Devi attacks Raktabija as Kali drinks his blood

An accomplished poet uses sentences and words effortlessly to make the readers/listeners experience a specific ‘rasa’. A master painter uses strokes and colours to the same effect. An example is this nineteenth century painting from Chamba, which brings to life the episode of the slaying of the demon Raktabija from the eighth chapter of the ‘Devi Mahatmya’.

I doubt if many paintings can match the depiction of ‘bhayanaka rasa’ in traditional Indian art as in this painting.

To truly experience this painting, one needs to read the original text. And after reading the original text, one can only admire how brilliantly the unknown painter brought the text to life in his/her colours. I present a brief summary below:

When the demons Chanda and Munda are killed, Shumbha (the king of demons) sends a great army to fight Devi and her associate female powers (Matrika-s). This army includes the demons known as Kalakeya-s (after which the attacking tribe in the movie Bahubali is named). When Devi and her associate powers kill even the greatest of the demons, Raktabija (“whose blood is [like] seed”) comes forward. Raktabija is a unique demon:

“When a drop of blood from his body falls to the ground, a demon of the same size and prowess is born on earth [from it].”[1]

From the ensuing battle between Raktabija and Matrika-s, thousands of Raktabija-s are born. The gods are struck by fear.

“On seeing the despondent gods, Devi quickly spoke. She said, ‘O Chamunda (Kali)! Expand your mouth. With this swift mouth of yours, devour the drops of his blood which arise from the shower of my weapons, and the Raktabija demons which spring from them.’” [2]

Kali does as she is requested: she drinks all the drops of blood as soon as they fall on the ground and devours all the Raktabija-s born from the drops of blood. And then

“With the lance, the vajra, arrows, one-sided swords, and two-sided swords, Devi killed that Raktabija whose blood was [completely] drunk by Chamunda.”[3]

Now see how evocatively the painter has depicted this. The eight-armed Devi on the tiger (the Devi Mahatmya mentions a lion though) showering arrows on the imposing and scary Raktabija and the even scarier Chamunda (Kali) whose extended tongue is drinking all the blood falling to the ground. Also note the tiny Raktabijas who have just arisen from the drops of blood that have fallen to the ground and not yet been licked by Kali.

PS: The painting is now owned by the Brooklyn Museum (accession number 36.245).

References
[1] रक्‍तबिन्दुर्यदा भूमौ पतत्यस्य शरीरत:।
समुत्पतति मेदिन्यां तत्प्रमाणस्तदासुर:॥ ८.४१ ॥

[2] तान् विषण्णान् सुरान् दृष्ट्‌वा चण्डिका प्राह सत्वरा। उवाच कालीं चामुण्डे विस्तीर्णं वदनं कुरु॥ ८.५३ ॥
मच्छस्त्रपातसम्भूतान् रक्तबिन्दून्महासुरान्। रक्‍तबिन्दोः प्रतीच्छ त्वं वक्त्रेणानेन वेगिना॥ ८.५४ ॥

[3] देवी शूलेन वज्रेण बाणैरसिभिरृष्टिभि:॥६०॥
जघान रक्‍तबीजं तं चामुण्डापीतशोणितम्।

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About the Author

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Nityanand Misra
Nityanand Misra is an investment banking professional and an amateur researcher, editor and author. He is a self-taught scholar of Sanskrit and Indian literature. A technology graduate and alumnus of IIM Bangalore, he currently works as a statistical analyst for Citigroup in Mumbai. Misra has edited and authored several books, including an enlarged and annotated translation of the Mahaviri commentary on the Hanuman Chalisa. @MisraNityanand on Twitter https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nityanand_Misra

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