Hindu mythology is filled with animal symbolism: Shiva is never drawn without Vasuki, the serpent around his neck, Ganesha, the elephant-headed god is always accompanied by Krauncha, the celestial musician who became a mouse.
Drawing from these stories and many others, artist Bipasha Sen Gupta has created a collection, commissioned by New Delhi's Egg Art Studio presenting an exhibition in association with the World Wide Fund, which reflects on the deep-rooted cultural connections man has traditionally shared with beasts.
Sen Gupta's work, displayed at Egg Art Studio, forms one part of an ongoing exhibition titled The Lair, in which 29 artists have attempted to trace the relationship between humans and the natural world.
Sen Gupta prefers to use relatively eco-friendly substances like tea, sindoor and coal dust. In the exhibition hall, her paintings hang on a wall lined in burlap sack material.
“Sen Gupta’s paintings attempts to make wildlife more intimate for people by mixing the traditional with the contemporary,” said Amrita Varma, curator of The Lair. “It provides an interesting storytelling aspect to the exhibit.”
Each work by Sen Gupta is accompanied by a handwritten note. "I wanted to focus on my roots, but at the same time spread awareness about the need for conserving the environment," she said. "So, the best way I thought, would be through method of storytelling. I have included interesting facts, intriguing incidents and tales of how these creatures originated and also perished."
The painting of a deer with a gold leaf pattern all over its body tells the story of Maricha the asura, or demon, who helped his nephew Ravana kidnap Sita. According to the story, Maricha turned himself into a golden deer to lure an unsuspecting Sita away from her hut in the woods.
In another, two geese, who helped the very "sensuous" Damayanti, princess of Vadarbha, find true love, are depicted in intricate detail. As the story goes, the geese were sent to lord Indra to extend a proposal to marry the princess, but landed up in the kingdom of the handsome king Nal instead.
The geese decided Nal was a better match for the princess than Indra.
"For her swayamwara, both Indra and Nal arrive looking exactly alike," reads the accompanying note. "It is here again that the geese helped her find the real Nal."
“These animals and creatures form an integral part of a bygone cultural environment,” said Sen Gupta. “They may not match the format as seen in my paintings, which are completely based on my thoughts, interpretations and perception after having studied them deeply, they might not be widely acknowledged like the more famous dragons, but stories about these creatures from air, land and water, and the role they have played in the cycle of life are everywhere.”
Sen Gupta's previous art has also reflected on themes of conservation, especially related to that of endangered coral reefs.
"Art works as a huge platform, since one is able to relate better to the matter at hand," she said. "I laced my art work with mythical and magical creatures which make you stop, stare and ask questions."
Bipasha Sen Gupta's works are on display at the Egg Art Studio, Delhi, as part of The Lair till December 17.
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