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Goddess Kali Killing a Host of Demons

Goddess Kali Killing a Host of Demons
Item Code: HJ36
Water Color On Paper
9.4 inches X 5.9 inches
This blue-complexioned figure of Kali, the goddess of battlefield, blood-shed, sacrifice and destruction, fond of fresh human blood and of roaming in cremation ground, conceived with a ferocious look, emaciated figure with a blood-smeared lolling tongue, large loose breasts, disheveled hair, awe-striking eyes, wearing garlands of skulls and girdle of decapitated human hands, has been represented here rather with a benign appearance, or at least, not so ferocious as she usually has in her pictorial and textual visualisations. Except the somewhat elongated arms, legs, neck and ears, not proportionate to the anatomy of the entire body, and the tongue extending a little beyond mouth, she has a normal figure with a sharp pointed nose, fish-like shaped and lotus-petal like hued eyes, brilliant white teeth and well defined lips, subdued belly and elegantly dressed hair. Though wearing a mere loincloth around her waist and groins, she does not generate the feeling of nudeness. With various ornaments on her arms, wrists, breast and neck she has her feminine grace and elegance intact.

However, whatever the iconographic perception of this masterpiece, rendered pursuing the art style of Malwa in Central India, as it prevailed around mid-seventeenth century, the goddess has been represented in her pioneer role of eliminating a host of demons, all alone and almost barehanded. Except a sword in one of her four hands and a diamond-segmented ring, a disc-like weapon, in another, she is not carrying any instruments of war, suggesting perhaps that her objective and her spiritual strength, not weapons, are her might and power. She is confronting the mighty elephant-demon, perhaps in the line of Gaya, and the horse-demon, perhaps one of Hayagriva’s descendants, with no weapons in hands. Lifted in her upper right hand she seems to toss the elephant-demon to death. With lower right hand she has caught hold of the horse-demon’s throat and is on the point of throttling it. As contends the ‘Dhyana’ related to this aspect of the goddess, after she had killed Chand and Munda, she picked enemy army’s elephants and horses, lifted them into air and flung them into her mouth. Heads, hands, legs and dead-bodies of many others, lying scattered around in the battlefield, portray the havoc she inflicted on the enemy army and its chiefs.

Most texts, especially Puranas like Agni, Garuda, Devi Bhagavata and Bhagavata, talk of Kali’s ferocious aspects. The vision of her in this painting, however, is not in tune with such perception of the goddess. It is rather closer to those texts that consider her as another manifestation or aspect of Durga, and thus Shiva’s spouse, at least in adding feminine grace and softness to her form. Durga too destroyed demons but without ever losing elegance, benignity and feminineness. This modification in her iconographic form in the painting is an artistic innovation, not a disregard to the wide spread Kali worship cult. As one granting success in wars and eliminating enemies Kali is worshipped far and wide and as the independent deity.

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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