, so He assumed the tortoise form of Kurma and held up the mountain on His back to facilitate the manthan.

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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