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The Intelligent Eyes Of Ganesha, Lover Of Laddoos And Son Of Shiva

The Intelligent Eyes Of Ganesha, Lover Of Laddoos And Son Of Shiva

There is much that is unique to the Madhubani painting tradition. A number of factors have contributed to its being accorded the Geographical Indication status. The skills required to produce something that is authentic and conforms to the highly specialised style is limited to the women of India's Mithila region found in present-day Bihar. Two-dimensional imagery is the primary characteristic of these paintings. The imageries are simplistic, the pigments employed plant-based (with the occasional inclusion of lampblack and ochre). These paintings are made using rudimentary twigs and brushes, sometimes nib-pens, and even matchsticks and fingers. In a bid to beautify their traditional mud-hut dwellings, the women of this highly compact geographical pocket have been making these paintings on their freshly plastered walls and floors. The Ganesha before you is a vivid example of this folk art form that conforms to the style and tradition of Mithila.

Madhubani paintings are evolving. Today they are not only the stuff of mud walls but also mobile works of art done on cloth, canvas, and handmade paper. This painting is done on handmade paper, and depicts a popular religious subject, Lord Ganesha, like most Madhubani paintings do. He is the boy-deity loved and worshipped by all for His inimitable innocence and generosity with divine boons. The laddoo-wielding trunk and the broad kundala-adorned ears are signature aspects of Ganesha. Superbly intelligent eyes and the Shaivite tilak indicative of His parentage complete the countenance. His shringar-laden and janeu-clad torso resembles that of a chubby child; the dhoti-draped limbs are no different either. A plateful of laddooes lies before Him, whilst He holds naother pot of His favourite Indian sweetmeat in one of His four hands. The remaining hands (in anticlockwise direction) bear a nutcracker, a mudra of blessing (this one is tattooed with the swastika), and a gorgeously blooming lotus. Unusually enough, jet black hair cascades down His back from beneath the rim of His crown, and the background resembles some sort of a darbar that He is holding.

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The Incomparable Beauty Of Ganesha, Seated On An AUM Pedestal

The Incomparable Beauty Of Ganesha, Seated On An AUM Pedestal

Much has been written about Ganesha. As Hindu dharma's most adorable boy-deity, He has inspired countless artisans and painters and poets across the subcontinent since time immemorial; and how could He not? So overcome by love are His devotees - and so widespread His followers - that His form is ubiquitous on the streets, inside homes, and across commercial establishments in India. This is because He is generous with His blessings, so everyone set to begin some venture seeks His attention; and many find His childlike demeanour irresistible. The innocent yet wise elephant head, the form of a chubby little boy, and His undying love for laddoos are a few aspects that add to His demeanour. Folklore has numberless explanations for this one-of-a-kind anatomical quirk, each surpassing the other in terms of how reasonable it all sounds to us mere mortals. The long and the short of it is that Shiva-Parvati's son was born a very handsome baby but due to circumstances possible only within the parlokiya (heavenly) realm, He is now revered more for His svabhaava than svaroopa.

And what a svabhaava is contained within that svaroopa. With the mace He holds in His posterior right arm, He overpowers the adharmee; with the conch in His posterior left, He heralds the victory of dharma over adharma. His anterior right hand, its palm tattooed with the sacred AUM syllable, is raised in the eternal dispensing of blessings and boons. Between the remaining hand and the tip of His baby-trunk He cradles a freshly made laddoo, His favourite Indian sweetmeat without which His iconography is incomplete. This sculpture is a fine example of the Ganesha svaroopa. Luxuriant silks and shringar that cover almost entirely His bare torso, the intricately sculpted crown fit for a ruler of the divine realm, the characteristic halo. The charm of His countenance, set off by the trishool tilak that indicates His parentage and the beauteous engraving along the length of His trunk, lies on the painstakingly sculpted arch of His lifelike brow. Ganesha is the wisdom of a child personified.

The pedestal that Ganesha is sitting on in this composition is what sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill Ganesha murties. It consists of two platforms separated by two rows of petal engravings. A georgeous engraving of AUM constitutes the centre of the pedestal. To one side of it is a laden kalash, to the other is His vahana the mouse. Even the vahana also holds a laddoo for His lord in its little paws. The sincerity and attention to detail that have gone into this sculpture could be gauged from the photograph of the back of Ganesha. Note how the silk drapes across His shoulders, the gorgeous engraving on the back of His crown as well as the entirety of the halo, and the naturalistic musculature down to the tips of the limbs.

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Bharatnatyam, The Dance Of Devotion

Bharatnatyam, The Dance Of Devotion

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Ten-Armed Durga Killing Demon Mahishasura

Ten-Armed Durga Killing Demon Mahishasura

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 subsidiary palette, represents the ten-armed Goddess Durga 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 colours attribute to the white of the background the status of yet another colour – 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, 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 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 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.

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Cream Authentic Kani Pure Pashmina Shawl with Kadha Handloom Weave

Cream Authentic Kani Pure Pashmina Shawl with Kadha Handloom Weave

Pashmina is a wonder of the east. Having dressed royalty and the select since time immemorial, it is more than merely a fabric. Pashmina is a statement in itself. It exudes a beauty that takes an eye-watering amount of time and rare skill to put together. In the superbly arid, high-altitude plateaux of Tibet and Ladakh, roam the endemic changra goats. The fine downy hair from the underbellies of these goats are gathered by combing by hand, and spun into yarn in Kashmir. This is followed by dyeing, weaving, and extensive embroidering, each of which is done in Kashmir by local artisans. No other part of the world has the requisite skills to work with this one-of-a-kind yarn. The dyes used are exquisite, the weaving techniques complex, and the embroideries as time-consuming as the results are breathtakingly beautiful. Which effectively means that each work of pashmina, such as this soft luscious number, is a unique work of art and has taken months to be finished.

It is the finish that makes the pashmina shawl worth it. Handpicked from the looms of Kashmir, this is a particularly youthful number. The singular kani weave is the weave of choice employed by artisans to work with pashmina. Each colour that you see on this shawl - from the foundation cream to the ultra-feminine pastels it is superimposed with - has been woven in separately with bobbins ('kani' is the Kashmiri word for 'tiny sticks'), leading to the meticulous designs on the foreground. Numerous tendrils in shades and tints of green fill up the spaces amidst the riot of coloured petals, making this an ideal accompaniment to brightly coloured bridal sarees and suits. A row of short, dense tassels graces each of the edges of this shawl, which would lend to your ensemble a hint of the fun and the flirtatious.

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Abode Of The Devagana, The Cow

Abode Of The Devagana, The Cow

The cow is the very picture of all that India has traditionally valued - purity, selflessness, and resourcefulness. She consumes little, yet gives generously of what she has. She may live in the least-scrubbed of gaushalas (cow-sheds), off old hay and vegetation; yet just one of her is enough for a family to thrive on. Her fertile udders yield the purest of milks and butters. Even the wastes she gives off are rich with nutrients that enrich the medium we grow our food (crops) on, properties that benefit and arguably heal our bodies. The colour of the cow is as pristine as her maternal nature. She feeds the babies of the ungrateful human with as much fervour as she feeds her own calves. The cow has been revered in the subcontinent since her pivotal role in the days the Sarasvati Valley Civilisation flourished. It is of little wonder then that the peoples of the subcontinent venerate her as one would a senior member of the family, and consider gauseva (service of the cow) one's sacred duty.

This is a powerful work of art that could serve to overpower vastu-dosha in modern-day spaces. No matter the inconducive influences that beset your space, they have no power over the blessing of the cow. In this composition, the naturalistic musculature of India's most-loved pashu (animal) has been finished with a great degree of skill and a keen sense of aesthetics on the part of the brassworker. She stands with her head tilted sideways, while a calf and Gopala Himself nourish themselves at her teats. She has been bedecked with jewellery at her neck, horns, hump, and rump. Her limps are strong and concludes in a set of flawlessly sculpted hooves. Her tail is thick, the strands on its tip caresses her hooves. Numerous devas and devees of the Indian pantheon have been engraved on her skin in order to indicate that in her resides the entirety of Hindu divinity. The beauty of detail in each one is best observed by zooming in. The whole composition rests on an engraved pedestal resting on vine-clad legs. Note the peacock along the edge of the same that seemingly totters about the cow with its plumage down.

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Haloed Standing Lakshmi Blesses You With A Steady Stream Of Plenty

Haloed Standing Lakshmi Blesses You With A Steady Stream Of Plenty

The tall, beauteous, and stately Lakshmiji blesses the devotee with plenty. The wife of none other than the great Vishnu, She presides over wealth which is the necessary means to His function of preserving creation through destruction. She has been given the resplendent finish of pale gold, Her saree draped in modern-day urban North Indian style. On Her head sits a skillfully carved crown, from underneath the fitted rim of which emerges a sea of gorgeous tresses spread about Her shoulders. Note how superb the detailing of this cascade is at the back of the statue by zooming in on the length. Her heavenly shringar comprises of necklaces, kamarband, bangles, danglers, and anklets covered by the hem of Her saree. The necklace of coins reaches down to the pleats of the saree. It comprises of 108 coins, for the 108 names of the deity that dons them. The unusual countenance of the deity - the large eyes, the classically handsome nose, the full lips, and the lifelike composure - and the flawless sculpture of the hands are the marks of a fine artisan.

While the lotuses in Her posterior arms and the anterior palm opened outward in blessing are typical of Lakshmi iconography, what sets this portrayal apart is the amrit kalash that She supports at the waist. Myth has it that She was born of the nectar of immortality produced during the all-important samudra manthan episode of the Bhagavata Purana. From the hand that blesses emerges a steady stream of coins that gathers in the ornate, spacious patra at Her feet. To see the patra so full, all heaped up, almost overflowing with wealth is enough to inspire the onlooker with devotion to Her. She stands on a freshly bloomed lotus, the layered petals of which are as tender as Her feet.

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The Gorgeous-eyed Rajarajeshwari (Tripura Sundari)

The Gorgeous-eyed Rajarajeshwari (Tripura Sundari)

The devi Rajarajeshwari is known by the name Kamakshi down South where this exquisite bronze has been fashioned. In Sanskrit it means 'one possessing the eyes of love'. Her devotees find all the love and blessing they need in Her famous gaze, which is why none of Her four hands are in the popular abhaya or ashirvaad mudra. Her beauteous brow is set off by the sculpted length of Her sharp nose and the roseate lips where it ends. Her round full-cheeked face is complemented by the towering crown sitting on Her head, a typical characteristic of South Indian iconography. The sliver of moon attached to the same gives away her Shaivite lineage. The ribbed halo, a relatively austere aspect of this particular portrayal, is in stark contrast to the gorgeousness of Her shringar - gigantic kundalas, chunky necpieces, and lots of bangles. In one of Her hands She holds the signature sugracane. Unlike other female deities of the Hindu pantheon, Rajarajeshwari is sitting in moolbandha, the ample pleats of Her saree cascading down the inverted lotus pedestal.

The composition is such as to be more than an icon. It is a portable temple of the devi. The inverted lotus She is sitting on is placed on a layered platform that is highly aesthetically appealing. She is flanked by a couple of lions that gaze straight ahead with the same stateliness as their mistress. The aureole that seemingly contains the composition is adorned with traditional faunal motifs such as horses, elephants, and peacock, not to mention the ferocious kirtimukha carved at the very top. The unusual, jawless kirtimukha motif recurs in Indian visual art since the fourth century, and stands for the cyclical and destructive nature of time. Equally ornate legs hold the complete bronze structure in place.

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Tandava On The Tiger (Made In Nepal)

Tandava On The Tiger (Made In Nepal)

The local word 'li' is a versatile syllable. It designates the vast range of metals, of diverse origins, levels of refinement, and blends, that constitute a medium of sculpture in the region (Central Asia, Kashmir, Tibet, and Nepal). Done using either repousse (hammering and putting into shape) or lost-wax casting (pouring molten li into a clay cast to replace the wax within), most of the art that is produced in this part of the world draws from the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. This one is a fine example of the same. Sculpted from copper, an elite medium for the visual arts when compared to brass, it depicts Shiva in the midst of His tandava.

There is so much about this unusual composition that conforms to the iconography of this much-venerated deity. His dense locks are gathered atop His head, upon which is the distinct roop of Devi Ganga, and secured with a sliver of the moon. Myth has it that She descended onto the North Indian plains from the tresses of the lord, sweeping it with abundance and fertility. The hem of the loincloth grazes His knee, leaving the rest of the legs bare. In one hand is the characteristic trishool, the all-important damroo in the other. Beneath His dancing feet is the skin of a tiger brought to its knees by the lord. Note the snakes that are coiled around His ankles and neck, the stripes of vibhooti that grace His brow, and the superbly pronounced composure of countenance, putting together a picture of overpowering ferocity.

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The Beauty Of Dashabhuja Kali

The Beauty Of Dashabhuja Kali

The beauty of the Devi Kali lies in Her ferocity and invincibility. The very picture of Her is enough to make the adharmee tremble with fear. Each of Her ten arms ('dasha' in Sanskrit means 'ten'; 'bhuja', 'arm') bears a deadly weapon of divine prowess. She uses them to slay adharmees, whose severed heads are hanging in the garland that hangs down Her neck all the way to Her thigh (myth has it that the number of heads in this signature garland derives from the Sanskrit varnamala or alphabet). A skirt of severed arms exposes Her long legs, a token of the samarpan (offering) of one's karma-yoga made by Her devotees. With one feet She pins down Her husband, the destroyer of the universe, the lord Shiva Himself, who lies there with a knee and a hand, clasped around the damru, raised. Her gaze is fierce, Her tongue exposed in a gesture of bloodthirsty endeavour.

Despite the fearsome iconography, Kali Devi is not devoid of beauty. Her musculature is lissome; Her tresses so luscious it is enough to clothe Her usually naked person. Her shringar becomes Her status as the wife of Shiva - chunky amulets and wristlets for each of Her ten arms, anklets that weigh upon the torso of Shiva beneath Her feet, and ample necklaces and kundalas. The dharmic devotee discovers on Her stern brow the solace of maternal protection. Note how Her third eye has been engraved onto Her forehead, right below the hem of the haloed crown. A dual-layered aureole frames the composition, with a layer of lotus petals jutting outwards and a sequence of waves along the inner edges. The calm Shiva lies outstretched on a thick lotus pedestal, a panel engraved with wave-like curves separating Him from the petals.

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