Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The second Avatar of Vishnu

After the "Matsya (or Fish) Avatar" of Lord Vishnu which was the first, he next descended on earth in the "Kurma (or the giant turtle) Avatar". What I find most interesting about the Hindu stories of the Avatars of Vishnu is: They seem to be following a natural progression of the species, starting from water, proceeding slowly to land, and evolving towards more human forms (Narasimha, the half-man half-lion; Vamana, the dwarf) to the super-human or godly Avatars (Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha).

Also, each of the Avatars follows a major turning point and crisis on earth, and results in a total transformation of the earth and life on it. The last of the ten Avatars or "Dashavatars", yet to come, is Kalki, who is supposed to descend on earth at the end of the present age, "Kali Yuga". All the Avatars have been interpreted and celebrated by artists through the ages.

 Contemporary artist Sangeeta  Murthy finds the turtle a symbol of  stability and calm. In the story of  the "Kurma Avatar", the great turtle  helps in an epic battle between the  good (Devas) and evil forces  (Asuras), by bearing the weight of  the great mountain "Mandara".

 Sangeeta Murthy believes the  message is about the strength in  slowing down, in forbearance,  patience and strength, as opposed to  constant speed, intolerance and aggression.

She says she finds a lot of calm just doodling black and white images of "the great turtle". The acrylics and oils depict more complex tales and interpretations of Lord Vishnu, and the "Samudra Manthan", or churning of the great ocean.

It is as a result of the churning of the oceans, that Goddess Lakshmi is born. While all the icons and the events of the story have their own interpretations, the artist is at liberty to interpret them in many ways, to combine them, superpose them with other tales and symbols, giving rise to literally several more twists and tales. Sangeeta has used several techniques used in the tribal Gond Art, Tibetan Mandala art as well as Mithila art in her works.

In fact, it is amazing how turtles have found space in some of these traditional art forms, and the uniformity with which they have been perceived across the world as a symbol of longevity, wisdom and stability. Probability as a result of their long lifespan, wrinkled appearance and hard shells, no doubt!

Some turtles migrate large distances across the ocean, adding to the mystery surrounding them. They have even been found in ancient rock art, like this piece from the Baku Museum, where they symbolize creation, fertility and long life.

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