Category Archives: Miniature paintings of India

Royal elephants – splendid images from miniatures

     Elephants have played a major role in the mythology and history of India. The use of the animal has been documented via sculptures, historical researches and miniature paintings. Though it is true that horses and camels were also part of  royal entourages to draw vehicles and carry goods, the elephant was used in warfare, hunting expeditions, for executions, entertainment, in  processions, for gifts and a display of prestige. Elephants have depicted in the Ajanta murals. The scroll decorations at the base of many temples in India using the elephant motif. Many fort remains of India still have the elephant stables intact. Discover the depiction of these awesome pachyderms in Indian paintings made during the  medieval and late medieval times !

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Battlescene from the Mahabharata, Kangra painting, 1800s.

The elephant is a beloved animal in India. Many schools of painting have depicted this animal which is symbolic of mountains, clouds,heaven, rainfall and prosperity. The God Indra in Indian mythology has the elephant Airavata  as his mount. Goddess Lakshmi as Gajalakhsmi also is associated with the elephant, gaja, meaning elephant. Lord Ganesha, a favourite deity from Indian mythology, has the head of an elephant. The events from the Indian epic Mahabharata have been captured by the Kangra artists, one of the Pahari school of paintings. The battlescene at Kurukshetra is depicted and can see the elephants as part of the cavalry.

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Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu of the Pandavas fights Dushashana of the Kauravas in the Mahabharata battle, Kangra painting, 1803 A.D.

However it was the artists at the Mughal atelier who celebrated the presence of the royal elephants. Persian painters trained the Hindu artists during Emperor Akbar’s reign (1556 – 1605). They captured them in action, as standalone depictions, in various stances like fighting which was a sport, with Kings on  their back and a mahout sitting on them.  The elephants had names like Khushi Khan was Emperor Akbar’s first elephant. Another elephant Dilsankar is associated with him. A elephant called Damodar was gifted to Bairam Khan. Emperor Akbar was a great lover of elephants who tamed the elephant Hawa’i  known to be temperamental. He had 101 personal elephants in his stables.  The Rajput courts like Kotah, near Bundi, were influenced by Mughal art and the rulers commissioned artworks by both Hindus and Muslims which depicted elephants. Emperor Jahangir had an elephant called Gajraj. Emperor Aurangzeb confronted Sudhakar in 1633. Bahadur Shah Zafar had an elephant Maula Baksh who fought in the war of 1857 A.D.  The Deccan courts had in their ateliers Mughal artists among others who have made remarkable paintings of the elephants of the Sultans.

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Emperor Akbar on his elephant Hawa’i, chasing another Ran Bagha, across a collapsing bridge of boats, 16th century, V and A Museum, London.

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War elephants, Chitranand and Udiya collide in battle, folio from Akbarnama, 16th century, V and A Museum, London.

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Prince Salim (later emperor Jahangir) with Emperor Akbar returning from a hunt, on an elephant, early 17th century, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia.

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Elephants as depicted in the Padshanama, a chronicle of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan, 17th century, British Museum, London.

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Prince Aurangzeb tackling elephant Sudhakar, Padshanama, 17th century, British Museum, London.

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Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur on his elephant,  Atash Khan, early 17th century, School of Ali Riza, Bijapur.

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Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur from the Deccan on his elephant Atash Khan, painting by Farrukh Beg, 17th century, Met Museum, New York, U S A.

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An elephant in battle, Kota, Rajasthan, mid 18th century.

 

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Fighting elephants, Kota, Rajasthan, 19th century. 

Elephants are actually massive pachyderms who show a certain grace as they move and have a unique intelligence with a charming playfulness; have been decorated with ornaments and embellished textiles over the ages. The jhul (saddle blanket) and seeri (head-dress) are commonly seen. Elephants are a part of religious and some other processions in India, even today in the 21st century. Their bodies are painted decoratively along with trappings like the jhul and tinkling bells. The use of elephants represent pomp and ceremony since yore.

 

References

  1. wikipedia.org
  2. sahapedia.org/elephant-regalia-living-tradition
  3. ranasafvi.com/mughal-elephants/
  4. Images are via Wikimedia Commons
  5. smb.museum/en/exhibitions/detail/elephant-stories

 

Posted by:

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

 

 

Kaliyamardana – a story from the Bhagavata Purana

          Lord Krishna is a much loved deity in Hinduism. His childhood as Balakrishna, youth as a cowherd; later revered as the mentor and charioteer of Pandava Arjuna in the Indian epic Mahabharata who advises him on the battlefield in which he has to fight his own cousins. His actions, words and feats including his Rasaleela at Brindavan with his beloved Radha and other has been captured in art, poetry and narratives. Find the story behind a celebrated feat of Lord Krishna – the Kaliyamardana in which he slays a multiple hooded serpent of astounding strength who is tormenting people and been depicted in many artworks found all over India and outside India.

    The details of the story is found in the Bhagavata Purana, one of Hinduism’s 18 great Puranas.

