'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Indian Museum - Revisited

In an earlier post, I had described a sculpture on the wall of Rani-ni-Vaav, the grand step-well in Patan, Gujarat thus:

"an unusually detailed image of Kalki(?), the equestrian incarnation of Vishnu - he holds a sword and his other hand holds forth a bowl into which a lady is pouring something"

Today, after my second visit to the Indian Museum in Calcutta, let me correct: Whom I called 'Kalki' is actually 'Revanta', a minor solar deity, whose worship dates back almost to the Vedic times, and who still has some serious following in the Western parts of the country (another name for him is 'Raivata' and the holy 'Raivataka' mountain of the Mahabharata (and identified with the modern Girnar) derives its name from him). Wikipedia says: Revanta is one of the sons of Surya, the Sun God proper; he is sometimes said to correspond to the Persian Mitra and is usually shown as a horse-riding hunter.

But my earlier guess of the Patan rider's identity wasn't totally off the mark. Indeed, Vishnu himself started out, in Vedic times, as a minor Solar deity; and as he grew over the centuries to become the all-sustaining Narayana, Revanta, a sub-Solar deity, might well have been absorbed into the Avatara legends cycle with the new name Kalki. And like Kalki (which word is probably derived from 'khadgi' = the one with the sword), Revanta usually is seen brandishing a sword (for example, the Patan image).

Every Vishnu image I can remember showed him with two of his arms raised above shoulder level and holding a discus and conch (keeping them up perpetually must be quite tiresome even for Him). Today, I saw quite a few carvings from in and around Bengal of Vishnu standing at ease, relaxed - all four arms hanging down.

I also saw, for the first time, a strange Buddhist sculpture of the divine Kalpa-taru tree; it looked more like a mushroom - and was vaguely reminiscent of the Henry Moore abstraction on the atomic cloud.

A 7-8 year old boy suddenly accosted me and asked in English: "You know where is mummy?"; for a few seconds, I was too puzzled to give any answer. Then a lady, who had been with him, asked "Do you know where is the Egyptian mummy kept? He (the boy) wants to see only that!"

The mummy, of which I came to know only then - and subsequently visited - is in pretty bad shape; its face has shrunken to a grinning Death's Head.

A caption in Hindi next to a marble statue of queen Victoria's refers to her as 'Rajarajeswari (in translation, "lady/goddess of the king of kings") Victoria'!

The Bharhut gallery was, again, closed.

And I took a second look at the strange 'Ajaikapada' sculpture, which I had mentioned in an earlier post. Then, I had also said I did not remember if the figure was ithyphallic, as is probably the norm; based on what I saw today, it is hard to decide either way!


I found the Victoria Memorial a fairly attractive marble edifice. The facade has a few allegorical female figures, their muscular arms and even poses parodying some of Michelangelo's masterpieces. A large bronze statue in front shows Queen Victoria enthroned in majesty. There is a certain hard-hitting realism about it - the queen is well on in years and quite corpulent and weary-eyed and appears weighed down by her elaborate royal attire; and she has to hold up a scepter and a little globe. No wonder she sits as if the throne is a wheel-chair!

There is a temporary exhibition going on in there, of paintings/sketches/drawings done by Brit artists during 18th and 19th centuries showing Indian landscapes/genre scenes/ ruins etc... Quite impressive. In the (very unlikely) event of someone from Kolkata reading this post in the next few days (the expo closes on Jan 30th if I got it right), let me recommend a visit!


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