As the Devi Bhagavata has it, in the beginning was water all around, neither the earth nor any other planet. On water's surface Mahavishnu lay asleep. Ages passed like this. In the mean time from Mahavishnu's navel grew up the stalk of a lotus. After some time in the lotus was born Brahma. Brahma stayed in the lotus meditating and reciting Vedas. Meanwhile some ear-wax flowed from the ears of Mahavishnu and from this ear-wax were born two demons, subsequently named Madhu and Kaitabha. In Mahabharata, myth's later part is slightly different. According to it, Madhu and Kaitabha were born from two drops of water that Mahavishnu had created in the lotus rising from his navel, not from the ear-wax flowing from his two ears. Of the two drops, one was as sweet as Madhu ? honey. The demon born from it was hence named Madhu. He stood for Tamas - darkness, one of the three attributes of cosmos. The other drop was hard. From this drop was born Kaitabha representing Rajas ? activity.
Madhu and Kaitabha, haughty and arrogant as they were, were born in water, grew up in water and walked on its surface ? their sole resort. They often thought how this big flood of water came into existence. One day, Devi appeared before them and taught them the 'Vagbija mantra' ? incantation of the origin of logos, reciting which they worshipped the Devi for a thousand years. Pleased by their worship Devi appeared and asked them what they desired to have from her. They wished that they should die in the manner they chose. The wish was granted. Their arrogance now multiplied. One day, they stole Brahma's Vedas and hid themselves, along with them, in the nether world. Brahma went after them but teased and frightened by them came back. He woke Mahavishnu and sought his help in re-gaining his lost scriptures from Madhu and Kaitabha. Mahavishnu went to Madhu and Kaitabha but they refused to return Vedas. Mahavishnu raised arms against them but it yielded no result. Under their strategy, they tired Mahavishnu, as when one fought with him the other rested and thus alternated each other, whereas Mahavishnu was constantly battling. Finally, appeared Devi who revealed that under the boon from her Madhu and Kaitabha could not be killed except by resorting to deceit. Mahavishnu feigned to give up arms and said to the demons that impressed by their valour he wanted to grant them anything they wished. As anticipated, the demons laughed and said that they were superior to him and hence not they but he should ask them for a boon. Mahavishnu instantly said that he wished to kill them and asked them to grant this wish. With no other option left, they granted Mahavishnu's wish with the condition that he could kill them but not inside the water. Mahavishnu instantly expanded his thighs so far that like earth they reached above water. Taking it as the challenge Madhu and Kaitabha expanded their bodies many more times leaving waters far below. Vishnu expanded his thighs further, caught hold of the demons, held them on his thighs and cut their throats with his disc. A huge quantity of fat flew from their bodies which, collected into as a lump, became a huge island subsequently named earth.
More or less squarish in format, the painting portrays the blue-complexioned Mahavishnu carrying in his four hands disc, mace, conch and lotus. He is wearing his usual gold brocaded yellow dhoti- unstitched sheet of cloth, gems studded crown and gold slippers and has around his face a halo as brilliant as if made from molten gold. Before him lie the torsos of Madhu and Kaitabha and at a little distance, their decapitated heads. Close to upper left corner stands the four-armed Devi conceived with Vaishnava attributes ? disc, conch, lotus and posture of protection. Except the crest she is wearing a crown identical to Vishnu and has similar halo around her face. The dark deep background is suggestive of dark deep oceanic waters. Painting's entire field has grown over it lotus flowers, buds, leaves ? It teems with fishes of different sorts and aquatic birds. The artist seems to adhere to the basic principle of Indian thought : once the evil has been annihilated, to the world returns its glory.
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.