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In Vaishnava myths innumerable are the occasions when Vishnu, summoned by one devotee or the other, rushed from Vaikuntha to protect him. One of the better known among them relates to the child Dhruva, the other, to redemption of Gajendra, the king of elephants, from the jaws of deadly crocodile, and yet another, to child Prahlad, though in the Prahlad-myth his emergence was as Narsimha : his half-man-half-lion incarnation. Dhruva, a child in early years, insulted by his step-mother, resorts to rigorous penance to end it only when Lord Vishnu appears in person, or to end his life by jumping into the chasm on the top of which he was doing penance. When about to jump into it Lord Vishnu rushed to protect Dhruva’s life. Except that the position of the mace does not have much relevance to his myth Vishnu’s descent could be well interpreted in context of Dhruva.
However, the event could more appropriately be a stage in the Gajendra-moksha myth. Once when sporting in the lotus lake, Gajendra irritated a mighty crocodile inhabiting the lake and wielded its authority over the lake’s water. The enraged crocodile caught hold of Gajendra by grabbing one of its legs and began dragging it under the lake’s waters. Trapped in the dreadful jaws of the crocodile Gajendra wrestled to free its leg but despite all its strength applied it failed; instead, the grip of crocodile’s piercing teeth was further tightened causing unbearable pain. The elephant king cried for help but fearing the displeasure of the crocodile none from its herd came forward. When almost to drown and die, the elephant recalled the services that its clan had always rendered to Lord Vishnu, especially his consort Lakshmi. As it struck to its mind, the elephant king plucked a lotus from the lake and raising it towards the sky like an offering to him the animal prayed its Master Lord Vishnu for its release. No sooner he heard the prayer than riding his mount Garuda Vishnu rushed for the animal’s rescue.
The blue-bodied figure of Lord Vishnu is carrying in his four hands his most usual attributes, the disc, conch, mace and lotus. With the lotus-holding normal left hand, Lord Vishnu seems to support his figure on the bird’s back. With his left leg lying suspending, and right, stretched over the neck of the Great Bird, he seems to be seated in a posture much like ‘lalitasana’. Besides his towering crown, a broad neck-ornament with a large pendant embedded with a large ruby and a necklace of pearls, diamond-kundalas – ear-ornaments, girdle, wrists’ and arms’ ornaments, he is putting on a magnificent garland of fresh blue lotuses. Slightly deviating from the tradition, instead of ‘Pitambara’ – yellow ‘antariya’, he is putting on a saffron lower wear, a waist-band in magenta and a transparent lemon yellow sash. His figure has been conceived with a round face, well defined features and enchanting eyes, the same as he had when he transformed into Vishwa-Mohini – the Enchantress of the World, for defeating demons. The self-contented Great Bird with the divine composure on its face and beautifully combed feathers has been conceived and rendered most beautifully and with a child-like affectionate concern.
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.