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The Hindu deity Vishnu slays the demons Madhu and Kaitabha

The Hindu deity Vishnu slays the demons Madhu and Kaitabha

The Hindu deity Vishnu slays the demons Madhu and Kaitabha, from a Devi Mahatmya series, approx. 1760. India | Himachal Pradesh state | former kingdom of Guler. Opaque watercolors and gold on paper. Gift of George Hopper Fitch, 1996.9.

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Between creations of the world, Vishnu was awakened from his sleep in the swirling Sea of Milk— the Cosmic Ocean— by demons Madhu and Kaitabha. Vishnu fought them for five thousand years. Finally, to taunt the god, the demons asked to be killed on the earth, thinking this impossible. Resorting to a pun on the words for earth and thigh, Vishnu put the demons upon his thigh and killed them.

The artist offers two scenes from the story, the calm of the demons talking to Vishnu on the left and the violence of the god’ s conquest on the right. Continuous narration— showing the same figures more than once to create a sequence of scenes— is a technique common in Indian art throughout the ages.

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