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Krishna dancing on the head of Kaliya, Mughal School, India, 1590-1595 A.D, illustration from the Harivamsa, an appendix of Razmnama, Balarama and people watch from the riverbank.

        The story is very interesting and takes us to the banks of the Yamuna flowing through Brindavan in the north of India. Lord Krishna as a young lad who also lived nearby, played here along with his cowherd friends. The tenth canto of Chapter 16 describes an amazing feat of a young Krishna of subduing a serpent called Kaliya and the episode is referred to as Kaliyanaga-mardana. The depictions in art range from narrations in miniature paintings, stone sculpture, metal works and book illustrations.

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Episode of Kaliyamardana, page from a dispersed Bhagavata Purana Series, late 18th century, Brooklyn Museum, U.S.A

     Kaliya the serpent was originally from Ramanakadwipa and driven away from there because he was mighty afraid of Garuda the enemy of snakes. Garuda had been cursed by Sage Saubhari that if he ever came to Brindavan he would meet his end there. So Kaliya made Brindavan his home and lived there with his family. The giant serpent was residing in the river Yamuna and scared people away and nobody could go near to the site where he lived. He was also spilling deadly venom into the Yamuna which was frothing and bubbling over. One day Krishna and his cowherd friends were playing a game of ball. While playing the ball fell near the spot where Kaliya resided. Krishna’s friends urged him not to go after the ball. But Krishna jumped into the river and on seeing Krishna, Kaliya curled around his legs. Krishna’s mother Yashoda was very frightened of the serpent and asked Krishna to just come home. However Krishna stomped on his tail and warned Kaliya not to trouble anybody. Kaliya was a very strong serpent and pulled Krishna into the river. People gathered on the bank. Kaliya has got Krishna ensnared in its coils. However Krishna expanded himself forcing Kaliya to release him. After he was thus released, Krishna started dancing on the head of Kaliya which released the poison of the snake. Krishna took the weight of the whole universe and started beating him with his feet. Kaliya started to die and began vomiting blood. Kaliya’s wives came and begged Krishna to spare his life. Kaliya too  surrendered and promised not to harass anybody again. Krishna did a final  dance on his head and asked him to go back to Ramanakadwipa and assured him that Garuda would not trouble him again.

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Kaliyadamardana, Krishna ensnared, Brooklyn Museum, U S A, painting, created between 1750 and 1780 A.D.

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Image, Dharmshala, Khatu Mode, Mumbai.

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Kaliya’s wives praying to Krishna to release their subdued husband serpent Kaliya, Kangra, Pahari painting, 1785-90 A.D, National Museum, New Delhi.

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Carving of Lord Krishna subduing Kaliya, Sri Lakshminarayana Temple, Hosaholalu, Karnataka, 13th century.

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Krishna subdues serpent Kaliya, – lintel over the main door of the outer East gopura,  Prasat Muang Tam, Thailand, late 10th century.

    Krishna rose from the river while dancing on Kaliya’s head. People too on seeing Krishna danced on his head and Kaliya was finally pushed into Patala where  he stays to this day as it is believed.

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Book illustration, Myths of the Hindus & Buddhists (1914), Nivedita, Sister, Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish,  University of Toronto Digital Collection.

 

 

References

  • wikipedia.org
  • Memories of Childhood tales
  • Images are from Wikimedia Commons

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

 

Happy Diwali – Lord Rama comes home

         Diwali is celebrated with great excitement and festivity in India. The day marks the return of Lord Rama to his capital Ayodhya with his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana and Hanuman, the leader of his vanarasena or monkey army after his win in battle over Ravana, the lord of Lanka.After the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana, Ravana was ultimately killed by Rama and Vibhishana, his brother was made the king of Lanka. It is recalled that the city was lit with thousands of lamps on his return.

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Every year this day is commemorated across India. This is as mentioned in the epic Ramayana, the part of the story from Uttarakanda, the final chapter in the epic tale by Sage Valmiki. Lord Rama comes back in his Pushpakvimana to be coronated as king to Ayodhya. Presented here are some amazing depictions of the return of Rama and his coronation which led to his rule of thousand years also called Ramarajya, a glorious rule.

 

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Lord Rama starting to return to Ayodhya, Kangra miniature, late 18th century, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, U K.

       The Pushpakvimana has been described as a self-moving painted car, which was large with two storeys and few chambers in it, also with flags and colourful banners, and gave a melodious sound as it made its way across the sky.

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Shri Ramachandra or Lord Rama seen on Pushpakvimana with his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana, Hanuman and others, print, Modern Litho Works, Bombay , early 20th century.

The Uttarakanda narrates that Lord Rama reached the kingdom of Ayodhya along with Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, Sugriva, Vibhishana and the host of monkeys.  After he reaches his kingdom, his brother Bharata who has waited from him to come back restores the kingdom to his elder brother. After that the preparations for the actual coronation begin;  royal barbers are called and Lord Rama and Lakshmana are bathed, shorn of their matted locks and dressed in splendid robes; Dasharatha’s queens deck Sita with  jewellery  and the priests give orders for the coronation to take place.

