The Thirupullamangai temple

Part of the Thirupullamangai temple structure, located in Pasupathikoil near Kumbakonam. Oil paint on canvas 11″ x 15″

This is a side section of the main temple structure. The temple is referred to in the 7th century tamil shaivate hymns called the thevaram. The present structure was most likely built over a period of several decades, covering the reigns of some prominent Chola kings, starting from Parantaka I, his grandson Parantaka II (Sundara Chola) and Sundara Chola’s son, the illustrious Rajaraja I. If you are ever in the Kumbakonam area, a visit to one of the many Chola temples in the vicinity is an absolute must.

I have always shied away from painting Hindu temples given their highly intricate (and often overwhelming!) details that demand the utmost concentration. I finally summoned the courage to make an attempt. The painting was actually done using only two colors (yellow ochre + black) and white. The sky is actually black + white, which appears blue (cool) in relative contrast to the (warm) yellow of the structure. The under-drawing was done directly with the brush using mineral spirits to thin the oil paint. Two initial stages of the painting are shown below.

Underdrawing in black paint over a yellow ochre wash (thinned paint with odourless mineral spirits)
More details added over the underpainting, final stage before adding white to the mixes

Maratha light cavalryman

Maratha light cavalry charge. Oil on paper 12″X16″

Light cavalry was one of the mainstays of the Maratha army in the 17th and 18th centuries. Speed of movement and the ability to strike and break the ranks of enemy infantry dictated their appearance and armor. The elite Maratha light cavalryman shown here was clad in mail and carried a round shield and patta or gauntlet sword. Sometimes they were armed with a lance when thrusting through infantry lines. The gauntlet sword combined a gauntlet (hand armour) with a sword and offered excellent swiping ability at the expense of thrusting. If the cavalryman chose to thrust the patta he’d likely fall off his horse trying to retract the weapon. The elite light cavalry rode unarmoured horses (again for speed) and wore light chain mail underneath.

The painting is done on paper using liquin medium for quick drying. The preliminary drawing was executed using brown colored pencil underneath.




A portrait of Kaushika by Kaushika. Oil on paper 11″x15″.

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 paletteĀ  consisted of Cadmium Orange, Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, Napes Yellow and Titanium White.

Indra and Vritra

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.