As discussed in previous articles in this series, the European artists in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries drew, painting and engraved images that were universally known in India, and had been rendered with a high degree of sameness for a very long period of time. The Europeans, however, lacked knowledge of the Vedic culture and were exposed to only limited examples of these art works. Consequently, they sometimes duplicated erroneously or embellished their works in order to fill-in missing information. Very often, they simply added European motifs in order to complete a picture, because it's what they knew.
As we read in the following description from the University of Chicago exhibition catalog, the Europeans also tended to become fixated on what, to them, were the most peculiar or erotic elements of Vedic art.
"Eighteenth-century antiquarians and students of comparative religion and mythology became obsessed by the erotic elements in Indian religion and temple art. The linga, or phallic, worship of the southern Hindus was compared to the attention paid to the phallus in Greek and Roman art and ceremony. Other Europeans of the mid-eighteenth century collected Indian texts as they undertook the study of Sanskrit literature and language. Abraham-Hyacinthe Antequil-Duperron went to India in 1754 for the express purpose of learning languages in order to translate Indian religious and historical texts more accurately. Meanwhile the Danes sent an expedition to Tranquebar on the Coromandel coast and elsewhere to collect art objects for the ethnographic museum in Copenhagen. Members of the French academy of sciences went to India to observe and record natural phenomena and to study the Hindu astrological and astronomical systems. Finally Sir William Jones (d. 1794) founded the Asiatic Society in Bengal in 1784, established modern Sanskrit scholarship among Europeans, and prepared the ground for the more generalized discipline called Indology."
The Shiva linga and the erotic temple carvings were of great interest to the Anglos, as were many of the images depicting the Lord's pastimes with demons. One of the elements of transcendental art that most bewildered them were depictions of the Lord's innumerable manifestations: His many-armed or -headed forms, the demigods, or the vahanas (carriers) who had many heads or legs.
The European solutions for drawing or engraving these images resulted in a peculiar, and unquestionably foreign rendering. Today's engraving is an excellent example of this phenomenon. In this scene Parasurama is engaged in his fighting pastimes.
Lord Visnu as Parasurama Avatara incarnated himself as a brahmana, who came to avenge all the kshatriyas who had become arrogant. The kshatriyas were suppressing the brahmans and causing havoc in the world.
Parasurama is seen wielding the axe presented to him by Lord Shiva, of whom he was a great devotee. As with the previous Avatars shown in this series, Lord Parasurama is fitting dressed in clothing and garlands, with a Euro-looking crown.
In typical Anglo fashion, the technical depiction of Parasurama's foe is strange, indeed. In the pastime story, we read that Kartavirya, a powerful king, once went to the home of Parasurama's father, Jamadagni. While Jamadagni was out, the king stole the Kamadhenu cow, which gave endless quantities of milk. Upon learning this Jamadgni was enraged, and he killed the king, taking Kamadhenu back. The son of the king then came back and killed Jamdagni. Enraged at the death of his father, Parasurama killed all the kshatriyas, in 21 battles.
The artist has attempted to draw a kshatriya holding weaponry in his many hands. In fact, this individual has 20 arms, one short of the accurate number of 21 kshatriyas killed by Parasurama. Of course, we see numerous severed limbs on the ground, as well. In the background, another kshatriya is paying obeisances to Parasurama.
In a technically poor manner, the artist has created a solid mass of spindled arms that are not attractive. In contrast, the Indian artists rendered the multi-armed forms in very refined detail, creating a balanced image that was physiologically logical in comparison to this contrivance. Nonetheless, the artist has given us a fair representation of the Lord's battle.
In this scene, the background is more bona fide than in our previous example, showing a landscape of palms that are familiar in India. The foreground foliage is somewhat exotic, and not the pastoral look familiar to Europeans. Even the building is fairly typical of an Indian shrine.
Quite delightfully, we have the Kamadhenu cow airborne above the scene, presumably traveling through the pictorial as she did in the story it depicts.