Indian and Himalayan Art
Kurmavatara (Vishnu's Incarnation as a Tortoise)
or made in Bashohli, Jammu and Kashmir, India, Asia
Artist/maker unknown, India
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Currently not on view
1984-139-1Gift of Stella Kramrisch, 1984
LabelThe great god Vishnu activates each cycle of existence by creating the universe, together with the devas (gods, who uphold cosmic order) and the asuras (anti-gods or demons, who disrupt it). He intervenes in the perpetual struggle by incarnating in earthly forms called avatars, usually standardized as a set of ten. The second of Vishnu's avatars was the tortoise Kurma (seen here as the circle in the water that supports the pink mountain on which Vishnu sits). When chaos and floods devastated the earth, all good things were lost in an ocean of milk. Kurma dove to the ocean bottom and the devas and the asuras joined forces to set the cosmic mountain Meru on his back. Then the serpent king Vasuki wrapped around the mountain as churning rope. The devas and asuras stood on opposite sides, churning the ocean of milk to release the treasures. These included the wish-granting cow Kamadhenu, the flying horse Uchchaisravas, and the elephant Airavata who became the god Indra's vahana.