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This pata-Chitra – cloth painting, rendered in vertical format on a fine piece of cloth, a blend of mercerized cotton and silk, using primarily the blue and black and the subdued tones of yellow and green as the subsidiary palette, represents the Ten-Armed Goddess Durga Killing Mahishasura enshrining a magnificent sanctum. Typical of Orissa pata-Chitra tradition, in the painting most of the forms and effects are line-drawn, the brush seems to have been used only for rendering background against which such forms are discovered or for rendering the thicker areas, though these could be both, the brush-work as also the densely drawn lines. The judiciously used colors attribute to the white of the background the status of yet another color – the one like others, and perhaps more effective than any of them, for it is in its contrast that they all find a form, effect, and their entire magic. The sanctum’s interior has been conceived with deep lustrous blue, and the sky above, with as dark black. In characteristic Oriya tradition a large number of miniaturized flower-plant motifs scattered all over break the monotony of this deep blue interior, and the tiny cloud motifs, rendered in light blue floating in the space above, of the sky. The Oriya pata-Chitra painters are unparalleled in creating most delightful effects: a kind of lyricism and rhythmic vibrancy, out of a deep background in blue or even black, which could otherwise be monotonous, by sprinkling over it multiple repeats of any design motif, even an irrelevant floral pattern, a dot, or whatever. The painting’s pata-Chitra character, typical of Orissa tradition, reflects as powerfully in the style of its architecture, especially in the tiered temple tower, pedestal, and the sanctum’s arched opening with moderately deep corbels, and in the beautifully painted facade.
The ten-armed goddess is holding in her hands on the right side sword, trident, disc, lotus-bud, and an arrow, and in those on the left, the snake with shield, conch, mace, bow, and in the fifth, the demon’s hair. In an astonishing move, she gets up from over her mount lion and while supporting her massive figure just on a single foot, set firmly on her mount’s back, she charges upon the demon with a mighty blow of her other foot, and another, that with her spear on his chest and the completely dismayed demon submits to her and to his destiny. Baffled by her blows as he is, the goddess catches hold of the demon’s hair and drags him close to her feet where her mount lion charges at him and tears his figure, and her ferocious snake, one of her attributes, shakes him with horror disabling his all mental faculties. The goddess rises into the space pervading it in entirety and the demon, overpowered by her blows, falls on the ground blow.
Installed in a sanctum the figure of the goddess, obviously, the goddess Durga – the most widely worshipped female divinity and one of the most widely worshipped deities of the Hindu pantheon, is essentially a sanctum image. Durga’s votive images, enshrining sanctums, are mostly in operative forms though at the same time she has a form that is all-pervasive, the act she is represented performing being just the most insignificant aspect of her being. She is usually represented as killing a demon, in most cases the buffalo demon Mahisha, known in the popular tradition as Mahishasura, and hence, the goddess, as Mahishasura-Mardini – suppressor of the demon Mahisha. In popular sculptural/visual traditions Mahisha, meaning buffalo, is a figural blend of human and buffalo anatomies, mostly a human head emerging from a buffalo’s body; however, sometimes, as here in this powerful painting, he is also represented only with human anatomy. In myths and conventions of visual representations, it is mostly Mahishasura whose body the goddess’s lion is alluded to as tearing for accomplishing the goddess’s crusade against evil powers. Sword and shield are widely alluded to as being Mahishasura’s attributes. This determines the demon’s identity as Mahishasura.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes in 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.
Folk Art-Paata Painting-Durga Killing Mahishasura: