The inclusion of a tiny icon of Ganesh along with the Ganesh-mantra – hymn : ‘Vakra-tunda Mahakaya koti Surya-sam prabha, Nirbighnam kuru me dev sarva karyeshu sarvada’ invoking the elephant-headed huge bodied Ganesh, endowed with the lustre of crores of suns, for accomplishing all deeds without impediment, inscribed along the border on its top, symbolic of a shrine’s lintel, is a definite indication as to the performance of the sacred ritual of ‘abhisheka’, for in Hindu tradition an invocation of Lord Ganesh has always preceded a ceremonial rite to whichever deity it is dedicated. An icon of Lord Ganesh with a hymn of invocation is equivalent to his ‘agra-puja’ – first to be worshipped, and such ‘agra-puja’ of Ganesh was mandated by no other than Lord Vishnu himself. Though installed on a lotus rising from a lotus pond filled with milk, symbolic of the Kshirasagara – the ocean of milk, Lord Vishnu’s abode, an arched pavilion drawn over the icons of Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi imparts to the venue a shrine’s status, which further asserts the event’s ceremonial identity.
The lotus-seated icons of Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi, his consort, have been painted in the centre of the painting. Here the pond has an extension receding backward, obviously a further stretch for accommodating the divinities. Quite curious as it is, the centre of the lotus, the part on which the divine icons have been installed, has a serpent’s look suggestive of the great serpent Shesh, Lord Vishnu’s regular seat. Thus, the lotus they are seated on blends into its form also the form of Shesh, perhaps as Lakshmi-Narayana combine Lakshmi and Vishnu, this form of the lotus combines the lotus – the Lakshmi’s seat, with Shesh – the seat of Vishnu. The front-facing, Lord Vishnu’s image is the usual four-armed carrying in them his most usual attributes : chakra – disc, mace, conch and lotus. The three-fourth front facing image of Lakshmi is also four-armed. In iconographic tradition Lakshmi is represented as both, four-armed and with normal two arms, though when a votive icon enshrining a sanctum or presiding over a rite, as here in this painting, she is essentially four-armed. She has two of her hands folded in reverence to her lord, in the third she is carrying a lotus, while with the fourth, she is making offering, perhaps gold coins, which being the goddess of riches and prosperity befit her most. A large golden halo behind them and a chhatra – umbrella, over them are other essentially features of the divine iconography.
The icons of Lakshmi and Vishnu are flanked by two white elephants on either side. The elephants in the front-row are collecting milk-water from the lotus pond in gems-studded golden pots carried in their trunks while the princes-like figures riding them are pouring it from these pots over the divine icons. The elephant in the back-row with their trunks held high are themselves pouring milk-water over the divine icons. A feeling of contentment on the faces of the elephants in the front-row and that of the bliss and enthusiasm on the faces of those in the back-row is simply superb.
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.