Varaha with Bhu, gouache on paper

Perhaps from Chamba, Pahari region, north India
Around AD 1740

Vishnu as Varaha saves the Earth in a painting from the Himalayan foothills

In the third of his ten incarnations (avatara) Vishnu appears as a boar. In this form he has long been a popular subject for Hindu artists, both in sculpture and in paintings. The four-armed Varaha is shown holding Vishnu's characteristic attributes, the discus, conch shell, a lotus, and a club with which he strikes the sea-demon. Blood pours from the demon's chest and he staggers back, dropping his broken sword. Varaha meanwhile lifts the earth balanced on his tusks, saving the earth goddess (Bhu) from the swirling black ocean. In most sculptures of this myth the earth-goddess Bhu is personified as a female figure, while here the earth is shown as a small landscape. Three buildings including a Shiva shrine containing a linga, stand in a wooded and hilly landscape with a cow, a leopard and a peacock stand, while a man hunts a deer with a bow. As in other of the early incarnations of Vishnu, the god is depicted as a brutal and elemental saviour.

Many paintings from the Hindu courts of Rajasthan and the Himalayan foothills (the Pahari region) are of Hindu myths such as this one. The early Pahari style is clear from the bold use of contrasting bright blocks of colour - the red border and yellow background - and the focus on the dramatic representation of the myth. Later paintings such as those from Kangra are generally softer and more subtle in their colouring. The way that the figure of the demon bursts out of the painting's borders is a common feature of paintings of this period and provenance.

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More information


M.C. Beach, Mughal and Rajput painting (Cambridge University Press, 1992)

T. R. Blurton, Hindu art (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Museum number

Asia OA 1966.7-25.01


Brooke Sewell Fund


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