Did you know Raja Ravi Varma is thought to be the painter prince who gave human characters to our beloved gods ?
Before Ravi Varma, our gods looked different – they were not gracious and relatable. History books show us that ancient paintings of our gods looked like they were inspired by stone sculptures in temples. They were ugly and looked similar to cave art.
But, things started to change in later part of 18th century, when Raja Ravi Varma came in to picture. Instead of following traditional approach to depict gods, Ravi Varma used European realism to portray his subjects. With his immense drawing and painting skills, Raja Ravi Varma could easily turn stories from the epics to wonderful pieces of art.
In this post, you’ll see the top ten god paintings made by this master painter.
#1 Portrait of Goddess of Words
In this painting, Raja Ravi Varma portrays the deity of words, wisdom and education — goddess Saraswati as a beautiful woman with four hands. She’s pictured wearing a pearl white saree symbolising purity.
She is holding a musical instrument veena with her two hands, representing all creative arts and sciences. On the back right hand, she holds a pearl garland, signifying the power of meditation and spirituality. The fourth hand holds a book, depicting all vedas – the eternal book encompassing all knowledge in the world.
She’s often drawn with a swan or peacock on her side. The peacock symbolises magnificence of beauty and the celebration of all creative dance forms. You’ll also notice a flowing river in the background, which serve as reference to her metaphysical form as a river.
We worship Goddess Saraswati for success in studies, performing arts, writing and poetry.
#2 Sacred Goddess Of Wealth
The deity of wealth, fortune, work and prosperity. Raja Ravi Varma sketches Goddess Lakshmi as a beautiful young woman with four hands portrayed standing on a lotus flower. She’s seen wearing a red saree with golden threads, representing beauty and wealth. She’s also holding two lotuses in her hands.
The lotuses symbolises several things. It signifies beauty, knowledge, purity, karma, self realisation, reality and consciousness. Just like the way a lotus can sprout from muddy water, the lotus also signify one universal truth — despite being surrounded by evil, goodness and prosperity can flourish anywhere there is good karma and hard work.
The elephants in this artwork symbolises strength, activity and work. The water body in the background represents existence of all the fertility needed for an abundant prosperity.
People worship goddess Lakshmi for abundance in wealth and prosperity.
#3 Lord Vishnu & Consorts
In this painting Ravi Varma portrays the supreme deity Lord Vishnu with his consorts Maya and Lakshmi. They are all sitting on the coiled throne built by the five headed snake-king Shesha. They are all floating over the cosmic ocean of matter and time.
According to ancient Hindu texts, Lord Vishnu is the deity liable for keeping balance in the universe. He with Shesha controls the time in the universe. The serpent’s long coiled tail represents the infiniteness of time. Shesha is also responsible for holding all the planets of the universe on his hoods. He is also constantly singing the glories of Vishnu from all the mouths.
Lord Vishnu is holding four thing is his hands. On one hand is Chakra, which symbolizes purified spiritual mind. On the second back hand, he holds a Shankh (conch), which is source of creation. It’s believed that the entire universe was made from the sound “Om” from the Shankh. The third hand holds a lotus, which represents purity, abundance, expansion, growth and fertility. The fourth hand holds a club, representing authority and knowledge.
We worship Lord Vishnu for protecting our life and belongings, because he’s the ultimate preserver of all life forms on Earth.
#4 Shiva Family
The supreme deity, one among the holy trinity in Hinduism, Lord Shiva is portrayed with Goddess Parvati and Lord Ganesh sitting on a golden throne over the mountains of Kailash in this beautiful painting by Raja Ravi Varma. Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Shiva and gatekeeper to Kailash is portrayed keeping guard in front of them.
Lord Shiva is seen holding two things in his hands. A trishul and an axe. The trishul signify the power held with supreme deity as the creator, preserver and destroyer of things in the universe. The axe is considered to be the universal weapon that can defeat all other weapons in the universe.
Even though Lord shiva is considered to be a destroyer of all things in the universe, we worship him to remove impurities from our body and to destroy all evils from our surroundings.
#5 Goddess Kali
In this painting painter prince Raja Ravi Varma portrays the favourite goddess of West bengal – Goddess Kali in her most dangerous form Samhara Kali. She is the most angry and powerful form of Goddess Parvati.
In this artwork, Ravi Varma portrays Kali as dark skinned woman with four hands. She’s wearing a garland of severed heads and a skirt made of detached hands. She is holding a sword in one arm and a severed head in another. The other arm holds a bowl to collect the dripping blood from the separated head.
She’s standing over her consort Lord Shiva who is lying calmy beneath her.
The sword in her hands and the separated head signify the importance of divine knowledge that detaches souls from the bondage of ignorance and ego.
There’s also blood in her front right arm, but she’s holding it out with a gesture to dispel fear among her devotees.
According to many religious texts, Kali is considered to be the divine protector who grants moksha by liberating souls from the repeated life-death cycle. It’s believed that worshipping Goddess Kali is the quickest way to attain moksha.
