Gopal Kumawat, one of the widest and best known Kishangarh artists who created a number of masterpieces using the ancient Indian tradition and modern art technique, has rendered here a unique Devi form combining in the strokes of his brush India’s ancient religious cult, popular legendary vision and an innovative art style, a thing of his own where in his simple line-work he is seen arresting a tradition of faith, immeasurable force and finest geometrical proportions. With Mahishasura under her feet the Devi form is designed to be Mahishasura-mardani, though with most of Shiva’s attributes and the force contained in her form it may as well be her Rudrani form and with the symbolic necklace of decollated heads on her neck and the girdle of disembodied hands of demons on her waist her Mahakali form.
The Devi in her Mahishasura killer form is the most extensively worshipped deity in Indian pantheon. As the legends have it, a demon known as Mahisha, or the Buffalo demon, for it looked like a buffalo, once ruled the earth. After he consolidated his position on earth bringing it entire under his rule Mahishasura decided to evade Indra’s abode, the Indraloka. He sent words to Indra to subjugate but Indra preferred war. Mahishasura had from Brahma a boon of invincible might against all males, that is, no male warrior would defeat or kill him in battle. Hence, the war went in his favour and the gods were forced to flee from heaven. Soon after it became known to gods that, if ever, only a female warrior could kill Mahishasura. Hence, they decided to create out of themselves and with all their attributes a female warrior also possessed of celestial beauty and charms and all female graces to represent on earth the absolute womanhood in her person. Shiva, Brahma, Yama, Vishnu, Moon, Indra, Sun, Vayu, Kuber, Prajapati, Agni, Twilight, Shesha, Kala, Himvana etc. gave her their attributes, gems and jewels, weapons and other means. After she had been created they prostrated before her in worship and Mahamuni Narada conveyed to her the object of her creation and gods’ prayer to eliminate Mahishasura. Thereupon in a fierce battle Devi killed Mahishasura. The scriptures are more particular about her long hair, large eyes, long slanting eight arms, fine long fingers, prominent breasts, thin waist, invaluable gems and lion as her vehicle. Vishnu’s disc, Varuna’s conch, Shiva’s trident and snake, Kala’s sword, Kuber’s mace and Vayu’s bow were some of her main weapons.
The Devi form here in the painting is Ashtabhuja-dhari, that is, possessed of eight hands carrying on her right side chakra, or the disc, trident, mace and sword and on her left conch, skull, decollated head of a demon and a bow. The upper parts of her long slanting arms are covered modestly with traditional long sleeves and branch arms with a long column of bangles and beaded ornaments. On her neck she is wearing, besides a necklace of beads and a pendant, a garland of decollated heads, symbolised here only by a single head, and a large snake with its head trailing to demon’s head suppressed under Devi’s left feet. She is riding a fierce lion which is seen charging with one of its forelegs on Mahishasura and with the other on the demon under Devi’s feet and its hind legs flying into air. Its long tail flag like rises in the space. The body of Mahishasura, hit by Devi’s trident and crushed under her feet, stretches covering entire earth from left to right to symbolise his wide spread rule of terror commanding the whole earth under his feet, though the stretch of Devi’s feet and the height of her form are greater and wider than those of the demon. It seems artist aimed at symbolising that the expanse of goodness is always higher and wider than that of evil. Other attributes of Devi’s form are no less symbolic. She has a lean waist and abdomen insignificantly rendered but she has prominent breasts which represent motherhood. Massively rising locks of her hair, fine fingers and prominent eyes manifest her determination and valiance. The entire figure has been endowed with a queer aptitude. The fingers holding bow, trident, conch or even the skull and sword seem to be playing on a lyre or a musical instrument, which manifest great womanhood and the unique balance of her mind. Stretch of arms and legs covering the entire canvas, the earth, sky with sun and clouds, and mountain peaks housing on them the sacred temples and wide spread vegetation, seem to depict the all pervading expanse of goodness as against that of evil. The entire canvas depict massive speed and motion and speaks for itself. Fine line-work, most unconventionally used geometry, restricting to hardly two colours and the use of decorative element wherever possible are other outstanding features of the painting. The artist evidently believed his viewer’s ability allowing him to discover his own meaning and theme which he simply interwove in his broadly rendered line-sketch, though a great work of art by any parameter.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specialises 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.