Ravi Varma's Mohini: The Temptress

In this story Prof. Vasudha Narayanan, an authority on Hinduism and religion, explores various interpretations relevant to this iconic work by Raja Ravi Varma.

One of Raja Ravi Varma’s famous paintings, Mohini, an avatar of Vishnu is a fascinating subject, not just for the beauty of the work, but the myth behind the character.

"The powerful demon king Bhasmasura obtained a boon from Lord Shiva that he be indestructible until he himself touched his head. An impossible occurrence since he was in control of his own destiny. Mohini, whose intention was to accomplish the task of destroying Bhasmasura, had therefore to be convincing enough and entrap him to commit the act himself." - Rukmini Varma, great, great granddaughter of Raja Ravi Varma.

Mohini On A Swing, Raja Ravi Varma, 1894, Original Source: Collection of Ritu & P. Alak Gajapati Raju
Mohini Playing With The Ball, Raja Ravi Varma, "Circa 1894", Original Source: Private Collection
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"This is where the wonderful vision of Ravi Varma comes out in full force. The enticement should be conducted without the smallest vestige of suspicion that could alert Bhasmasura. So, Ravi Varma portrayed Mohini innocently enjoying herself on a swing in a fantastic setting surrounded by nature’s flora amidst woodlands where Bhasmasura was hiding but watching her every move." - Rukmini Varma

Prof. Vasudha Narayanan dwells on the significance of Mohini in Hindu iconography and in Ravi Varma’s works. Her extensive study and research in the field of visual and expressive cultures of Hindu traditions come across clearly in her interpretation of the paintings.

Vasudha Narayanan (2018-04) by Raja Ravi Varma Heritage FoundationRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Professor Vasudha Narayanan

A distinguished professor at the Department of Religion, University of Florida, her fields of interest are the visual and expressive cultures of Hindu traditions in India, Cambodia, and America. She is the author of seven books and has edited numerous articles and publications. 

Mohini The Temptress - An Interpretation by Prof Vasudha Narayanan (2021-03) by Raja Ravi Varma Heritage FoundationRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Raja Ravi Varma's Mohini

Mohini, the female form of Vishnu has been the subject of several mythological stories. Prof. Vasudha Narayanan speaks about her fondness for this particular Ravi Varma painting and explains more about this avatar of Lord Vishnu. 

What Prof. Vasudha conveys in her insightful and delightful talk is how Mohini is perceived across cultures vis-à-vis referencing Indian mythology, particularly with relevance to the stunning paintings on the subject created by Raja Ravi Varma.

Credits: Story

Information & research: Prof. Vasudha Narayanan
Adapted from: Lecture by Prof. Vasudha Narayanan titled 'Mohini The Temptress'
Additional inputs: Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation
Images: Used with permission from Rupika Chawla's 'Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India'; Image collection of Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation; various Private Collections
Story curated by: Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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