The motifs in question are quintessentially Kashmiri. Profuse vines breaking into delicate tendrils and chinar (maple) leaves large and small. The maple leaf motif is to Kashmiri textiles what paisleys are to the rest of (traditional) North Indian fashion. Zoom in on the same to appreciate the flawless handiwork, the skill for which is arguably endemic to the Himalayan valley artisans. Also, through the translucence of the fabric, one could make out the high-precision, superbly uniform weave of the fabric.
A number of aspects set this work apart from your run-of-the-mill Nataraja sculptures. It is a compact composition - the flame-spewing aureole is a perfect round, the asymmetrical dancing figure placed therein filling it up completely. The Lord’s hair is in a bunch of plaits that are flying about His face despite the weight, conveying the intensity of His divine motion. The shringar is minimal but substantial. A cobra dangles from one of His limbs, its hood raised, stance as dynamic is Lord Shiva’s itself.
The lotus pedestal with its petals turned downward is the only suggestion of gentleness in this sculpture. The same is complemented by the Lord’s composure of countenance - calm and drawn in, the very picture of stability and omniscience.
The vibrancy of this painting lies in the expression of the Lord as well as the characteristic colour palette. His gaze is directed straight at the onlooker, a comforting reassurance in His large brown eyes for the devotee seeking His blessings. In one of His four hands is, of course, a freshly made laddoo. He is dancing on the soft petals of a peachy pink lotus blooming on inky blue waters, amidst a bed of lilypads. Add to that the rich olive yellow of His skin and the fiery glow of the sunset in the backdrop, and you have a palette that is unmistakably Kerala mural.
Like all Kerala murals, this one is a brightly coloured number with a markedly cheerful theme, albeit a devotional one. So dynamic is this composition that the Lord looks like He will break out of the painting any moment now.
The majestic wings set this Lord Garuda composition apart from other vahana iconographies. They spread wide lateral to His broad shoulders, and close down around His torso such that the tips of the wings graze His dhoti-clad hips. Zoom in on the same to observe the sweeping serrations made by the artisan - it is a fine example of high-precision handiwork. Note the lifelike angle of curvature of the silhouette, which betrays the sculptor’s fine attention to detail.
The Lord Garuda is seated with one knee on a simple pedestal. He is wearing a short dhoti that reveals the musculature of His powerful limbs. His hands are in the Namaskaram mudra, which He uses to greet Lord Vishnu. An elaborate crown and halo grace His head, from beneath which emerge a cascade of thick locks. His handsome face bears an expression of fierce, unwavering devotion.
The gold-and-silver colour palette of the painting makes a statement of abundance. In fact, Devi Lakshmi presides over resources because it is quintessential to the preservation of the universe, for which Her husband, Lord Vishnu, is responsible. The face of Vishnupriya is beauteous and tattooed, the sumptuous gold crown sitting on Her head befitting the same. A composure of life and vibrance characterises Her countenance.
The dominant colour is a creamy ivory dye across the field. The same is set off by the dense fuschia border and the ample proportions of rich, dark black in the endpiece. Sparsely placed booties in fuschia and black go well with the luxuriant embroidery along the entire length of the endpiece, done in pristine white thread. Of course a regional saree such as this one would be incomplete without the signature templetop border, the characteristic weave of which is best appreciated by zooming in. The instantly recognisable silhouette is derived by local weavers and artisans from the plethora of temples that the state is known for.
While the holy cow is a favourite subject with devout artists and sculptors to this day, this one stands apart from the majority of such works. This is because it is the dynamic depiction of an inimitably divine moment between mother and child. From the angle of the mother’s substantial neck to the stance of her young one, this sculpture is a picture of life in motion and the maternal fervour that sustains it.
The composition is inlaid with high-quality stones in richly hued pastels and poised on an inlaid pedestal. The credit for such tasteful, high-precision handiwork goes to the local artisans of Patan, Nepal. A rudimentary but discernible image of Devi Lakshmi lies on the cow’s back. She presides over resources and plenty, in the stock and growth of which the cow plays a crucial role. This explains the reverence accorded to the cow-mother in India’s predominantly agricultural economy.
It is a depiction of Lord Shiva after the Tibetan Buddhist style. He is in the midst of His destructive tandava, His pristine yogic musculature exposed to view but for the tigerskin loincloth He wears. A venomous snake slides down His torso and raises its hood. His jata (dreadlocks) are held in place by the typical five-spire crown of Tibetan Buddhist iconography, matched by the characteristic facial features and kundalas.
A wide halo burns bright behind His head. Further behind it lies a flaming aureole befitting His divine presence. He dances on the soft bed of a lotus, its petals curling up from the force of His motions. The setting serves to tone down the powerful influence of the tandava. A gently flowing stream in the foreground; sublime verdure and azure; and the soothing - almost feminine - strokes of the brush that define the clouds.
The colours that have gone into this work are singular and feminine in an unusual way. On a foundation of electric blue is a coat of dense embroidery in slate-green colour, comprising of paisleys in a multitude of proportions, interspersed with delicate leafy tendrils. A characteristic panel is layered along the frontal edges, wherein lie the solid green buttons. The fact that the embroidery on this number is done solely by hand makes this a wardrobe investment.
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