The two brothers Chand and Munda were friends and commanders of the army of Shumbha and Nishumbha, the two mighty demons in occupation of all three worlds. After long rigorous penance the two brothers, Shumbha and Nishumbha, had won from Brahma the boon of invincibility against all males, gods, human, animal or any. When back from Himalayas after the accomplishment of their penance they met Chand and Munda and befriended them and put them into the command of their army. They then attacked the heaven and ousted from there Indra and all gods. For his help in regaining Baikuntha, their abode, gods approached Brahma who revealed on them the secret of the invincibility of Shumbha and Nishumbha and showed his inability to help. Returned empty-handed, gods hid in forest where they met their teacher Brahaspati who advised them to pray Parvati for their rescue. When approached, Parvati meditated for a while. Thereupon from her being emerged the divine form of Kaushiki or Kali. She then assured the gods of helping them by killing the invading demons.
As the Devi-Bhagavata has it, attired and bejewelled like a young bride in her transform as Kali Parvati sat at a hillock under a tree falling on the way the demons usually passed. Some texts name her Devi, not Parvati. As pre-meditated, the news that a young woman with rare beauty was seated in the forest soon reached Shumbha and Nishumbha. Burning with passion they longed to obtain her and hence sent a large contingent of sixty thousand demons under Chand and Munda for bringing the woman to their palace. When Chand and Munda and the army of demons tried to reach close to the goddess, she created a thunderous roar which shook all three worlds and with it fell on the ground the heads of all demons along with those of Chand and Munda that she picked and brought to Parvati or Devi.
Adhering broadly to her settled iconographic norms the miniaturist has painted Kali with a terrible frightening appearance. She has her usual four arms – all elongated and awkwardly shaped and gesticulated, a ribbed tall neck, deep grayish brown body colour and protruded belly. She has been conceived with a bony structure almost like a skeleton, large wide-open fearful eyes, awkwardly shaped large balloon-like breasts, long bare teeth, disheveled hair and extra large forehead. She is wearing just a piece of tiger hide as her loincloth which in her repeat representation is worn on her left shoulder like a scarf, not like a loincloth. With one of her hands she is wielding a tall sword, with other two, she is holding horns of two of the demons, and the fourth is held suspending below. A multi-bladed comb-like weapon, held under her right arm-pit, is the only other weapon she carries.
Parvati’s eight-armed figure clad in resplendent jewels, costume and crown, carrying a sword, conch, trident, disk and pot, and holding other three in ‘abhaya’, ‘varada’ and one expressing dismay over how Kali and her own mount lion have frustrated the entire contingent of demons, has been painted close to a colourful tree, a couple of flowering plants and a group of hillocks. The hillocks in the painting are symbolic of the hill on which the Goddess had her seat, the tree, of the tree under which she sat, and the flowering plants, of the beauty that the gods’ land had in contrast to demons’ barren blood-smeared land. The painting is unique in use of light colours, delicate lines, depiction of motion and force, and iconographic accuracy revealing each shred of emotion in its absolute shade.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.