Karna Slays a Demon
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
H: 11.8 W: 16.6 cm
Probably Seringapatam, South India, India
This charged scene is from the Mahabharata (Great Story of the Bharatas), a sacred Hindu epic of ancient India that narrates the great war between two related clans, the Pandavas and the Kauravas. In this scene Karna, mightiest warrior of the Kauravas, slays Ghatotkacha, the giant demon of the Pandavas. On the right, the blue-skinned god Krishna drives the chariot for the Pandava hero Arjuna. Although the artist of this Mahabharata adopted the sharp noses and large, oval eyes of the Vijayanagara court tradition, his style is unique. The figures, which exhibit rounded contours and emphatic modeling, are charged with energy.
Before paper was introduced into India, manuscripts were written on palm leaves. The horizontal format of this page preserves the shape of a trimmed palm leaf. The text is in Sanskrit, the "refined" ancient literary language of India.
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