Goddess Gayatri

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This contemporary oil painting on canvas, revealing rare divinity and lustre, represents a five-faced and ten-armed goddess usually named as Gayatri. Though Gayatri also has a body of minor kind of myths cropped up around her, the origin and antiquity of the goddess is yet obscure. Gayatri, the name, or even a form as she has in visual representations, does not figure in main, or even in subordinate goddesses of Hindu pantheon. Now for centuries most of the subordinate goddesses of the pantheon are classed either as Mahavidyas or Matrikas, their number being ten and seven but often expanded to accommodate any new ones, more often those proliferating under various cults, Tantrika in particular. However, the five-faced form of the goddess, now universally revered as Gayatri, is not only one of the most popular themes of Indian arts, but also has a few independent shrines dedicated to her.

Besides that Gayatri is one of the goddesses of Hindu pantheon she also manifests or personifies the ‘shakti’ – power, of the great Vedic ‘mantra’ known by the same name, that is, the Gayatri-mantra. As a goddess is revered as three-aspected : as Gayatri, Savitri and Saraswati – Gayatri representing senses, Savitri, mastering ‘Prana’, that is, life, and Saraswati, speech, that is, commanding purity of thought, word and deed, Gayatri is hence linked with Brahma. A frequently quoted myth contends that Gayatri was one of the Brahma’s consorts. As the myth has it, once when performing a ‘yajna’ Brahma nominated his other consort Swara to host it along him. However, when the auspicious hour to begin the ‘yajna’ arrived, Swara failed to reach the venue. Gayatri was there and Brahma asked her to sit along him and host the ‘yajna’. On her arrival Swara, finding Gayatri sitting in her place, cursed her furiously to turn into a river. This transformed her into a river adding one more aspect to her being besides being the ‘shakti’ of the Gayatri-mantra and accomplishment of ‘yajna’.

This mythical position is, however, little accepted. Most of the Puranas class her as a Shaivite goddess. A yet different picture emerges in visual representations. Except that she has the ‘tri-netra’ on the forehead of the central face and one or two Shaivite attributes are included among the attributes she carries in her hands, the lotus seated and ‘chakra’ – disc, ‘shankha’ – conch, ‘padma’ – lotus, and ‘gada’ – mace holding Gayatri seems to have strong Vaishnava links and appears to be only a transform of Lakshmi. In the usual iconography of her image, besides a hand held in ‘abhaya’, and another, in ‘varada’, in six of her eight hands she carries Vaishnava attributes. She not only sits on a large lotus emerging from the deep ocean, much like a form of Lakshmi, but also holds in two of her hands lotuses and puts on the ‘Vaijayanti – the garland of fresh Parijata flowers typical of Vishnu. She is universally acknowledged as Annapurna : the Mother – the sustaining force that animates all life, an aspect more close to Lakshmi. In this visualisation of the goddess she is exactly the Lakshmi’s image only if she is without her additional four faces and a ‘tri-netra’ on the forehead.

The type of headgears the goddess is putting on her five heads, kind of iconography and the style of costuming reveal South Indian influence for the obvious reason that Gayatri has been a more popular theme of South Indian artists, especially those from Mysore. With her five faces, painted in five different colours : pale white, red, golden yellow, mauve, and pink, she manifests five constituents or elements of the cosmos – ‘pancha tattwas’, namely, ‘Prithvi’ – earth, ‘jala’ – water, ‘vayu’ – air, ‘teja’ or ‘agni’ – fire, and ‘akasha’ – sky. Her five heads are also seen as representing as ‘pancha-pranas’ or ‘pancha-vayus’ – five lives or five winds that sustain life. Of her ten hands in five she is carrying ‘pancha-ayudhas’ – five weapons : disc, mace, conch, goad and rod. Clad in red sari with gold-border along a green blouse and usual jewellery her total appearance illuminates with rare divine aura.

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$204 (20%)
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Item Code: OR34
Oil on Canvas
Dimensions 36 inches X 48 inches
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Free delivery
Fully insured
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100% Made in India
100% Made in India
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This large size oil painting, measuring 38 by 50 inches, represents goddess Gayatri emerging seated upon a huge lotus from the depth of ocean. The five faced and ten armed Gayatri is one of the popular Brahmanical female divinities, though she is neither one the seven Matrikas nor one of the ten Mahavidyas. Puranas attribute to her a myth or two, personalise and associate her with Brahma as one of his consorts, many scholars, however, and perhaps more reasonably, opine that Gayatri personifies the Shakti – energy, of the Vedic 'mantra' of the same name, not a goddess as is Parvati or Lakshmi. The Vedic Gayatri 'mantra' is revered as the supreme of all 'mantras' and the 'shakti' that it generated as the apex of 'mantra-shakti'. In all probabilities India's visual culture humanised this 'mantra-shakti' as the goddess Gayatri and gave her the name of the Vedic 'mantra'.

