The natural pigments that are used for the chitras look great on this patta. While themes usually revolve around Jagannath (for the obvious reasons) and avataras of Krishna, this pattachitra depicts the Ardhanarishvara instead. The deity is stands on a blooming lotus with the seated Nandi muzzling Shiva's feet. Parvati's saree is long and flowing, while Shiva is draped in an austere tigerskin. Her shringar is ampler and more feminine than the grim bands of rudraksha on His limbs. The curves of Her anatomy are more defined, Her thick straight tresses cascade down Her back while His wavey locks are flying in the wind. His jatamukuta is complemented by Her luxuriant crown. Winged celestial beauties floating amidst the clouds on either side of the pattachitra on top complete the composition.
The priest is in traditional saffron and ivory clothing. The sindoori rug he stands on is strewn with petals from the flowers of offerings he has made to the mother of all rivers. On a raised platform are arranged the stuff of traditional Hindu offering and aarati - a conch, a handheld bell, a bunch of fresh moist marigolds, and some libation contained in a jar. More lamps are placed at the side, from the earthen diyas to the traditional Indian lampstick and the crackling dhunuchi letting out the auspicious smoke. Note how naturalistic is the portrayal of the flames dancing in the winds brought forth from the Ganga. A number of rickety wooden boats are parked near where the dhoti-clad priest stands offering his arati, which one could make out against the inky blue of the Ganga by zooming in. The same is separated from the all-encompassing darkness of the nightsky by a film of black paint that constitutes the Varanasi cityline.
The White Tara is the very picture of beauty and serenity. As if sculpted from a pearl, She is bedecked with gold and jewels, rubies and emeralds and turquoises no less. Her pastel-coloured silks and sashes float about Her body, setting off the graceful poorna-padmasana that She has assumed. Clouds and lotuses and wild Tibetan foliage, all quintessential elements of the traditional thangka, frame Her figure, seated as She is on a gorgeously coloured lotus in full bloom. The aureole that surrounds Her has been painted in intricate detail. The foresty green hue of Her halo, rimmed with gold lotus petals, sprouts shocks of ethereal greenery throughout the circumference. Beneath Her lotus-pedestal is a hint of the ocean's blue, at the mouth of which is a bunch of precious Buddhist offerings. Two wrathful deities surrounded by their respective flame-aureoles hold up to Her a plateful more of offerings each.
The beauteous countenance of Tara is framed by lengthened earlobes, and a tiara of gold, jewels, and flowers rests on Her brow. Her half-shut eyes radiate an otherworldly calm and collectedness possible only for a deity as powerful as She is. Note the eyes on the palms of Her hands as well as the soles of Her feet.
Her shringar is relatively simple but replete. A clutch of necklaces, a sash cascading down across Her distinctly maternal torso, a kamarband to hold the silken dhoti in place, and a profusion of bracelets all along Her arm and anklets and rings. Her sweet sharply featured face is framed by long, kundala-laden ears, the beautous brow dotted with an elongated bindi. Despite the minimalistic sculpture of the countenance, the radiance of wisdom and maternal calm pours forth from the composure. Note how the silk of the dhoti clings against Her superb musculature, revealing Her divine proportions. In fact, the hallmark of good sculpture lies in the precision with which the limbs and the digits are carved. The pedestal is atypical of Indian iconography - numerous layers, freshly blooming lotus, a world of intricate engraving in each layer.
Madhubani paintings are evolving. Today they are not only the stuff of mud walls but also mobile works of art done on cloth, canvas, and handmade paper. This painting is done on handmade paper, and depicts a popular religious subject, Lord Ganesha, like most Madhubani paintings do. He is the boy-deity loved and worshipped by all for His inimitable innocence and generosity with divine boons. The laddoo-wielding trunk and the broad kundala-adorned ears are signature aspects of Ganesha. Superbly intelligent eyes and the Shaivite tilak indicative of His parentage complete the countenance. His shringar-laden and janeu-clad torso resembles that of a chubby child; the dhoti-draped limbs are no different either. A plateful of laddooes lies before Him, whilst He holds naother pot of His favourite Indian sweetmeat in one of His four hands. The remaining hands (in anticlockwise direction) bear a nutcracker, a mudra of blessing (this one is tattooed with the swastika), and a gorgeously blooming lotus. Unusually enough, jet black hair cascades down His back from beneath the rim of His crown, and the background resembles some sort of a darbar that He is holding.
The painting that you see on this page is a stylised composition of a bharatnatyam dancer. Her form is sublime, of which depicted herewith are the mudra of her hands, the ghungroo on her feet, and the beauty of her face. Her hands and feet are dyed the vivid red of the alta, a locally made liquid derived from crushed hibiscus flowers. Gold bangles tinkle at her fair wrists, and pristine silver adornments grace her neck and her ears and the parting of her jet black hair.
She lowers her head ever so subtly. She is drawn in by the music, her eyes shut, a serene smile playing on the corners of her red-lipped mouth. A gracious red bindi surrounded by dots of sandalwood paste marks the location of the mythical ajna chakra. Against the statement gold backdrop of the composition, the dancer’s mudras and musculature seem to have a particularly lifelike quality.
The ten-armed goddess is holding in her hands on the right side sword, trident, disc, lotus-bud and an arrow, and in those on the left, snake with shield, conch, mace, bow and in the fifth, the demon’s hair. In an astonishing move, she gets up from over her mount lion and while supporting her massive figure just on a single foot, set firmly on her mount’s back, she charges upon the demon with a mighty blow of her other foot, and another, that with her spear on his chest and the completely dismayed demon submits to her and to his destiny. Baffled by her blows as he is, the goddess catches hold of the demon’s hair and drags him close to her feet where her mount lion charges at him and tears his figure, and her ferocious snake, one of her attributes, shakes him with horror disabling his all mental faculties. The goddess rises into the space pervading it in entirety and the demon, overpowered by her blows, falls on the ground blow.
Installed in a sanctum the figure of the goddess, obviously the goddess Durga – the most widely worshipped female divinity and one of the most widely worshipped deities of Hindu pantheon, is essentially a sanctum image. Durga’s votive images, enshrining sanctums, are mostly in operative forms though at the same time she has a form that is all-pervasive, the act she is represented performing being just the most insignificant aspect of her being. She is usually represented as killing a demon, in most cases the buffalo demon Mahisha, known in the popular tradition as Mahishasura, and hence, the goddess, as Mahishasura-mardini – suppressor of the demon Mahisha. In popular sculptural/visual traditions Mahisha, meaning buffalo, is a figural blend of human and buffalo anatomies, mostly a human head emerging from a buffalo’s body; however, sometimes, as here in this powerful painting, he is also represented only with human anatomy. In myths and conventions of visual representations, it is mostly Mahishasura whose body the goddess’s lion is alluded to as tearing for accomplishing the goddess’s crusade against evil powers. Sword and shield are widely alluded to as being Mahishasura’s attributes. This determines the demon’s identity as Mahishasura.
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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