#6 Vishnu on Garuda
This is another Raja Ravi Varma painting of Lord Vishnu portrayed with his two wives, Lakshmi and Maya. This being said, in this painting, Ravi Varma is giving emphasis to the relationship between Lord Vishnu and Garuda — the vehicle of Lord Vishnu and also his ardent devotee.
Garuda is king of all birds and is the personification of courage. He is described in epics as a powerful bird capable of disrupting the rotation of earth, heaven and hell with his wing flapping. He is a shapeshifter who can form any shape and size. He can become enormous to even block the sun. He’s considered to be the epitome of strength, speed, and of martial prowess. He’s also very loyal to Lord Vishnu and supports all actions to fight injustice and evil in this world.
In this painting, master painter portrays Garuda holding a snake in his hands representing all Nagas in the world, of whom he is a fierce enemy. The snake also represents all the evils in the world – which Lord Vishnu with help of Garuda is trying to eradicate.
#7 Sri Shanmukha Subramanya
In this art piece, Raja Ravi Varma portrays Lord Subramanya with his two wives. Subramanya is considered to be the first son of Shiva & Parvati. He’s a warrior and the leader of Lord Shiva’s army.
In this painting, Raja Ravi Varma depicts Lord Subramanya with six heads, twelve arms riding on his vehicle peacock. He’s seen with his wives Valli and Devasena. The trio symbolises action, will power and knowledge respectively. Devasena and Valli represents kriya shakti (the power of action) and Iccha-shakti (will-power) respectively, while Lord Kartikeya represents the symbol of the transcendental jnana-shakti (the power of knowledge). The snake clutched by peacock represents our ego, indicating that we need to keep our ego under control for winning our wars.
Subramania is thought to be the god of war and victory. So, if you are struggling with anything in your life, worship Lord Subramanya. He’ll soon help you win your war.
#8 Matsya Avatar
In this art piece, Raja Ravi Varma portrays the first avatar of Lord vishnu, Matsya. Lord Vishnu is considered to be the God of preservation. Whenever the earth was in danger or when evil threatens to overpower good, Lord Vishnu descends from the heaven to incarnate on the earth. This time it was in the form of a half fish-human.
The upper half of Matsya avatar is human, while the lower part resembles that of a fish. In this avatar, Lord vishnu is seen visible with four hands. Two of the hands are gripping children from drowning in ocean. The other one is holding a chakra and the fourth one is holding a shankh.
The artwork symbolises avatar of Lord vishnu Matsya saving vedas in the event of a ancient doomsday flood. The infants in the painting represent vedas. Matsya symbolises the aquatic life form that existed in the beginnings of formation.
It is believed that worshipping Matsya avatar can gain you Lord Vishnu’s blessings and protection.
#9 Descent of Ganga
In this painting, Raja Ravi Varma portrays the story of Goddess Ganga’s descend from heaven on to earth. Lord shiva is preparing to weaken the violent fall of river Ganga by reducing her speed with his matted hair. In the meantime, Goddess Parvati, sage Bhagiratha and Nandi is watching this sight from a distance.
The story goes like this. Sage Bhagiratha wanted to bring celestial river Ganga to Earth to purify ashes of his descendants and to alleviate a worldwide drought. Bhagiratha rigorously prays to Lord Shiva for several years to achieve this. Pleased with his prayers, Lord Shiva grants him a boon to bring Goddess Ganga to Earth.
But, there was one problem — the vigor of Ganga might cause severe floods and wipe out all living things on Earth. That’s when Sage Bhagiratha requests Lord Shiva to help control the state of affairs. On hearing this, Lord Shiva prepares to catch Ganga and reduce the impact of her fall and prevent the floodings. That’s the moment Raja Ravi Varma portrayed in this painting.
The avatar of holy trinity in Hinduism, Dattatreya is the incarnation of three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. In this painting, Raja Ravi Varma portrays Dattatreya as a yogi with three heads and six hands. Heads and hands represents each god from this Trimurti. The hands hold symbolic items from each god. A pair of hands hold a Chakra and Shank, that of Lord Vishnu. Another pair carries a trishul and drum that of Lord Shiva. The other pair holds a lotus and a pot representing Lord Brahma.
You could also see a cow and four dogs surrounding Dattatreya in the picture. They symbolises mother Earth and the four vedas respectively that nourishes all living things on the planet.
The three heads and six hands have a different meaning. The three heads represents the gunas each humans should possess – Sattva (goodness, positivity, truth), Rajas (passion and activity) and Tamas (destruction, chaos). The six hands stand for the six goals of life – Yamas (self control), Niyama (positive duties), Samatva (equality), Dama (moderation), Daya (empathy) and Shanti (peacefulness).
The living things in the painting also has alternate meanings. The cow represents Panchabhutas and the four dogs symbolises the inner forces of a human being — Iccha (desire), Vasana (passion), Asha (hope) and Trishna (thirst).
We worship Dattatreya to protect us from all evil influences and to live a happy and peaceful life.
Now, over to you
Who is your favourite god? Do you have paintings of your favourite god in your home? Which of these Ravi Varma paintings would you keep in your pooja room? And why? Share your thoughts below.