In this painting, attributed to the Mughal artist Payag, a demonic form of the Hindu goddess Bhairavi, female counterpart to Shiva, sits on the body of a decomposing corpse. Wearing jewelry and a skirt made of skulls, and horns in the form of spear heads, she is accompanied by Shiva who appears in the form of a devotee. Three of her hands carry symbols of destruction, while her fourth extends a gesture of blessing. The borders, executed in gold monochrome, form a continuation of the desolate landscape in the painting itself. The inscription above the image, written in Devanagari script, identifies the figure as Bhairavi.
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Title:The Goddess Bhairavi Devi with Shiva
Artist:Attributed to Payag (Indian, active ca. 1591–1658)
Geography:Made in India
Medium:Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Dimensions:H. 7 1/4 in. (18.5 cm) W. 10 3/8 in. (26.5 cm)
Although Akbar commissioned a number of manuscripts on Hindu subjects, later Mughal paintings of Hindu subjects are rare. This single page illustrates a horrific form of the Devi and was painted by one of the premier artists of the imperial atelier. Notations on its reverse attest that it was in the royal collection of Mewar. It may have been commissioned as a royal gift to the rana of Mewar, who, like most Rajputs, worshiped the Devi (the great goddess, called Bhavani). Perhaps the painting was intended as a gift for Maharana Jagat Singh, who had protected the future Shah Jahan from the wrath of his father, Jahangir, but who died only two months after Shah Jahan became emperor.
The horrific goddess is shown in a cremation ground with her ash-smeared consort, Shiva, who appears as a sadhu (beggar). Huge crematory fires burn and skeletal parts litter the glowing ground, but the page is dominated by the bloodred four-armed goddess sitting on the corpse of a victim and holding his head aloft in one hand, a sword in another. Her head is encircled by golden nimbuses; blood spills from her mouth. Despite the grisly trappings, this is an image of cosmic order restored.
Steven M. Kossak in [Kossak 1997]
The Cremation Ground
This powerful image, attributed to the Mughal master Payag, depicts the fearsome goddess Bhairavi seated on a headless corpse in a cremation ground with decomposing bodies. Her counterpart Shiva appears beside her in the guise of an ash-covered devotee, whose breath of flame likely indicates the uttering of a sacred mantra. Images of fierce goddesses must have been known to the seventeenth-century Mughal world. Bhairavi’s iconography, however, remains rare, even in the eighteenth century when fierce goddesses become well established in Pahari and Rajput painting. In this case, helpful identification is provided in a Devanagari inscription above, added later at Mewar, where the painting was known to have been. In addition, the deity’s red body (rendered with a notably lavish application of cinnabar with touches of Indian yellow) distinguishes her from Kali or other Mahavidyas  with whom she is sometimes associated. It has been suggested that Jagat Singh of Mewar (reigned 1628–52) was particularly devoted to the worship of Bhairavi and may have received this painting as a gift from Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (1628–58). There is at least one other parallel tradition at the Rajput court of Kishangarh, which says that a portrait of the spiritual leader Sri Vallabhacarya by the Mughal artist Hunhar was given to the Kishangarh ruling family as a gift in the Shah Jahan period.
The funereal landscape seems to have been based on multiple sources, including Payag’s own imagination and understanding of the profundity of the subject matter. Here the varying stages of decay—from heads to skulls and from flesh to bone–introduce a sense of temporality, while the headless corpse whose toes dig into the ground suggests yogic ideas about the coexistence of life and death. Among the seven funeral pyres (attributed to Agni), one on the right contains the concealed figure of a burning corpse, newly revealed under high magnification.
The charnel setting suggests that the artist was aware of European scenes of heavenly ascension, judgement, and crucifixion with a comparable scattering of body parts across the ground, particularly in the arrangement of the angled severed head and long bones and the falling figures in the margin. European influence is also evident in the handling of the figure of Shiva. The subtle reddening of the corners of Shiva’s eyes—as seen in the inlaid eyes of temple icons—appears in other Mughal paintings of Hindu gods.
Smoke plumes extend from the main painting into the impressionistically executed margin scenes, which include carrion-eating jackals and the goddess’s lion mount. Two figures, one with tall ears and bushy tail, the other with horns, appear to be the same vanquished demons seen in a folio of an early Mughal Devi Mahatmya.
The Shah Jahani sword held by the Devi and the grooved spear or dagger tips that emerge from her head elsewhere emanate divine light, as in one of Payag’s portraits of his patron, and serve as a reminder of the imperial Mughal context of this image.
