Kantha (Embroidered Quilt)
Artist/maker unknown, Bengali
In the lower half of this kantha two peacocks battle over a snake, their wings raised, a distinctive regional motif. Mayura, often translated as “killer of snakes,” is the word for peacock in several South Asian languages, including Bengali. The four figures in the upper half of the quilt are unrelated to this scene: the fierce goddess Kali, brandishing her ritual chopper and a severed head while standing on a corpse; the god Krishna, playing his flute, and his lover, Radha, together on a lotus; and a fan-bearing attendant. These figures probably narrate the Bengali tale of how, to avoid detection, Krishna miraculously transformed into Kali when Radha’s mother nearly caught them together. While the transformation is shown here, it is incomplete: Krishna’s peacock-feather crown has yet to turn into Kali’s banana-pith headdress.