In this idyllic scene, the goddess Parvati offers her husband Shiva a drink, as they enjoy a quiet moment together. Their children, the elephant-headed Ganesha and Skanda, play inside a tent made from the hide of an elephant demon that Shiva had slain. Both parents are clothed in animal skins, the garb of mountain-dwelling ascetics, while Shiva is further adorned with a long necklace of skulls and a snake.
The narrative and iconographical elements of this scene alludes to multiple aspects of Shiva’s character—as lover, family man, destroyer of evil, and supreme practitioner of austerities—but, as is typical of Kangra painting, the overall mood is one of tranquility and domestic harmony.
Kangra was a small Rajput state in the Punjab Hills, which lie at the foot of the Himalaya in the far north of India. From the mid-eighteenth century, artists in this region began to adapt certain features of European painting, as filtered through Mughal painting. That impact is seen here in the naturalistic palette and treatment of forms, especially the animals and tree.
The artist has captured the story of the deer hunt with the fewest possible elements, in a way that is instantly recognizable and yet takes liberties with the classical tale. The forest is represented by two trees and a few sprays of foliage; the deer is a mundane gray, not magical gold; and Sita waits anxiously in a white marble pavilion, rather than a thatched hut. The vibrantly colored backgrounds divide the composition into zones that create mood and organize the narrative.
This scene portrays a dramatic moment in the Ramayana. The blue-skinned Rama (a human manifestation of the Hindu god Vishnu) had been unjustly exiled from his father’s kingdom to the forest, where he dwelt with his brother Lakshmana and his wife, Sita. One day a beautiful golden deer appeared and lured the men away from their forest dwelling. When Rama shot the deer, it reverted to its true shape as a demon—shown dying in the lower part of the painting. Realizing that they had been duped, the brothers raced back to the hut to find that Sita had been abducted in their absence.
The horizontal folio from a Kalpasutra manuscript consists of seven lines of text to the left and center broken by a squarish gold symbol framed in a red line and cusped blue lines. Gold diamond shapes framed in red are at the sides, with a vertical red line between the one on the left and the text. Between the text and the right diamond shape there is a painting consisting of three registers of figures against a red ground. The top row depicts three laymen wearing crowns, the middle two monks and a nun and the bottom row three nuns.
Some of the earliest Indian paintings on paper are found in manuscripts of the Kalpasutra, a popular text that recounts the lives the jinas or “spiritual victors” of the Jaina religion. The paper was cut into horizontal pages, following a long tradition of palm-leaf manuscripts. In paper as in earlier palm leaf books, loose-leaf pages were flipped, bottom to top, as one read them; the verso (back or reverse side) of one folio would be seen with the recto (front side) of the following page.
Here monks and nuns sit in rows offering homage to one of the jinas or a teacher, who probably was depicted on the preceding folio. The convention of depicting the faces in profile with a projecting “further eye” is common in early painting throughout northern India. It is only in the early sixteenth century that this “further eye” disappears. This manuscript page is the earliest painting in the exhibition.