The Goddess Bhadrakali Manifests in a Sunlike Orb
From a manuscript of the Tantric Devi, stories of the goddess Devi

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Nurpur, Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia
or made in Basohli, Jammu and Kashmir, India, Asia

c. 1660-1670

Opaque watercolor, gold, silver-colored paint, and beetle-wing cases on paper

Image: 7 11/16 × 7 1/4 inches (19.5 × 18.4 cm) Sheet: 8 3/4 × 8 7/16 inches (22.2 × 21.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Alvin O. Bellak Collection, 2004

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The Great Goddess (Devi), worshiped across India, has many names and many forms. Here, Devi appears at the core of a gleaming golden sun that shines from a templelike frame. In the late seventeenth to early eighteenth century, painters from Himachal Pradesh sometimes pasted little pieces of the shell of iridescent beetles onto their paintings as additional ornamentation. This precious substance-combined with the lavish use of gold and bright, rare pigments-made these works luxury goods in their own right. This painting is the first page of a spectacular series that reveals the multiplicity of the Great Goddess through both words and images.

Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Alvin O. Bellak's preeminent collection of Indian paintings is one of the finest in the world. Eighty-eight pieces from the collection are a partial and promised gift from Dr. Bellak to the Museum in honor of its 125th Anniversary. These lush, delicate, and intimately scaled paintings and drawings span five hundred years of India's artistic history. Dating from the 1400s, before the rise of the Mughal empire, to the heyday of the British Raj in the late 1800s, most of the pictures were created for India's royal courts and patronized by Hindus, Muslims, and Jains. Themes range from the epic adventures of heroes and gods, to poetic explorations of divine and human love, to solemn and satirical portraits, to sumptuous visions of palace life. The focus and glory of the Bellak Collection are the quirky, lively, and colorful products of the ateliers active from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century in the Hindu kingdoms of northern India, ruled by the interlinked clans known as the Rajputs (Sons of Kings).

    This page is from the state of Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayan foothill region of northern India, sometimes called the Panjab Hills. In this painting, dating from the seventeenth century, a great golden sun beams forth from a pure black ground that is enclosed by an elaborate architectural frame. At the sun's core stands the dark goddess, here called Bhadrakali. She is opulently dressed, her gold jewelry enhanced by small pieces of iridescent green beetle shell. Her eyes widen hypnotically, and her red lips stretch in a faint, fang-baring smile. She stands with her jeweled and hennaed feet solidly planted on a corpse, whose huge, twisted body hovers within the sun's sphere. His arms frame his haggard face, with mouth agape and pupils rolled back in his eye sockets. Perhaps better than any other painting in the entire history of Indian art, this work illustrates the concept of divine power at the very moment of embodiment.

    Each work in the Bellak Collection is a masterpiece of its type, and together they vault the Museum into a preeminent position in the realm of Indian painting. Darielle Mason, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), pp. 22-23.

  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Worshiped across India, the Great Goddess has many names and forms. Here called Bhadrakali, her dark body emanates from the core of a great golden sun bursting from a temple-like frame. She stands on a corpse, whose twisted body hovers within the sun's sphere. Fragments of iridescent beetle shell enhance her sumptuous jewelry. Garlands of snakes and lotus blossoms cover her full breasts. The artist's rendering emphasizes Bhadrakali's dual nature; she is simultaneously terrifying defender and benevolent provider. This page, which began a painted series revealing the Goddess through words and images, powerfully illustrates the very moment of divine manifestation. It is one of the many masterpieces of Indian painting given to the Museum by Dr. Alvin O. Bellak. Darielle Mason, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections, 2009.