Kantha (Embroidered Quilt)
Artist/maker unknown, Bengali
Scenes from the Ramayana intertwine with the story of the Bengali snake goddess Manasa on this early kantha. The goddess, portrayed as a snake-flanked water pot at lower left, is both benevolent (she protects from snakebites) and malicious (she unleashes her snakes and inflicts deadly venom). When Manasa was denied worship by a wealthy landholder, she killed each of his sons on their wedding nights. When his youngest son married, the landholder built a house of iron to protect him, but Manasa’s snakes wiggled though a hole in the wall, as depicted at lower right. The valiant widow Behula takes her husband’s body on a river odyssey to visit the god Shiva who successfully resurrects all four brothers.