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From a series of Vishnu Avataras: Kurma. Jaipur, circa 1860. Opaque watercolour with gold on wasli. 26 x 21cm
In this Dasavatara illustration we see the episode from the Vishnu Purana known as the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. Vishnu appears both in the ocean as Kurma avatara (tortoise incarnation) as a pivot supporting Mount Mandara which will act as a churning pole, and in his usual iconic form atop the mountain. Representing the devas (gods) to our left is Brahma and Shiva, to our right are asuras (demon gods). The two groups hold Vasuki, king of serpents, who partly coiled around the mountain/pole will act a a rope, with the two sides ready to pull it to and fro. By churning the ocean they will produce the nectar of immortality which the devas have planned to have for themselves. In the background we see auspicious elements retreived from the ocean whilst being churned, including Indra's elephant Airavata, Surya's seven-headed horse, Surabhi the cow-fountain of milk, and the moon.
Ref: Jaipur Kurma avatara 385-231111
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Above: gilt detail catching light
Images and text © Peter Blohm