A small fragment of a larger cloth, of unknown function. The base is a plain-weave cotton, now a faded red, and the woven brocade design is of densely-packed, alternating rows of 'boteh' (paisley) patterns.
This small rectangle of fabric is a fragment, possibly the border edge, of a larger cloth of unknown function. The support is a plain-weave cotton dyed an intense red, overlaid with embroidery in many colors and with tiny, inset mirrors.
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.
Varahi has a crowned boar’s head on a woman’s body. She sits with her ankles crosses and originally had four arms, the back two have broken away as has the front right hand which had probably been held up in a reassuring gesture. Her left from hand is held down at her left knee with the palm held facing out in a gesture of giving. Her body is softly modeled with a narrow waist and full breasts. She wears jewelry that is in sharp but low relief and includes a series of necklaces forming a collar of decoration and a longer one that falls between her breasts which suggests the sacred thread extending down to her waist at her right. She is naked from the waist up and the lower garment is merely suggested by the heavier folds at the waist. Her head is tilted and her chin/snout had jutted out to the left, but the lower snout is broken away. She wears a conical crown that accents the long diagonal of her face. Originally there was an arch behind the image which would have supported her back arms, so the image would have appeared denser, with only the cut away empty space to the sides of her waist.
This image was discovered in 1926 by the French archaeologist Gabriel Jouveau-Debreuil in Kancipuram, an area about 70 km southwest of Chennai (Madras), along with a large group of other sculptures of goddesses and one image of Siva. Varahi is one of the Saptamâtrikâ, or "seven mothers"—mothers of the principal gods of the Hindu pantheon. Several other, larger images goddesses at the site have been identified as Yoginis, or tantric goddesses. Companion images from the series are now distributed among major museums of the world, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Musee Guimet, and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
One of the set of goddesses often grouped into the Saptamatrika, the Seven Mothers, Varahi is the female counterpart to Varaha, the boar-headed incarnation of Vishnu. In Hindu mythology, the Seven Mothers are extremely powerful and as a group represent the power of all of the gods. The female principal is the active one in Hinduism and the Mothers as a group can destroy demons and protect against diseases.
Shiva sits with his consort on a double lotus pedestal. He has six arms, his right three are in varada mudra [a giving gesture], holds a rosary and an arrow. His left arms cup his consorts left breast and hold a lotus flower and a bow. He sits in royal ease, with one leg pendant. He wears bracelets, armlets, necklaces, earrings, and a sacred thread that stretches form his left shoulder down past his waist. On his head he wears an elaborate jatamukuta, a crown interlaced with his matted locks. Parvati sits upon his knee with one leg tucked under her and the other pendant. She is also adorned with jewelry, but wears a more modest diadem at the front of her head.
To complement Shiva’s character as an ascetic, he is also a husband and lover. His consort is known by various names, in this case as Parvati, the daughter of the Himalaya. Both the Pala dynasty in the northeast and the Cola dynasty in the south developed sophisticated traditions of bronze sculpture featuring this ideal couple. In this small but exquisite bronze from the northeast, the artist depicts Shiva and Parvati in animated and intimate conversation.
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.
Fresh greens for the foliage and dark blue clouds sprinkled with lightning set the rain celebration scene. Court ladies have gathered on the lawn, and some swing under a blossoming tree, while the raja and a woman watch the exciement below from a balcony of his white palace.
In India, the monsoon season is welcomed with joy, for it brings a refreshing end to a long period of heat and drought. The artist has perfectly captured the moist atmosphere of the monsoons, with fresh greens for the foliage and dark blue clouds sprinkled with lightning. Caught up in a festive mood, court ladies have gathered on the lawn to take turns at the swing under a blossoming tree, while the raja and his paramour watch from a balcony of his palace.