Museum Treasure: Vaikuntha Kamalaja

The Dr. Ramnath A. Podar Haveli Museum at Nawalgarh in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan was built in 1902. Originally a residence and known as Podar Haveli, it was converted into a museum after major renovation and restoration works were undertaken of the frescoes and murals that cover every inch of its exterior and interior walls.

The Haveli Museum, which is over 100 feet long, is supposed to have 750 frescoes on its outer walls, passages, two courtyards and all the rooms in the lower level. Every fresco/mural is detailed and covers themes from mythology to local folk tales to whimsical depictions of everyday life.

Though there were many stunning works of art at the Haveli Museum, there was one that caught my eye — more for the unusual subject than for the quality of art. It was like an Ardhanareeshwara, but instead of the composite image of Shiva and Parvati, it was one of Vishnu and Lakshmi.

Vaikuntha Kamalaja, Vasudeva Kamalaja, Vasudeva Lakshmi, Composite form of Vishnu and Lakshmi Ramnath Poddar Haceli Museum

The right half of the image is the male Vishnu in blue with the gadaa (mace) and chakra (disc), while the left half is the fair Lakshmi with a pot and a lotus in her hands. I was intrigued and at that time (this was in January 2014) thought it was the artist’s (probably a Vaishnav) reimagination of the more common Ardhanareeshwara.

I would have continued thinking so if a reader had not mentioned that this was probably based on Lakshmi Narayana and asked me to explore that myth. I did and to my surprise found that the composite image of Vishnu and Lakshmi was known as Vaikuntha Kamalaja. A rare depiction, this composite image is also known as Ardhanari Narayana, Vasudeva Lakshmi and also Vasudeva Kamalaja. I also came across this beautiful depiction housed in the Philadelphia Museum. This composite form is supposed to be to have originated in Nepal and then spread to the Bihar-Bengal regions in India.

Vaikuntha Kamalaja, Vasudeva Kamalaja, Vasudeva Lakshmi, Composite form of Vishnu and Lakshmi Ramnath Poddar Haceli Museum

Considering that the banias or traders and merchants of Shekhawati travelled extensively, we can guess where they got the inspiration from. Did they bring back a print of Vaikuntha Kamalaja from their travels or did they just describe this composite form to the painter?

Whatever was the mode of transfer of this idea, the painter needs to be lauded for adapting the composite form in a style that is immediately recognisable as Shekhawati or Rajasthani.

This is the first and only time I have come across a Vaikuntha Kamalaja. What about you?

The Museum Treasure Series is all about artifacts found in museums with an interesting history and story attached to them. You can read more from this series here.

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8 thoughts on “Museum Treasure: Vaikuntha Kamalaja

    1. Thank you, Anon.

      I was surprised when I saw this image and thought that it was a mistake. A happy mistake. Little did I understand its significance then. I wonder how the image got here. I also wonder why this form is not as popular as Ardhanarishwara. Is is because of the Dwaita philosophy followed by the Vaishnavas?


    1. It was new to me too when I read this for the first time. I believe there are some sculptures of Vaikuntha Kamalaja in museums abroad. I don’t know about Nepal though, where they are supposed to have originated.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is amazing! It is the first time I am seeing this image of Vaikuntha Kamalaja, though of course I have heard of Lakshmi Narayana. The photograph you took is stunning. Thank you so much for this wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What unusual treasures you come across! So wonderful! And of course , I really enjoy the way you share little nuggets of Indian history and culture in your posts! Another interesting read, as ever!
    (Pardon the overuse of exclamations! But this is a rather striking post! 🙂)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. Nirupama. We all have our own unique gaze and perspective and this is mine. Its lovely and encouraging to have someone else – in this case you – appreciate that. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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