Except that the background is not suggestive of cremation ground which Chinnamasta graces with her presence, the painting represents an authentic version of her image as various texts Brahmanical and Buddhist, prescribe. Various Tantrika hymns invoke Chinnamasta as Digambari nude, garbed in space, symbolically, free from all coverings of illusion, and, as full-breasted, suggestive of the motherhood in her being ceaseless, and so being in her the eternal preserver. She wears a garland of severed human heads and a number of snakes adorn her various parts. These severed heads symbolised wisdom and power. Initially, this garland comprised fifty-two heads corresponding to the number of Devanagiri alphabets, the key to knowledge, which enhanced wisdom and power. In her right hand she carries a pair of shears, sometimes alternated with a sword. Texts have prescribed for her blood red complexion with which she symbolises life in its incessant flow. She is one who decapitates herself and holds her severed head in her left hand, sometimes in a platter. In the process three jets of blood spurt from the cut stump of her neck, one streaming back into the mouth of her own severed head and other two, into those of the yoginis Dakini and Varnini, flanking on either sides. Alike nude, Dakini and Varnini are blue-complexioned, wear garlands of severed heads, carry in one of their hands a pair of scissors and in the other a scull-bowl, have dishevelled hair and, snakes girdles apart, some ornaments adorn their figures. Beneath the goddess lay Kamadeva, personifying sexual desire, and his wife Rati, engaged in sexual intercourse. Rati is usually on top. The copulating couple is stretched out on a full blooming lotus. In some versions Rati and Kamadeva are alternated with Radha and Krishna.
In stark contrast to what one would normally see in this stunning iconographic scenario the gruesome decapitation, the copulating couple, blood-consuming nude females, barren terrain around
the painting reveals the truth that life, sex, and death are part of an interdependent, unified system, that it is in the destruction of life, in the death, that the life is fed and re-cycled, and that the ultimate destiny of sex is to perpetuate more life. Chinnamasta, standing on the back of the copulating woman, draws from the couple, as also from the lotus symbol of life and cosmic unity, powerful life force. Vigorously participating in the ultimate act of affirming life the couple conveys a strong, insistent, vital urge to the goddess with the result that life, in the form of three jets of blood, gushes out from her being and passes into the figures of Dakini and Varnini and in the mouth of her own decapitated head and perpetuates further life. Life, which the goddess produces from her own being apart, Dakini and Varnini, Brahma's Shaktis representing inertia and gross nature, gain life in Chinnamasta's destruction. Amongst all Devi forms, even Durga and Kali who sustain and promote life from the sacrifice offered to them by their devotees, Chinnamasta destroys her own life to sustain and promote it beyond her in other forms. More than Annapurna who only gives and more than Satakshi who only receives, Chinnamasta is one who receives life from the copulating couple and with far greater vigour passes it on to others requiring it and is thus more accomplished model of cosmic unity the life that lovemaking couple represents, the death which reveals in the form of the goddess herself and the nourishment which manifests in the form of flanking yoginis.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.
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