Navina Haidar in [Diamond 2013]
2. See S.C. Welch, "The Two Words of Payag—Further Evidence on a Mughal Artist." in Indian Art and Coinnoisseurship, ed. J. Guy (New Delhi: Mapin, 1995, pp. 292, 333, figs. 9, 10, and pl. 19 as convincing evidence for the attribution.
3. See "Yoga in Transformation" by David Gordon White in this volume.
4. From evidence in early Mughal manuscripts, including an Akbar-period Devi Mahatmya series from circa 1565, and more remotely from longstanding Indian sculpture traditions. B. N. Goswamy, "An Akbar-period Devi Mahatmya," in Arts of Mughal India, ed. Rosemary Crill, Susan Stronge, and Andrew Topsfield (London and Ahmedabad, India: Victoria and Albert Museum and Mapin, 2004), pp. 57–66.
5. The painting contains Mewar inventory numbers on the reverse. The numerals in red (14/45?) correspond to the category of religious or mythological subjects in the jotdan (royal painting store). Andrew Topsfield, "The Royal Paintings Inventory at Udaipur," in Indian Art and Connoisseurship, pp. 194–95.
6. Mahavidya goddesses are a group of Tantric dieties, ranging in number from ten to eighteen.
7. Welch, "The Two Worlds of Payag," (see note 2) p. 332. N. Haidar, "The Kishangarh School of Painting, c. 1680–1650." (DPhil thesis, Oxford, 1995), vol. 1, p. 34; K. Khandalava and E. Dickenson, Kishangarh Painting (New Delhi: Lalit Kalai, Akademi 1959), p. 6, also makes mention of this.
8 Welch, "The Two Worlds of Payag," (see note 2) pp. 292, 333, figs. 9, 10, and pl. 19. A sense of temporality is also conveyed in the siege scenes from the Windsor Padshahnama, cited by Welch, showing various stages, from warring soldiers to dead bodies to skeletons. The overall impression conveyed is that of a lengthy siege having taken place over time.
9. For related scenes, see The New Holstein Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts, 1450–1700: The Collaert Dynasty, Part 2 (Amsterdam: Sound and Vision Publishers, 2005), p. 126 (350/1), p. 127 (351/1); Maarten de Vos, vol. 45, p. 228 (676), The Wierix Family, vol. 60, part 2, pp. 340, 347.
10. It appears to be related to Govardhan's seminude figure in the foreground of an earlier album page depicting a group of sadhus in a smokey landscape. Welch 1995 (see note 2), p. 336.
11. M. Ekhtiar et al., eds., Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011), p. 350, illustrates a folio from the Harivamsa showing Krisna with this same subtle treatment of eyes.
12. The folio shows the defeat of Dhumralochan; Goswamy, "An Akbar-period Devi Mahatmya," pp. 57–66. The same pair of demons is shown in the reference above, p. 60, fig. 4.
13. S. C. Welch et al., The Emperor's Album: Images of Mughal India (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987), p. 203, no. 59, illustrates Payag's equestrian portrait of Shah Jahan, bearing an almost identical sword, and with a halo of light around the tip of the spear.
reportedly Mewar Royal Collection, India; [ Spink & Sons Ltd., London, ca. 1985–87; cat. 1987, no. 16, sold to Welch]; Stuart Cary Welch, Cambridge, MA (1987–d. 2008; his estate 2008–11); estate sale, Sotheby's, London, May 31, 2011, no. 5 (to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Indian Court Painting: 16th–19th Century," March 25–July 6, 1997, no. 23.
Welch, Stuart Cary. "The Two Worlds of Payag – Further Evidence on a Mughal Artist." In Indian Art and Connoisseurship: Essays in Honor of Douglas Barrett, edited by John Guy. Middleton, N.J., 1995. pp. 293, 325–28, 330–32, 334–35, 357, ill. pl. 19, fig. 13.
Indian Miniature Painting. London: Spink & Sons Ltd., 1987. no. 16, pp. 38–39.
Diamond, Debra. Yoga : The Art of Transformation. Washington: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2013. no. 16, pp. 196–99, ill. fig. 6, p. 40, and pl. 16, pp. 197–99.
Guy, John, ed. Indian Art & Connoisseurship : Essays in Honour of Douglas Barrett. Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., 1995. p. 293, ill. pl. 19 (color), Article: Welch, SC. "The Two Worlds of Payag—Further Evidence on a Mughal artist," pp. 320–41.
Kossak, Steven M., ed. Indian Court Painting 16th–19th century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. no. 23, p. 52, ill. (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. p. 17.
Haidar, Navina. "Visual Splendour: Embellished Pages from the Metropolitan Museum 's Collection of Islamic and Indian Manuscripts." Arts of Asia vol. 42 (2012). pp. 108–9, ill. figs. 1, 2.
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