The illustrious king Vikramaditya, the ruler of Malwa with Ujjain its capital, whose territories extended trans-Himalayan hills and beyond Indian and Arab oceans, was born 57 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. He was responsible for initiating a new Era in his name known as Vikrama Samvat, still the basis of India’s national calendar that majority of Indians follow and the basis of all astrological-astronomical calculations and all records of past. It was him who initiated the courtly tradition of honouring the distinguished nine person as ‘nine jewels’ : nine most talented persons in the court. The two among his nine jewels were the timeless Sanskrit poet Kalidasa and the great astrologer Varahmihir. Some historians claim that before it was transformed into an Islamic tower the Delhi’s Qutb-minar was an astrological observatory built by king Vikramaditya for Varahmihir.
The episode represented in the miniature is largely the creation of imagination born of the belief that the legendary Vikramaditya had spiritual communion with goddess Kali and had interaction with mystic powers; however, no significant text related to him, not even the Bhavishya Purana that so widely talks of him, or those related to the legends of the Devi’s exploits, or Vikramaditya-related mystic fictions like the Betala-Pachisi – twenty-five tales of Betala, and the Simhasana-Batisi – thirty-two tales determining merit to ascendance, expressly alludes to any such particular occasion or incidence of his meeting with the goddess.
As the painting seems to represent, one day when loitering all alone around an uninhabited tract along river Kshipra king Vikramaditya, humbly submitting to the goddess Kali putting off his sword, crown and costume : his regalia and kingly authority, meditates on her. The goddess appears in his vision as holding a huge bowl in one of her hands, churning it with the other for exploring pieces of flesh, putting with the third a piece into her mouth and cooling with water in a jug, held in the fourth, the human bones just removed from some burning pyre. She has killed a lion and has laid its skin along its figure around her waist. Rendered in illustrative style the painting portrays this vision of the goddess on the left. Close to her lies Vikramaditya’s sword and around there, his crown and costumes. In her other vision she has been represented as carrying a large multi-spiked comb made of the human bones the goddess had collected from the burning pyre and had cooled, and king Vikramaditya, as bowing at her feet.
Though a panoramic view of a hilly terrain, as if representing the Guler artist’s own region, with a river streaming along and a Shiva shrine in its midst the background might also be denotative of the artist’s vision of Ujjain, the ruling seat of king Vikramaditya and one of the seats of twelve Jyotirlingas – Shaivite shrines that Shiva’s aniconic ‘lings’ enshrine. As the legend has it, king Vikramaditya had built the Jyotirlinga shrine and installed the ‘ling’ icon in it. For denoting Vikramaditya’s capital the artist seems to have used two of the Ujjain’s most significant features, the holy river Kshipra, and a Shiva-shrine symbolic of Jyotirlinga seat, both endowing the city with its rare significance.
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.