An excellent masterpiece by Kailash Raj, one of the best known and the most skilled contemporary painters adept in India’s centuries old classical art style of painting, the miniature represents Ravana, Lanka’s demon king in the great epic Ramayana, shaking Mount Kailash in an effort to uproot and move it from its place. Not merely that the painting portrays one of the many events in which revealed Ravana’s inflated ego and Lord Shiva’s kind heartedness, grace and benevolence, a myth, legend or sheer imagination of the painter, it reveals the universality of a wicked mind that targets first of all its own benefactor with whose bounties it got all its powers and abilities to pride on. As is the position in the related myths, it was with Lord Shiva’s blessings that Ravana had all his undefeatable powers but the moment Shiva does not concede one of his desires, he turns hostile and seeks to challenge Shiva himself.
As the body of myths has it, Ravana had undergone many rounds of rigorous penance dedicated to Shiva and had won from him many rare undefeatable powers and skills as those of an accomplished poet, architect and invincible warrior. He was one of Shiva’s great devotees but he considered himself to be the greatest among them. The conceited Ravana thought that he was closer to Shiva rather than his sons Karttikeya and Ganesha and even his consort Parvati and did not hesitate even in slighting them. He composed a ‘Strota’ – a long verse consisting of many stanzas lauding Lord Shiva and dedicated it to him. Lord Shiva admired it. Lord Shiva along his family lived on the peak of Mount Kailash sheltering under trees and protecting against cold with fire. An accomplished architect, Ravana, for further pleasing Shiva, planned to build a majestic palace for him and his family. Lord Shiva was disinclined but Ravana felt that Shiva’s consort Parvati had an inclination for it.
He came back to Lanka and built a great palace – all consisting of gold, for Shiva and his family. He wanted that he shifted from Kailash to Lanka. After the palace was complete, he visited Kailash and prayed Shiva to shift to Lanka along his family. Shiva declined and was unwilling even to go to see it once. Ravana thought that once Shiva saw the palace its splendour would surely bewitch him. He hence uprooted the palace and carried it to Mount Kailash and laid it on its peak. Rare in majesty and splendour the palace fascinated all, Parvati and her mother Maina most, as Maina was always sad for her daughter for not having a roof over her head; however, Shiva was indifferent to it as before and did not go even to see it where it lay. A vicious mind Ravana noted Parvati’s weakness for it and believing that under her pressure Shiva would shift to it wherever it is, he brought it back to Lanka, though to his disappointment it did not happen. As he believed that he was Shiva’s greatest devotee and hence Shiva was obliged to give to his prayer top priority Shiva’s disinclination to Shift to Lanka enraged him and he decided to uproot Mount Kailash along Shiva and his family and shift it to Lanka.
Scriptures apart, the theme begins appearing in visual arts from early times, one of its early examples seen at the famous ninth century Kailash temple at Ellora in Maharashtra. Its examples are seen also in medieval paintings. A miniature of circa 1750-60 from Nurpur, a small hill state, one of the lesser known but as much powerful a centre of Pahari painting, represents the theme quite powerfully and vividly illustrating not only the legend but also the state of minds of all, even their mounts. This most accomplished painting of Kailash Raj pursues the idiom and details of this Nurpur painting in their exactness, and though a contemporary piece, it has the same flavor and freshness as has the Nurpur miniature.
Contained within an oval frame over a vertical canvas with an outer frame defining its length and breadth some straight rising rocks with a couple of trees and a green patch of land on the top define Mount Kailash. A mound like shaped green patch on the bottom where the ten headed Ravana is engaged in shaking the Mount defines the root of Mount Kailash. On the Mount’s top Lord Shiva is seated on a tiger skin laid under the two trees. Behind him is seated Parvati clad in deer skin. She is also covering her head with a fur cap. As the Mount shakes, Parvati holds Shiva’s thigh. Karttikeya and Ganesha rush to the Mount’s end parts for knowing its reason, a shadow of anxiety reflects on the faces of the bull and lion, the mounts of Shiva and Parvati, and with his meditation disrupted Shiva raises his left leg and presses the foot to let the Mount settle into its place crushing Ravana under it and liberating him from his vanity.
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.