As the Bhagavata Purana has it, Kalanemi, the ferocious demon and the founder of one of the two clans of demons, was born as Kansa from the womb of the wife of Mathura's king Ugrasen. One day, when the queen was in the royal garden, a gandharva, by the name of Dramil, disguised as Ugrasen, had sex with her. She conceived and the child, so born, was Kansa. The first thing that Kansa did was to usurp his father Ugrasen's throne by throwing him inside the bars. After he proclaimed himself as Mathura's king, his atrocities were rampant. His courtiers, Tranavarta, Bakasura, Putana, Shakatasura, Vatsasura, Aghasura, Pralamba, Kesi, Mustaka, Dhenuka, Chanoona, Vivida and others, were as much cruel and had rendered the life of all, especially of Yadavas, Andhakas, Vrashanis etceteras, extremely miserable. The atrocities inflicted by them had shaken even the formidable earth. The earth finally approached Brahma and prayed him to redeem her from Kansa and his minions. On her prayer Brahma, along with Shiva and other gods, went to Kshirasagara, the ocean of milk, where resided Vishnu with his consort Lakshmi. Vishnu assured them to incarnate on the earth from the womb of Devaki, the wife of Vasudeo and the sister of Kansa.
It is this occasion that the painting renders. Some folios, depicting this episode, as the one from the 18th Kangra in the collection of the National Museum, New Delhi, include in their renditions a cow also to represent the earth. Here the artist makes the presence of the earth felt by giving her greater prominence and a large proportion of his canvas. As the gods, praying Lord Vishnu, have been planted on the earth part, they are obviously presenting her case. Thus, symbolically the earth is also one of the petitioners. The simple landscape, consisting of merely a land part, ocean and a horizontal line of clouds, has been exquisitely treated. The plain green part, tinted with blood red shading revealing from underneath, defines the melancholic face and correspondingly the miseries of the earth. In contrast to her, the ocean, black and dark, abounds in glow and glory, which the lotuses in various stages of their life cycle represent. The multi-hooded Shesh and rippling ocean, both rendered in single colours, have been wondrously treated. Vishnu, though reclining, is in full regalia, carrying his disc, mace and lotus and wearing the long garland of Parijata flowers. His face is wrathfully tense as if in the process of taking a decision. The face of Lakshmi depicts great concern, perhaps, in sympathy to the earth, another female like her. The drooping faces of the bare-footed gods have been powerfully rendered.
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.