Item Code: PN77
Kalamkari Painting on Cotton76.0 inch X 44.0 inch
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As contends Vaishnava tradition, Vishnu incarnated as many times as required for maintaining cosmic order, destroying the wicked and protecting righteousness. Hence, the number of his incarnations often varies in various sources from ten to any. However, two figures, ten and twenty-four are the most accepted among them. Vishnu’s usually accepted ten incarnations are : Matsyavatara – Fish incarnation, Kurmavatara – Tortoise incarnation, Varahavatara – Boar incarnation, Narasimhavatara – half lion-half man incarnation, Vamanavatara – Dwarf incarnation, Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and the Horse-riding Kalki. Of these first three are his incarnations in animal forms : fish, tortoise and boar; the fourth, half animal-half man; the fifth, the man but disproportionate to human anatomy; sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, human beings; and the tenth, which is yet to take effect, is sometimes claimed to emerge as one riding a horse, and at other times, as one being half man-half horse. Some texts, Vishnu Purana in particular, alternate Balarama with Buddha as Vishnu’s ninth incarnation. This Kalamakari includes Balarama as his eighth incarnation, and instead a horse-headed Kalki the tenth incarnation is a horse-riding figure.
On its extreme right the Kalamakari portrays Vishnu’s Fish incarnation : the lower half being fish, and upper half, his four-armed figure holding in upper ones disc and conch, and normal two being held in ‘abhaya’ and ‘varad’. Except that the lower half is tortoise instead of fish his second : Tortoise incarnation is identical to the first. In his Fish incarnation Vishnu is said to have saved Manu from the great Deluge. Some traditions acclaim that as the Great Fish he had rescued the Vedas. During ocean-churning, when unable to contain Mount Meru : the churning rod, the ocean’s bottom was sinking, Vishnu incarnated as Tortoise, slipped under the Mount and held it on its back and thus churning was accomplished. The third figure and the fourth, having normal human anatomy, except that the third has the face of the boar, and the fourth, that of the lion, both carrying the same attributes as the first two, are respectively Vishnu’s Boar incarnation and Narasimhavatara : half-man-half-lion. As the scriptural tradition has it, once a notorious demon Hiranyaksha uprooted the earth and carried her to Patala-Loka – nether world, and hid her there. Thereupon Vishnu incarnated as Boar and after killing Hiranyaksha carried the earth on his tusks and installed her back in her place. Vishnu had incarnated as Narasimha for killing the atrocious demon Hiranyakashipu who had from Brahma the boon that he would not be killed by either the man or animal. The boon did not provide immunity against Narasimha who was neither man nor animal.
Vishnu incarnated as Vamana – Dwarf, for deluding Mahabali, the notorious demon chief but a great donor. Vamana as a Brahmin with an umbrella over him prayed Mahabali for a piece of land measuring just three of his strides. When granted Vamana expanded his form and covered all three worlds in two strides and placed his third on Mahabali’s head and pushed him into the nether world. The Kalamakari unusually portrays him with his feet on Mahabali’s head and Mahabali’s figure sinking down. Vishnu incarnated sixth time as Parasurama, a Brahmin with ‘parashu’ – battle-axe, in hand for chastising the arrogant kshatriyas who mad with power did not hesitate in targeting sages and even in killing them. Parasurama destroyed Kshatriyas twenty-one times, and thus, also their ego. He has been portrayed with a bearded figure holding in his right hand a ‘parashu’, and in the left, a decapitated head. The Kalamakari has conceived all incarnations from Vamana onwards : Parasurama, Rama, Balarama, Krishna and even Kalki with normal two arms and without Vishnu’s usual attributes, the disc, conch, ‘abhaya’ and ‘varad’ that he is holding in first four incarnations. Parasurama’s identity reveals in ‘parashu’ that he is carrying, Rama’s, in his blue body colour and bow and arrows, Balarama’s, in the plough on his shoulder, Krishna’s, in his flute and cow, and Kalki’s, in his mount horse and the sword that he is carrying.
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.