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Paintings > Hindu > Goddess > Bhairavi as Shamashan Kali in the Devotee’s Vision
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Bhairavi as Shamashan Kali in the Devotee’s Vision

Bhairavi as Shamashan Kali in the Devotee’s Vision

Bhairavi as Shamashan Kali in the Devotee’s Vision

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This exceptionally powerful miniature, a contemporary work but with a theme imbued with traditional ethos and character, represents Bhairavi appearing in the vision of an accomplished female Tantrika. Not engaged in any Tantrika rituals, and with divine aura around her face, flame of fire emitting from her mouth and crescent descending on her head, the female practiser seems to have attained such heights in Tantra-sadhana where she can summon any divine power, her presiding deity in particular, into her vision. Clad in tight blackish green and a skull-garland around her neck, seated in full ease and with wide open eyes the ‘sadhika’ – practiser, is absorbed in deep thought. As is commonly believed, summoning a divine power is not the same as summoning a friend. It every time takes away a bit of one’s life. The flame of fire bursting from her mouth suggests that in summoning the deity a part of her vital energies has been consumed. Round glowing face with powerful features : cute small lips, sharp nose, thoughtful eyes and broad forehead, the young ‘sadhika’ does not have a Tantrika’s rugged look. Her figure has been aesthetically conceived and romantically poised.

The realisation takes place in the cremation ground where besides numerous burning pyres, dead bodies, limbs, skeletons, bones, half-burnt pieces of wood lying scattered around and a lot of smoke and flames of fire rising from burning pyres there also roam jackals and dogs greedy of human flesh. For enhancing the thrust the artist has identically conceived the margins on all our sides adding to dogs and jackals also the figures of monkeys, lions, crows and vultures. This vision of the goddess is largely a blend of her two forms, Bhairavi and Shmashan Kali, the divinity presiding over cremation ground in particular. Bhairavi, consort of Shiva as Bhairava, is often painted as red, the symbol of energy in which Bhairavi abounds. This form of the goddess has black mixed with red to suggest perhaps that it also represents Kali’s Shmashan Kali manifestation. Both Shmashan Kali and Bhairavi wear on their breasts skull-garlands, though the style of their girdles varies. Shmashan Kali’s girdle often consists of severed human hands, not of skulls as does that of Bhairavi. Shmashan Kali has large awful fangs and a lolling tongue, not a semi-composed face as has this form of the goddess. She is not carrying also her usual skull bowl.

The goddess has been portrayed as seated cross-legged on a corpse lying prone. The blood gushing from the severed neck of the corpse and a severed head lying around suggest that it has been just cut. Both, Bhairavi and Shmashan Kali, are represented as unclad though in visual arts their nudity is somehow managed; as here in this painting it has been managed by using skull-garlands and girdle both covering her private parts. The girdle comprises both, skulls and severed heads. With the rounded buttons-like small eyes with disproportionate white eyeballs, wide mouth with large lips and thick blunt expanded nose the face of the goddess is somewhat awful and does not have the charm a goddess is supposed to have; however, despite such non-aesthetic appearance her face is not repulsive or loathsome as the Kali’s sometimes is. Her four-armed form carries sword, decapitated human head and trident. The fourth is held upwards with palm projected on the front as is done when held imparting ‘abhaya’ – freedom from ear. Here it seems to caution the wrong-doer. Large size ear-rings, large columns of bangles on both wrists and as large columns of anklets along with feet ornaments, bracelets and others comprising white beads, combined with her form, inspire awe.

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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  • I have tried to interpret the painting as below: "The desolate and gloomy setting of the shmashaans, filled with dark billowing smoke arising out of the funeral pyres, where the illusions created by ignorance, duality and form dissolve into the all pervasive and inert universal life force, becomes the playground of Shiva and Kali.\"

    Can someone give a more appropriate explanation for the above painting? I am looking forward to reading to other interpretations of the painting.
    by Bist on 10th Jun 2011
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