The Elephant King Attacked by the Crocodile

This picture is from a dispersed “Gajendramoksha” (Liberation of the Elephant-King) series. The myth’s intent, like those that tell us of the avatars of Vishnu, is to demonstrate Vishnu’s willingness always to help when invoked by a person or even an animal with sincere faith. Once, while a herd of elephants was cavorting in a river, their leader was attacked by a crocodile. The elephant immediately began calling Vishnu, and, so intense was the animal’s faith that the god appeared on earth and saved him. Here, an unknown artist has given us an expressive rendering of the vicious attack in a most imaginative manner. The elephants are drawn with telling realism, but the crocodile is purely a creature of fantasy and is dragon-like in appearance. The behavior of the elephants–a mother protects two babies, another feeds on lotuses, and others amble beyond the shoreline–reveals familiarity with the pachyderm, but the water, the rocks, and the sky are rendered conceptually, though with expressiveness. Most unusual is the simultaneous depiction of a cloudburst and a sunburst. The dark clouds with streaks of lightning send down sheets of rain, but they also clear the way for the sun to appear as a golden human head with golden rays riding a chariot drawn by white steeds.

Opaque watercolor and gold on paper


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Walters Art Museum

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