This portrait of Kali is most characteristic of Madhubani folk art. The artist has extremely simplified her form using the technique of graphics but has packed in this simplified form of the goddess such magnificence and robustness that it almost captivates the viewer's eye. It has the fragrance of the soil of Mithila - its own colour-cult, vision of perspective and set of symbols, but has an as much impulsive adherence to early Indian tradition of Devi iconography and Devi rituals as evolve in early texts, especially in Agni, Garuda, Devi and Bhagavata Puranas. As has been acclaimed with greater unanimity in these texts the Goddess has been conceived in the painting as Shiva's spouse. Devi Bhagwata assigns to her a nature which dominates and controls even her Lord Shiva, though otherwise the latter is known to command and control the entire cosmos. It is in pursuance to such Puranic cult that she is sometimes depicted in iconographic representations as standing on Shiva's figure lying under her feet.
This form of Kali, with ten heads and twenty arms, is a rarity in Devi iconography. Her multi-armed manifestations with as many as ten arms are common. This physiognomic magnification depicts the folk view of her cosmic expanse. The figure of the goddess, by covering with her ten heads and twenty arms the entire canvas, symbolises her all pervading entity, that is, the entire cosmos is under her yoke and eye. As in the 'puranas' the Goddess has been painted here, save for a lotus and lamp, only with the attributes of war, blood-shed, sacrifice, frenzy, destruction and violence. Rosary, pot or anything, which promotes life, or a hand raised to bless or impart 'abhaya', the auspicious and divine symbols of Indian iconography, are not her attributes. In her right hands she carries a drawn sword, lamp, mace, a multi-headed trident, an arrow, goad, trident, bowl and lotus and in her left hands the 'chakra' or wheel, suckle, noose, shield, bow, spear, conch, serpent and decollated human head. On her waist she is wearing the girdle of alike-dismembered human hands and a garland of skulls upon her breast. Her eyebrows seem to consist of vulture type winged creatures. She has her blood smeared tongues rolling out her all ten mouths. Artist's vision of the goddess is both votive and aesthetic, awe striking as well as lavishly ornamented, a queer blend of conflicting elements - the awe and beauty.
For the unity of form the artist has created her Kali figure with two more or less realistic hands, which constitute her main figure. Other eighteen hands sprout like branches in geometric symmetry from behind these main two arms. The pointed crowns consisting of floral motifs balance the oddity of multi-heads. The artist by creating her figure against mini human forms sprinkled on the background depicts not only her figure's robustness but also its dimension and perspective. Her form consists of blue, the colour of cosmos. The sanctum like broad patterned border has auspicious symbols on its all four sides. It has in the centre on its all four sides Vighnesha, or Lord Ganesha, the sacred syllable 'Aum' and the 'Kalasha' or pot symbols flanking Ganesha's figures on both sides, lotuses on corners and the vehicle of Lord Ganesha, the sacred mouse, and lotus creepers with lotuses on top on rising side planks.
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.
Of Related Interest:
Mahakali (Miniature Painting On Paper)
Mahakali, or Kali (Large Sculpture)
Mahalakshmi (Madhubani Painting on Hand Made Paper treated with Cow Dung)
A Rajasthani Phada depicting Mahadurga (Painting on Cotton)