The Brahma Purana alludes to Gayatri as one of Brahma's consorts, though this allusion itself has symbolic dimension. Once Brahma was going to perform a 'yajna'. He wanted his other consort Swara to accompany him in performing it. Swara was not, however, available at that time. As mandated under ritual norms, the 'yajna' could not be accomplished singly without a consort. Brahma hence asked his other consort Gayatri to sit with him and perform the necessary rites. In the meantime Swara came back. She lost her temper as soon as she saw Gayatri seated with Brahma in her place for the 'yajna'. Infuriated Swara cursed her to turn into a river. However, before the curse materialised Gayatri accomplished the 'yajna'. In the Puranic tradition, Gayatri hence symbolises in simultaneity the 'mantra-shakti' for which she initially stood, sacred river by Swara's curse, and accomplishment of 'yajna' for being instrumental in performing it.

Perhaps for her diverse attributes, Gayatri subsequently emerged as one of the most powerful Tantrika deities. She is often meditated on as an aspect of Mahalakshmi. Though in the north not many shrines are devoted to her, she is in live worship all over, and is the presiding deity in various Tantrika practices. However, in South she is one of the most popular female divinities worshipped on par with Padmavati. The five-faced coral complexioned goddess represents multi-faceted female energy and thus embodies in one supreme form all feminine potentials manifesting in different individual goddesses. Though the deity's complexion is all over the same, her all five faces have different colours suggestive of energy's different constituents. She is required to deliver various goods and hence her ten hands, carrying different attributes – disc, mace, wine cup, lotuses, conch, goad and cane, besides, two hands in the posture of 'Abhaya' and 'Varada' – assuring fearlessness and bestowing bliss. In her usual iconography she carries also a whip and noose and hardly ever imparts 'Abhaya' and 'Varada'. The artist in the painting has substituted with 'Abhaya' and 'Varada' at least two instruments of war, perhaps for perceiving in her a more benevolent protective and bliss-bestowing mother, not much of a chastiser. Alike, not splendour, the painting strives at attaining a kind of cosmic mysticism, which its background reveals. From its oceanic depths and against its darkness she illuminates like rising sun which the colour of her body, costume and lotuses symbolises. Tantrikas revere Gayatri as the most auspicious and as one whose bare presence accomplishes all desired.

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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Oil painting technique – India centric

Oil painting is the most interesting technique in art. Unlike other paintings or art forms, oil painting is a process in which colored pigments are painted on the canvas with a drying oil medium as a binder. This medium helps colors blend beautifully to create layers and also makes them appear rich and dense. Several varieties of oil are used in this painting such as sunflower oil, linseed oil, etc., and depending on the quality of the oil, a particular consistency of the paint is developed. With the use of an oil medium, the painting gets a natural sheen on the surface which appears extremely attractive. India is famous for its old tradition of making oil paintings. This art form was brought by Europeans in the 18th century and is now practiced by almost all well-known artists. Nirmal, a small tribal town in the state of Telangana is the center of traditional oil paintings in India where the local people practice it with dedication. Most Indian artists still use the traditional technique of oil painting.

Canvas of the required size is prepared

The artists use either a wood panel or canvas made from linen or cotton. Sometimes the canvas is stretched onto the wooden frame to form a solid base, or cardboard may be used. The canvas is coated with a layer of white paint or chalk mixed with animal glue. This mixture is then smoothed and dried to form a uniform, textured surface. The wooden panel is more expensive and heavier but its solidity is an advantage in making detailed paintings with ease.

Sketch is drawn on the canvas

Now the artist starts to draw the subject of the painting on the canvas using the actual charcoal or a charcoal pencil. Sometimes, he may sketch with thinned paint as well.

Oil paint is applied using paint brushes or palette knives

Now that the rough sketch is prepared, the artist is now ready to paint. Oil paint, a special paint that contains particles of pigments suspended in a drying oil (usually linseed oil), is again mixed with oil to make it thinner for applying it on the canvas. Proper consistency of the paint is maintained to avoid its breakage. The most important rule for the application of oil paint is “Fat over lean” in which the first layer of paint is thin and later, thicker layers are applied. This means that each additional layer of paint contains more oil. This results in getting a stable paint film. Traditionally, paint was applied using paint brushes but now the artists also use palette knives to create crisp strokes. To paint using this technique, the edge of the palette knife is used to create textured strokes that appear different from that of a paintbrush. Sometimes, oil paints are blended simply using fingers for getting the desired gradation.
Smaller oil paintings, with very fine detail, are relatively easier to paint than larger ones. The most attractive feature of these paintings is the natural shiny appearance that is obtained on the surface because of the use of oil paint. The blending of colors looks extremely realistic and this is the reason why oil paintings are loved by everyone throughout the world.
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