Mardhini (Chromolithograph)

This lithograph depicts Durga as Mahishasuramardhini, in short Mardhini. The story about Mardhini can be found in another blog.

Here Mardhini, with eighteen arms, is in the act of killing the demon Mahisha. Four of her left arms are restraining him and the lower right arm with a sword is getting ready for the act. In the foreground you see a fallen demon being attacked by a lion, Mardhini’s vahana. On the right corner of the litho, there is a severed head of a water buffalo. Hence the identification of this Durga as Mardhini.

According to Devi Mahatmya, Durga conquered demons on three different occasions. One conquering Mahisha as shown here. The other two occasions are conquering Sumbha and Nisumbha along with Chanda, Munda and, the third, vanquishing Madhu and Kaitabha.

The iconography differs considerably from that of the bronzes in this collection, in terms of Mardhini’s attributes. Significant one being that Mardhini is not deploying Trishul to kill Mahisha and for that matter she is not holding a Trishul at all. In the lithographs such deviations/variations are not uncommon. In a lithograph, printed by Raja Ravi Varma FAL press and the artist M V Dhurandhar, Mardhini is shown with a Trishul. In another lithograph, printed by Chitrapriya Prakash Press, Mardhini is shown with drawn bow and arrow in addition to the Trishul (Plate 46, Gods in Print 2012, Richard H Davis). The last lithograph shows four demons, quite an army. It looks like , even at that time, there was considerable competition in painting and printing such images.

The second point, this lithograph was printed in Germany (lower left corner). Towards the end of the 19th century, the European publishers took advantage the growing mass market in India for such art-cum-devotional images and the development of chromolithography in Europe. They produced these lithographs, based on paintings/prints available and sold them at very competitive prices. During the beginning of the 20th century some of the Indian publishers sent images to Europe for printing. This was partly to counter the immensely popular Ravi Varma printing press, by equating production in Europe to quality. On that token, the example I have is not a great one.

The lithographs is about 33 cm by 24 cm. It is probably about 100-120 years old. Strange it may sound, despite the gory aspects in the lithograph, it is made for and used in worship.


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