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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