The uttara kAnda of the rAmAyaNa is filled with delightful stories of the origins of the rAkshasas and their rise to power. According to Sage agastya, there were several rAkshasas much more hardy than rAvaNa himself. They descended directly from brahma. One of their kings, sukesha, was given a boon by shiva – he, and all the rAkshasas after him, will be born instantly and will attain adulthood immediately.
But it was sukesha’s three mighty sons, mAli, sumAli and mAlyavAn who were destined to attain great strength. mAlyavAn, the oldest, and king of the rAkshasas, followed the path of dharma. sumAli, the second, though a worthy warrior, was an astute political strategist. And mAli, the most valiant, was the leader of the rAkshasa army. The rise of the rAkshasas begins with the exploits of the three brothers, spurred on by the boons they received from brahma himself – guaranteed victory on the battlefield and unerring dedication to each other.
In Hindu lore, the sage vishwamitra holds a highly exalted position. Once a king (kaushika), he gave up his mighty kingdom to become a brahmarishi (best among sages). He appears often in the purANas as well as in the rigveda. Vishwamitra is perhaps best known as the guru of Srirama in the ramayana and as the one who revealed the gayatri mantra. A less famous account, that of the battle of ten kings in the rigveda, also pits him against the might of another stalwart vashishta. Vishwamitra is one of the central characters in K. M. Munshi‘s novel Bhagavan Parasurama
This imaginary portrait is painted in oil (alla prima) on paper. After a rough preliminary pencil sketch (mainly for placement of facial details), the paper was washed with an acrylic undertone of burnt umber and ultramarine blue. The paint palette consisted of Cadmium Orange, Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, Napes Yellow and Titanium White.
Emperor bharata can well be considered the founder of the Indian state. His exploits have earned him near legendary status. First as a 6-year-old abandoned prince in the hermitage of the sage kaNva, bharata apparently tamed the wild lions and played with their cubs. Then, as emperor of hastinApura, he is said to have established a kingdom covering significant parts of modern India. Bharata is featured in the mahAbhArata (which derives its name from his descendants) as well as in kAlidAsa’s famous play Abhijñānashākuntala.
Painted in casein on watercolor paper 10″x14″. A thin layer of acrylic matte medium was first used to reduce paper absorbency and aid the flow of paint. The characters are based on several little studies, such as the one below:
In the great epic Ramayana, Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya has an unannounced visitor to his court one night. The mighty sage Viswamitra has come all the way from his hermitage to seek the king’s aid:
स्वपुत्रं राजशार्दूल रामं सत्यपराक्रमं। ककपक्षधरं वीरं ज्येष्ठं मे दातुमर्हसि।
“I am performing a sacrifice, which is being defiled by two shape-shifting demons (Mareecha and Subahu). Send your eldest son Rama with me, so he may defeat them.”, he says.
Shocked by this sudden request, and overcome with love for his teenage son, Dasharatha politely declines Viswamitra’s request. He instead offers to send his huge army for the sage’s aid. He even offers to go along personally.
His request being declined, the mighty Viswamitra is enraged beyond measure. So much so that the earth trembles under his very feet! He shoots back at once:
“Fine! I will go back whence I came. You can then live here happily with your family, ‘O mighty king!”, he says sarcastically. Viswamitra then gets ready to storm out of the king’s presence.
After much persuasion by his court advisor Vasishta, Dasharatha finally parts with his son Rama. Lakshmana also decides to go along with his elder brother and along with the (now pacified) Viswamitra, the three of them leave for the sage’s hermitage.
rAma, the hero of the great epic the Ramayana,was a prince in the kingdom of koshala (modern day Uttar Pradesh/ Bihar). He was once summoned by the mighty sage vishwAmitra (also called Kaushika) to help him defeat some troublesome demons. One such was the terrible thAtaka, a female ogress with the strength of a thousand elephants. She tortured the people of the forest and prevented the sages from performing their austerities. Such was rAma’s prowess with the bow that he loosed a single shaft and pierced thAtaka in the chest to end her life.
The episode occurs in the Bala Kanda book of the Ramayana (Sarga/ Chapter 26).
Study for Indra. The attire is based on sculptures from the Pitalkhora caves in central India. Drawn in ink with white gouache highlights
Final study of the pose for the final painting.
Final painting. The surface was oil paper with a thin layer of acrylic gesso.
Indra and Vritra. Studies (Top row) in ink and gouache, about 9″x12″ each. Painting (bottom row), oil on paper, 11″x15″.
The episode of Indra fighting the demonic vritra that appears in the rig veda has numerous parallels in other ancient cultures (Hittite, Eastern European).The serpentine vritra swallowed all the waters, causing draught to the land. Seeing this, the king of the devas Indra, brimming with confidence and the soma drink, takes him on with his divine weapon (the vajra or thunderbolt), astride the mighty airAvata (the king of elephants). The fight lasts long but vritra is utterly vanquished in the end.
This aspect of Indra and the very form of vritra have undergone significant changes over the millenia, to attain the foms they have in modern Hinduism. Nonetheless, they refer to an ancient time when songs of valour and courage occupied the minds of the common-folk and battles with mighty enemies captured their imagination.