Instead of being completely abstract as was the art of the preceding
generations of the modern artists in India and Europe, or a
miniature-like narrative or descriptive, this painting relies on forms
but to create out of them a wider image than what these forms seem to
actually portray, and thus, to extract from them a wider meaning. This
painting’s focal point is the ‘ling’ icon, which is obviously the
Shiva-ling. ‘Ling’ is Shiva’s aniconic form in worship now for some
five thousand years, the earliest examples reported from Indus
excavations dated around 3000 B.C. The Shiva-ling icon consists of two
parts : ‘ling’ and ‘yoni’, ‘ling’, the aniconic manifestation of
Shiva, installed in/on ‘yoni’, the symbolic representation of Parvati.
In later Lingayat cult ‘ling’ was added with some degree of
anthropomorphism. It now began having faces too, sometimes just one,
but also more up to five corresponding to Shiva’s iconic form with
faces, one to five. Simultaneous to this there emerged in Shaivite
worship tradition the cult of adorning the Shiva-ling with a
‘Tri-punda’ mark. This obviously saw a face in an aniconic Shiva-ling
which was otherwise without a face.
Besides attributing to the Shiva-ling its role as ‘ling’, which is
creation, the artist has so manipulated its form that it reveals a
rare kind of Shiva’s anthropomorphism – an image as also one of its
main manifestations. From the earliest times, that is obviously Indus
days, besides his aniconic ‘ling’ form, in his iconic form Shiva
manifests as Yogi engaged in penance. Time and again Puranas, too,
allude to him as often retiring to forest and engaging into penance.
Using rare imagination this painting : a vision of Shiva, realises him
not only as ‘ling’ but also as Yogi engaged in meditation. The
Shiva-ling part of the image has been installed over a pair of legs
with upwards turned feet as in the ‘yogasana’ : a usual seating
posture that ascetics take to when engaged in meditation or penance.
The ‘ling’-form, rising over these legs, looks like the body’s upper
part. More than a mere ritual mark the ‘Tripunda’ affords the ‘ling’ a
strange sense of having a face, and correspondingly a form, though
manifestly it does not have any. The analogy goes farther with the
tiger-skin which the two legs have under them. Shiva is known to have
always used tiger-skin to sit on when undergoing penance or
meditation, or even otherwise.
However, such transformation of the Shiva-ling into his
anthropomorphic vision does not affect the ling’s creative role which
is its primary cosmic function and is incessant. The white substance
discharging from the ling’s top in the painting is suggestive of the
act of coition – the endless creative process which reflects in
Shiva’s union with Parvati manifesting in Shiva-ling form, ‘ling’
symbolising Shiva, and ‘yoni, Parvati. Metaphysically, Shiva is the
‘Purusha’ – the enlivening force, and Parvati, ‘Prakriti’, the matter,
capable of taking to any form. In this painting, the artist has sought
to plant body’s lower half at the ling’s root – a scheme under which
elimination of ‘yoni’, Shiva-ling’s other component and its feminine
aspect, becomes indispensable. Lest it impaired the ling’s basic
cosmic role : the incessant act of creation, the artist has so managed
his canvas that the male principle : ‘ling’, unites direct with
Prakriti – the Parvati’s manifest form and as symbolic of her as
‘Yoni’. The artist has planted over the top of the ‘ling’ a mythical
animal that symbolises the character of creative passion which even in
Shiva is as intense and uncontrollable as in an animal.
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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