Titled, signed, dated, and inscribed 'Welcoming The 6-tusked Elephant / by Badri Narayan / watercolor / 29th Dec. 2005 / Bangalore' (on the reverse)
Private collection, Mumbai
Badri Narayan, a natural story-teller, depicted figurative paintings on accessible subjects throughout his long career as an artist. His use of popular symbolic figures to create two-dimensional stylized representations of well-known stories is one of his signatures.
Working between the literary and the visual, Badri's primary vehicle remained the narrative; focusing on the story elements and producing works ripe with meaning and valuable lessons as seen in the current lot titled 'Welcoming the Six Tusked Elephant' - based on the Jataka Tales, a compilation of stories from Lord Buddha's previous lives, one of which is a white elephant with six tusks.
In this particular story, Buddha as the six-tusked white elephant king called Chhadanta lived in a golden cave on the banks of a vast lotus-filled lake with his two queens: Mahasubhadda and Chullasubhadda. Once after bathing in the lake and frolicking in the forest with his queens he accidentally hit a Sal tree in full bloom. By sheer chance, Chullasubhadda was pelted with the dry leaves, twigs, and red ants from the tree while the flowers and the pollen of the tree rained on Mahasubhadda. Feeling deeply insulted and jealous, Chullasubhadda deserted her spouse and eventually died of a broken heart. Over time, Chullasubhadda was reborn as the queen of Varanasi. Still unable to let go of the grudge from her previous life, she hatched a plot to get Chaddanta’s tusks cut off by convincing the Varanasi king to obtain it for her. The king, in turn, summoned all the great hunters of the kingdom and finally assigned the task to Sonuttara, seen here clad in a saffron robe of a monk.
Chadantta, upon seeing the hunter dressed as a monk, recoiled from harming him. Moved by this, the hunter had a change of heart narrating the entire story to the elephant instead. Finally understanding that the queen instigated the hunt, Chanddata chooses to die by handing over his tusks willingly. The queen fell dead from grief when the hunter brought the tusks to her; belatedly regretting her choice.
The story highlights the danger of jealousy and the impact of one's choices in life. Furthermore, Chanddata's willingness to give away his tusks to the desperate hunter exhibits non-attachment and the virtue of self-sacrifice in the service of others, values worth emulating by the pious and the devout.