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The artist seems to have personified this believe in the painting. Not only Shiva, along him descend Parvati, the ultimate motherhood manifesting fertility and sustenance, Karttikeya, the eliminator of evil and protector of order and good, and the auspicious and blissful Ganesha. A contemporary masterpiece, the painting is an amazing revival of the mid-eighteenth century Pahari art idiom as practised at Chamba, one of the most glorious seats of Pahari art that along with Guler led to the ultimate Pahari art-idiom, the Kangra art-style, one of the finest and the most delicate styles of art anywhere in the world. The National Museum, New Delhi, has in its collection an exactly similar Chamba masterpiece dated circa 1760-70, which it rather slightly improves, at least in figures’ delicacy and in the treatment of background. The Chamba miniature of mid-eighteenth century is a bit casual in its treatment of background. This contemporary work is more careful in treating it especially in giving it a pastoral touch more appropriate to the Himalayan milieu.
Whatever the mystique or belief inspiring it the drama that the canvas enacts is quite simple. It portrays Shiva in the most intimate moments of his family life cradling in his heart some of the most tender feelings that sometimes a husband has for his wife, and a father, for his children, and the wife’s love for her husband for taking such care of her further deepens and reflects in her eyes and entire demeanour, and the children’s sense of being the privileged ones, in their overall bearing. Obviously, the artist has taken this aspect of human psychology from the life around and planted it on a myth, that is, he has taken the behavioural mould from ordinary life that he had around him, and from myth, the Shiva family to graft it on, and which else but the Shiva family – the most sublime, simple and innocent father, as simple innocent a wife and simple sportive children, could be its role-models. The imagination’s flight seems to have taken wings from the term ‘family’, a concept from human domain not applicable to any divinity in the entire hierarchy of Indian gods except Shiva; in the entire body of Indian mythology the term family is associated only with Shiva, the Shiva family, also termed as Holy family.
The painting portrays against a background consisting of a hilly terrain and blue sky with crimson stripes stretched all across suggestive of evening hours the Shiva family : Shiva, his consort Parvati and sons Karttikeya and Ganesha on a journey. As suggests its direction, they are moving downwards from the hill-side perhaps from Mount Kailash to plains. A caring husband, Shiva chooses to walk on foot and makes Parvati, his consort, to ride his mount Nandi, the bull. As she could not be comfortable with two children, both with difficult anatomy, one with six faces, and other with an elephant trunk, he takes one of them : the six-faced Karttikeya, on his shoulder. Lest he slipped, he is holding the child’s leg, and the child, his father’s head. More secured with the mother’s lap on one side, and the bull’s hump, on the other, Ganesha carries his attributes in full ease and is in sportive mood. The absence of lion, peacock and mouse, the mounts of Parvati, Karttikeya and Ganesha, almost an essential feature of the Shiva family imagery, suggests that in their exclusion the artist has afforded Shiva the occasion to reveal this intimate love for his wife and children. Rapture on the face of the bare-footed Shiva reveals his contentment and blissfulness.
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.