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Gajendra Moksha

Gajendra Moksha
Item Code: OR32
Oil on Canvas with 24 Karat Gold
36.0 inches X 48 inches
This large size canvas, measuring 38 by 50 inches, gives the most dazzling as well as sensitive treatment to one of the most popular Vaishnava myths – liberation of the elephant king from the jaws of crocodile by Vishnu. The painting wondrously reveals the drama and various sentiments that the situation warrants – fear on the face of the elephant king and on those behind it; anger in the demeanour of the enraged crocodile; concern in the eyes of Garuda, the great bird and Vishnu's mount; and, serene composure coupled with a mild smile on the face of Vishnu. Tears rolling from elephant king's eye and its effort to pull back divulge the pain it is experiencing and its struggle to free it from. Garuda's wide-spread wings speak of its anxiety to accelerate its speed for on stake is not the elephant king's life alone but also its Master's reputation as one redeeming his devotees in crisis. Delightful ambience – colourful nature with groves of flowering trees, and bananas and coconuts which elephants most love, pond of silver blue water with drops oozing from snow-covered mountain peaks and lotuses scattered all over… creates the real catastrophe. Underlie this maddening fascination the jaws of death. It draws by its beauty elephant-herd to bathe and sport but when in full rapture in extreme contrast death's deadly jaws grab their chief's foot and begin dragging it into deep waters to drown and die, and when death becomes imminent, it is rescued by the divine hands – a complete drama in nut-shell.

As the Bhagavata Purana has it, the myth of the Gajendra-moksha – liberation of elephant king, was first narrated to King Parikshata by Acharya Shukra during the first cosmic age. Once when the elephant king was sporting with its herd in a lotus pond, surrounded by groves of beautiful flowering and fruit-laden trees, a huge dreadful crocodile, disturbed by sporting elephants, grabbed one of the legs of their chief. The enraged crocodile began dragging it into deeper waters. The frightened elephant king struggled to pull back its leg but all in vain. It cried for help but none in the frightened herd came forward. They all looked at him helplessly. Suddenly in its animal form emerged a divine impulse. The Gajendra plucked by its trunk a lotus from the pond and lifted it towards the heaven and prayed, 'O Vishnu, my lord and refuge of the helpless, with this humble offering I pray Thee to liberate me from the jaws of this animal.' Instantly, on his mount Garuda, Vishnu descended from heaven, struck down the cruel crocodile with his disc and liberated the Gajendra. The myth has been the theme of many medieval miniatures, the Kotah artists excelling others in their treatment of it.

A blend of mythological tradition with modernism this oil painting on canvas reveals the entire drama with all perspective and dimensions and with great splendour. As compared to small canvas size of the medieval miniature this large canvas affords to the artist ample scope for revealing the drama in full and for portraying each of its characters at greater length. Vishnu occupies just a small part of the canvas, and that too on its upper side, but he nonetheless comprises painting's principal theme and focal point. Besides that the glittering gold and gems – rendered using actual gilded metal foils and semi-precious stones inlaid substituting colours attract the eye, Vishnu's light-like emergence from behind the layered depth of the cosmic void hypnotises the viewing eye. The artist has created around Vishnu's face a multi-layered halo and as multi-layered a cosmic void to suggest perhaps that Vishnu emerged breaking through each layer of the cosmos and struck against his vajra-like body it brightened like molten gold, which manifests as the halo around his face.

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.

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