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The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan

Tanjore and Mysore Paintings at the CSMVS Mumbai

A chubby, naked, fair Krishna, holding a butter ball, covered in golden ornaments, Yashoda by his side, an indulgent smile on her face, even as her finger is raised in admonition. Rama and Sita seated on the throne, Lakshmana on one side, Bharata and Shatrughna on the other, surrounded by sages and kings; Rama a distinctive green in colour. These are both popular themes in Tanjore Art. I first saw both these in temples, the Navaneetha Krishna in many homes as well, if not original, at least a recent replica or just a copy. The Ramar Pattabhishekam I have better memories of, having seen it often at the Matunga Bhajan Samaj in Mumbai, as well as at my mother-in-law’s ancestral house in Thanjavur. The latter especially is close to our family’s heart, and it’s an exquisite piece of work, the expressions on Rama and Sita’s faces as intricately done as the gold work that surrounds them.

Navaneetha Krishna

Beautiful as they are, to me, they are associated with divinity more than just works of art. Maybe it has something to do with me seeing them at temples (and the family shrine), but I rarely think of them as Tanjore paintings. Which is why I relished the opportunity to feast my eyes on Tanjore paintings at the CSMVS.  

Ramar Pattabhishekam

Three Dimensions Of Divinity: Thanjavur Art Revealed, is a special exhibition at the museum, to showcase their new collection of Tanjore and Mysore Paintings. This collection is part of a set of 350 paintings bequeathed to the museum by the late Kuldip Singh, an ardent collector. The museum has showcased about 50 of the paintings as part of this exhibition.


The paintings cover a variety of topics – from deities, such the  Navaneetha Krishna and Ramar Pattabhishekam , Hayagriva, Vitthala, Muruga, Ayyanar and Madurai Veeran.  



Narratives such as the marriage of Krishna to Satyabhama, the naming ceremony of Rama and his brothers, the story of Markandeya

Wedding of Satyabhama

Detail of Satyabhama (left) and Krishna from Wedding of Satyabhama

Story of Markandeya (detail)

Temples, such as the Srirangam temple. I was especially fascinated by the fact that this painting of a Vaishnava temple included the figure of a Shaiva sanyasi. It turns out that the painting was probably commissioned by the mutt or the sanyasiat the opening of a new choultry (dharmshala or place for pilgrims to stay) at one of the Shaiva mutts at Srirangam.

Srirangam Temple
showing the entire temple complex including the smaller shrines

Detail of Srirangam Temple - Ranganatha in the sanctum

Detail of Srirangam temple - The Shaiva Sanyasi

The 108 Divya Desams

 Saints such as Nammalvar, and the 63 Nayanmars

Detail from painting of Nammalvar

The 63 Nayanmars

There are also non-Hindu themes, such as these Jain paintings, as well as a portrait of Guru Nanak.

The gallery also has a series of paintings depicting the process of creation of these paintings, as well as an AV presentation.

The exhibition is on till the end of June, so if you haven’t already been to see it, don’t miss it.



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