Ananata Sai (Chromolithograph)

This is Vishnu reclining on Ananta, the seven headed cobra, accompanied by his consort Lakshmi near his feet. Hanuman and Garuda are in the background.

Vishnu, other than the context, is identified by Padma (Lotus) and Shankha (Conch Shell) in his rear right and left hands respectively. The identification of Hanuman is tentative and it is by his curled tail. Garuda is identified by the wings. The facial features of Hanuman and Garuda is human than the typical simian and avian features respectively.

This scene depicts Vishnu, just prior to his creating the universe. Vishnu does that by creating Brahma and entrusting the job to him.

Most of the bronzes and stone sculptures of Ananta Sai show only Vishnu’s consorts and Brahma. Hanuman is normally associated with Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, and is not directly associated with Vishnu. Such association, Hanuman with Vishnu, is common among the Madhwa community of Karnataka.

The printing of these chromolithographs started in 1880s. Raja Ravi Varma starting a printing press in 1894 gave it much higher visibility to the lithographs and made it reach a large group. Some historians view of Ravi Varma as the ‘artist who gave face to Hindu Deities’, may be an exaggeration but not without basis.

The embellishment of the lithographs, as we see in this example, was started in Tamil Nadu (Chettinad region) but soon was adopted by others. The villages in and around Ravi Varma Press in Lonavala, Maharashtra took up this handicraft. These embellished chromolithographs are cherished and sought after even today.

I have come across two more versions of this theme in vintage chromolithographs and it possibly reflects the then market and competition. Extending the iconography and introducing related deities, as in Hanuman and Garuda, may have been a way to appeal to a wider consumer base.

This chromolithograph is 35.5 by 24.5 cm in size and probably dates to the early part of the twentieth century. This chromolithograph is by Raja Ravi Varma Press.

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