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The episode seems to be the result of two confronting theologies, the yoga-related and yajna-related. The yajna-related Vaishnava line permitted family life, but Shiva’s yoga-related, did not. One day Shiva condemned and insulted Brahma for his carnality. Hurt Brahma looked for an opportunity to avenge for his insult by kindling desire in Shiva’s mind. One day he went to Kamadeva who had ability to infuse desire in all animate beings and asked him to kindle in Shiva’s mind the love’s passion for unless he gave up penance and wedded a woman he shall not be able to instrument creation, his essential aspect, nor shall be able to kill those numerous demons that he stands committed to do. He also disclosed his own feeling of vengeance.
Kamadeva assured to do as he desired but well acquainted with Shiva’s power he expressed his inability to accomplish it alone. Hence, to assist him Brahma created Vasanta who instantly covered all trees with blossoms, all blossoms with fragrance, winds with pollen, meadows with colours, ambience with cuckoo’s sweet melodies and humming of bees, and waters of lakes and ponds with lotuses. Charged with the desire to love male-female deer, birds and vipers met and united in love. Kamadeva with his consort Rati and arrows of love went to Himalaya where Shiva was engaged in yoga. Around him were his ganas. Kamadeva shot at him all his five arrows but neither of them distracted Shiva’s mind from penance nor could drive it to sexual desire. Even his ganas remained unaffected. The painting illustrates this part of the legend. Disappointed Kamadeva retires but again incited by Brahma comes back and re-begins his attempt. This arrogance of Kama enraged Lord Shiva and he angrily opened his third eye and burnt Kamadeva in the fire it emitted.
This excellent pata-chitra illustrates verbatim the Shiva Purana version of the legend. With antelope, symbolic of unrestrained desires, firmly held in his right hand, and trident and drum, symbolic of his power to control all material aspects of three worlds, in his left, and the other two, held in a posture of having giving up all, is engaged in penance in the midst of Himalayan peaks. Around him are his ganas hailing their master. On his left are Kamadeva and Rati, riding a parrot. They hold golden bows in their hands. Close to Shiva lie seven arrows with floral heads, obviously the ones that Kamadeva has shot on him. The Shiva Purana talks of five arrows, not seven. In the lower register there are trees covered with colourful leaves and flowers, river in full vigour, hills bathed in lustre and pairs of peacocks, serpents and deer in amorous embrace.
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.