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Late 19th Century
Place of origin: Kangra, Himachal Pradesh
Materials: Cotton embroidered with silk, zari thread
Dimensions: L: 92 W: 65 cm
This piece of cloth, rectangular in dimensions, embroidered using multi-colour silk threads with delicate figures : Lord Shiva, Parvati, various gods, Shiva's 'ganas', humans, animals... and fine motifs of trees, flowers, leaves among others, is a rumal. Different from a handkerchief as the term 'rumal' now suggests, this rumal was crafted to serve as a coverlet to cover the trays of gifts exchanged on festivals and ceremonious occasions, as also offerings carried to deities in temples. In Sikh tradition a rumala is the gorgeous piece of cloth used for wrapping the holy Granth Sahib. A medieval fashion equally a part of Hindu and Islamic traditions, in 18th-19th century Himalayan hill states a rumal enjoyed greater popularity than it did anywhere else. A 'Chamba rumal', the best known among Pahari rumals, is venerated world over for its delicate embroidery and thematic and mythical contexts.
This rumal portrays in delicate stitches one of Lord Shiva's great exploits : annihilation of the elephant demon Gaya widely known as 'Gajantaka' meaning 'end of Gaja' or elephant, a rare theme, not only for a rumal but for any art form. It involves depiction of great force: Shiva's bull fleeing for life, excited elephant chasing it, and Shiva, mad in fury, almost leaping on it. The entire episode has been done in narrative style within rectangular frame which a floral-creeper-design pattern defines. Towards the bottom are portrayed Shiva's Ganas - cosmic elements manifest in human forms, running after Gajasura - elephant demon, Gajasura as chasing Nandi - the Shiva's mount, and Nandi, fleeing wind-like. Towards the middle, highly agitated Shiva rushes to punish Gajasura. Devoted minds, manifest as his female devotees, rush to the site. Finally, Lord Siva and Parvati are seen seated under a large tree with the elephant skin on his shoulders suggesting that Gajasura has been annihilated. The uppermost portion of the rumala illustrates Gods and Goddesses in their vimanas, descending from heaven and showering flowers on Siva -Parvati. Three-dimensional effects, fine line work, good composition, placement of various scenes reveal same accomplishment as does a miniature rendered in colours on a piece of paper.