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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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Cornsilk Carpet from Kashmir with Ari-Embroidered Flowers All-Over

Cornsilk Carpet from Kashmir with Ari-Embroidered Flowers All-Over

The valley between the Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountain range produces what counts as the stuff of dreams across the world. Endemic wool and silk weavings, silversmithing and pottery, and the highly coveted pashmina and cashmere shawls and jackets are some of the valley's beauteous offerings. However, the most exquisite object to emerge from the local looms is undoubtedly the Kashmiri rug, that is reputed to have carpeted European courts and the homes of the elite since the third century. This cornsilk number is a fine example of the famous Kashmiri rug. It boasts of a palette of statement-making colours - solid reds, dark blues, and earthy browns - and a generous proportion of gorgeous ari embroidery.

Ariwork has an instantly recognisable finish. The style is endemic to Kashmir, and as such no artisan in any other part of the world has the skill to produce such magnificent embroidery. Zoom in on especially the central red panel of this rug to take in its beauty. On the top is a continuous chain stitch supported by multiple small straight stitches beneath, done using locally made crewel needles. The resulting embroidery is of signature florals that include delicately curving tendrils, superbly shaped petals, and numerous other details that are indescribably beautiful. Laying this on your floors and chilling on it on a quiet evening indoors would almost transport you to the exotic Orient.

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The Silhouette Of The Buddha

The Silhouette Of The Buddha

The pristine conch shell of India occupies a place of veneration in Indian culture. The original bugle that functions as an emblem of power and sovereignty, it could be found in the hands of Arjuna (Devadatta) as well as Vishnu (Panchajanya). The slender, paper-thin shell is found in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, as well as in the Himalayan foothills and the Tibetan plateaux. The conch, of the rightward-spiralling variety that is in this painting, is called dakshinamukha and considered especially sacred. A rarity in nature, these conchs are Tibetan ritual musical instruments and a symbol of religious and dharmic authority in the Buddhist tradition. The true form of the Buddha could be gauged from 32 different signs, of which a voice as deep and resonant as the sound of the conch is one. In fact, visual imageries of the Buddha (sculptures and paintings) consist of 3 conch-like curves on His neck to indicate that His voice is as sweet as the music of the conch.

This painting therefore depicts the Buddha's face next to the form of a conch. It is a graceful, curvaceous conch; its body ornamented with engravings to enhance the natural beauty of its shape. Its rightward spirals are in tandem with the celestial motions of the heavenly bodies as well as the whorls the Buddha's tresses are arranged in, His conch-esque navel, and the urna (the third eye indicative of divine vision) on His brow. In this painting the Buddha's eyes are shapely and shut, the curve of His brow resembling the wings of the free albatross in motion. A long slender nose ends right above a lotus-like mouth, which are set against a full countenance bearing a composure of tranquility. The tips of His lengthened lobes almost graze His shoulders, on which is draped a robe of gold. While the background is occupied with cloud formations, a shower of gorgeous red petals dominates the foreground. Both these symbolisms are drawn from the rich thangka tradition of Tibet. Note the gentle glow of the halo that lines the silhouette of the Buddha, almost like it surrounds the conch itself.

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The Invincible Kali, Seated Under A Flaming Prabhavali

The Invincible Kali, Seated Under A Flaming Prabhavali

This elaborate brass sculpture is a variation of the Kali iconography, and Hers is a distinct iconography. Her stance is far from the unassuming body language of Indian devies; She is clad in very little by way of clothing and shringar; and there is a ferocity about Her composure, which matches the weapons She wields in Her numerous hands. This one is a lone Kali composition, seated on an inverted lotus pedestal as opposed to stepping on Her supine husband, Shiva. She is the ashtabhujadhari (eight-armed), and each of the spiritual implements in Her possession is enough send shivers down the adharmee's spine. In fact, this statue is the very image of ferocity and invincibility, both of which divine qualities are writ large across Her countenance.

An unusual crown seemingly made from sharp spines is held in place by a band of lotus petals. It is impossible to meet the gaze of Her raised brow without shuddering at the thought of one's own share of adharma. A fierce mouth completes the countenance framed by dangling kundalas from each ear. The rest of Her shringar comprises of necklaces cascading down Her torso, and a bunch of amulets and anklets that clothe Her gracious limbs. The pedestal She is sitting on is at the centre of an even larger pedestal, the base of which is engraved with lotus petals. From the base pedestal emerges a statement prabhavali (aureole) rimmed with flames that are a symbol of the destruction of adharma.

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Sari with Gita Border and Pallu Depicting Images of Radha-Krishna (Fuchsia-Purple Baluchari)

Sari with Gita Border and Pallu Depicting Images of Radha-Krishna (Fuchsia-Purple Baluchari)

When it comes to Indian figured silks, Baluchari sarees come second only to Banarasi brocades. While the two are very similar in terms of technique employed in the weaving and finish, Balucharies are characterised by supplementary-weft or -warp borders and the untwisted silk threads that constitute the fabric. The latter is in stark contrast to the generous proportions of zari that go into the Banarasi brocade. This statement pink number is a fine example of the Baluchari silk. Having emerged from the complicated multi-warp and multi-weft drawlooms found in Bengal's Murshidabad district, the sheer amount of skill and labour that has gone into this work is obvious from its great beauty.

Balucharies are known to tell a story. The endpiece of this variety of Indian sarees are embroidered with contrasting coloured threads, such as pale gold against the deep shimmering pink of this one. Repetitive panels depicting moments of Radha-Krishna's togetherness are punctuated by rows of minsicule paisleys on the endpiece, and a panel of the lone Radha dancing runs through the centre. The border despite the narrowness is intricately embroidered with scenes from the Gita, as is the norm with these BEngali silks. As gorgeous as Indian silks get, we suggest you team this with the best of your gold hand-me-down pieces.

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Tibetan Buddhist Sarasvati, Bringing Nature Alive With Her Veena

Tibetan Buddhist Sarasvati, Bringing Nature Alive With Her Veena

Skin a glacial white, a veena in Her hands, and minimalistic shringar - these are the characteristics of the Buddhist Sarasvati as portrayed in this brocadeless thangka. Just like in Hinduism She presides over learning and the arts, which explains the musical instrument always present in Her iconography, and is wife to Manjushri, the Buddha that embodies wisdom, very similar to Her association with Brahma in preserving what has been created. Her Tibetan Buddhist name is Yang Chenmo, invoked by Mipham Rinpoche in the text Sherab Raltri with the following lyrics, "In the expansive lotus-garden of speech of all the conquerors,/With 100,000 melodious blooms of holy Dharma,/You are a singing swan that shines as bright as moonlight,/May you now enjoy the vast lake of my mind."

Amidst the gently blooming, pale pastel-coloured petals of the freshwater lotus, She sits with Her ankles crossed and knees raised. She strums the beautifully tattooed veena to make such divine music that makes the clouds in the background swim across the sky and the waters of the stream in the foreground swirl. The angulature of the curves of Her beauteous torso and the wisps of rich green silk that float about Her betray the fact that the deity is motioning to Her own music. From the flowers in Her black hair complementing the haloed gold crown, as minimalistic as the rest of Her shringar, to the gorgeous landscape that surrounds Her, each element of nature in this thangka is highly characteristic of this type of Tibetan Buddhist painting.

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