Calcutta Woodcuts, Part 7


Bhisma on a Bed of Arrows

Jul 11, 2011 — CANADA (SUN) — Re-presenting a 2005 Sun Feature series on transcendental art: the rare woodcut prints of nineteenth century Calcutta.

Along with the various Vrindavana lila images we've examined so far in this woodblock series, Calcutta's urban artists also portrayed Lord Krsna's fighting pursuits with the demons and his participation in the Battle of Kurukshetra.

In today's image, we see another unusual blend of traditional and contemporary artistic rendition. Here, the famous scene from Mahabharata's Bhagavad-Gita shows Bhisma lying on a bed of arrows. He is surrounded by various personalities whom we known to be the greatly advanced spiritual personalities described in this Gita scene.

As with yesterday's image, the artist has again depicted Lord Krsna as being smaller than the other personalities present. Sri Krsna is standing in the forefront, and the artist has engraved him in such a way as to almost create an optical illusion, blending the Lord into the personalities behind him.

It is also interesting to note that the artist has used two unique designs to represent styles of clothing. Five personalities are dressed in black shirts with small white bhutti ornaments, while the others have a diagonal cross-hatching on shirts and dhotis (including Krsna). We also see the contrast represented by the mrdanga player, whose clothing does not match the mrdanga's cover. This may indicate the mingling of the two warring sides after the battle.

Bhismadev himself is elevated on the bed of arrows, above the heads of most in the image. The crisscrossed arrows are not an unusual way for this scene to be depicted. What is atypical, however, is the flow of water springing forth from Bhisma's lips and cascading down to the ground. One man is holding an urn to catch the water. Another has shot an arrow into the ground, where the water runs into the earth. Presumably this indicates the continuity of Bhisma's life and his transcendental pastimes, which will continue on into the future.

The artist has engraved a stunted tree on the right side, with limbs chopped off bluntly and foliage nearly gone. This likely indicates the decimation of the natural environment following the great battle. A lone bird sits in the tree, facing away from the scene. He may be either a messenger or a carrion bird, and looks more like the latter.

The artist has engraved at the bottom of the image, in Bengali characters, the following legend: Bhishmer Sharasajya, Judhisthir, Sri Krishna, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, Sahadeva, Dushasan, Drona, Durjodhan. The other names are illegible.

This colored woodcut was done by Shri Nrityalal Datter Krita, and measures 36 x 24.4 cm.


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