 

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Return of Lord Rama, miniature painting, Sahib Din, 17th century, British Library, London, U.K.

”Making use of Ravana’s flying chariot, the exiles have left Lanka and flown swiftly northwards, the directional imperative now being from right to left. Reunited with Bharata and Shatrughna, who have kept Rama’s kingdom for him during the fourteen years of exile, they enter Ayodhya in triumph. They drive through the bazaars with their festive hangings to the palace where they are received by their mothers. Even Kaikeyi is forgiven. The monkey king Sugriva, his minister Hanuman and the other chief monkeys have assumed human form. Rama’s coronation begins his auspicious reign, a truly golden age for mankind – Ram-raj , Rama’s rule”…The British Library.

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Return of Lord Rama in a pushpaka vimana and preparations for his coronation, miniature painting,  Mewar, Rajasthan, 17th century.

      The Uttarakanda further narrates that Lord Rama as king was visited by many sages from far and near,they came from east and west and north and south, led by Sage Agastya, and Lord Rama venerated them and provided them with seats of sacrificial grass and gold-embroidered deer-skin. Then the sages praised him as he had won the battle and also slain  Ravana, the sons of Ravana, and had delivered men and gods from fear.

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Lord Rama’s as King of Ayodhya, artwork, 1940s.

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Woman holding sparklers, India, 19th century, Honolulu Museum of Art, U S A.

 

References:

  • vyasaonline.com
  • Images are from Wikimedia Commons, freepik.com (lamps image)

 

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

 

 

Paintings of the Devi : power and glory

Durga is an important deity from the Hindu pantheon. She is revered as a destroyer of evil. She is  a Goddess or a devi. The word devi in Sanskrit means divine or heavenly and a shining presence. The concept of devi first appeared in the Vedas in 200 B.C. but gained focus in Puranic literature with texts like the Devi Mahatmya. Goddess Durga reigns supreme and is the divine feminine as Devi in Hinduism and a divine mother as Mata.

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Durga slaying the demon, Nurpur painting, Himachal Pradesh, early 18th century.

The legend of Durga appears as an avatar of Parvati, who is angry, ferocious and has eight to ten arms, holding weapons and skulls, riding a lion or tiger. She is a warrior goddess  who kills Mahisasura whom the male Gods were unable to control. Durga is a unified form of all Gods. She is one who saves a devotee from durgati or misfortune. Her mythology is described in the Devi Mahatmya, a part of the Markandeya Purana from the 4th to 6th century.

The nine manifestations of Durga or Navadurga are worshipped during Navaratri in the month of Ashwin of the Hindu calendar; Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta,Skandamata,Katyayani,Kaalratri,Mahagauri and Siddhidaatri. Durga is associated with two mountain ranges, the Himalayas in the north and the VIndhyas in central India. She is Paravati in the Himalayas; daughter of the mountains. Durga images have been found in Afghanistan(ancient Gandhara) and also in Tibet.

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Scene from the Devimahatmyam, painting, 17th century.

The Shiva Purana says Lord Shiva invoked Durga from his left half to create and together both created Shivaloka. As per the Devi Mahatmya ,Mahisasura, son of demon Rambha unleashed terror on earth and defeated the Gods. The Gods then approached Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Together they created a woman on whom they bestowed weapons and she was Durga. Durga as Mahisasuramardini is one of the manifestations of the Divine mother whose primary aim is to combat demons who threaten the cosmos. She has many arms and each has a different weapon. She rides on a lion and defeats the buffalo demon Mahisasura who has been given a boon that no-one can defeat  him except a woman. The demon’s entire army was challenged by Durga. Mahisasura attacked Durga as a buffalo-demon whom Durga kills with a trisula (trident) after a fierce battle.

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Durga after victory over Mahisasura, the demon, opaque watercolor embellished with applied gold and lacquer strips, 19th century. Brooklyn Museum, U.S.A

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Durga slaying demons, Kashmir, early 19th century.

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Durga slaying the demon, Kalighat painting, 19th century.

 

 ”Sarva mangala mangalye shive sarvaartha saadhike Sharanye trayambake Gauri Narayani namosthute ”

”To auspiciousness of all auspiciousness Shiva -to the Good sarvarrtha saadhike – to the accomplisher of all objectives sharanye – to the Source of Refuge tryambake – to the mother of the three worlds. Gauri – to the Goddess who is Rays of Light Naaraayani – Exposer of consciousness Namostute- We bow to you again and again. We worship you”.

Posted by:

 

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

References and images :

  • Mahisasuramardini by Sanjaya Kumar Mahapatra, Agam Kala Prakashan, 2014.
  • Goddess Durga : the power and the glory, Marg Publications, Mumbai,2009.
  • wikipedia.org
  • speakingtree.in
  • Images are from Wikimedia Commons