The Primacy of 5
(A series by Jay Varma)
Introduction by Vasudha Narayanan
Distinguished Professor, Department of Religion,
Director, Center for the study of Hindu Traditions (CHiTra), University of Florida
Jay Varma’s vivid portraits of royalty and of heroines from Indian epics have an arresting reality. The Jung royal family greet us with the warmth of their smiles and their palpable radiance. The picture picks up their aristocracy and accessibility, a paradox neatly delivered by simultaneously capturing the parents’ gracious stance and the controlled vitality of the children.
This engagement with reality is seen in the splendid translations of women from the Indian epics into a contemporary vocabulary of bold beauty.
The “five maidens” (Panchakanyas) have been revered by Hindus for almost two millennia; the love that Damayanthi had for Nala has haunted our imaginations.
Jay Varma’s paintings capture the complexity of Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita Tara, Mandodari et al.; and their exquisite bodies redolent of fresh rain-soaked earth come through in his paintings where trees, mountains, rivers speak of the turbulence and opulence of their lives.
Sita’s despair, Draupadi’s enigmatic, amused smile, and Ahalya’s almost-defiant beauty stop us in our tracks, and we want to know more about them. Who are these luminous women? Like his famed ancestor Raja Ravi Varma, whose portraits of women deep in their thoughts roused our curiosity, these pictures invite us into other worlds, where the rough forests became the home of princesses and women created by the gods.
Jay Varma has captured their lives with our norms of beauty, making us recognize the Ahalyas, the Draupadis, the Sitas, the Taras and the Mandodaris who live amongst us in our world today, opening our eyes to the betrayals and successes of these women, past and present.