Vyasa Purnima, which is celebrated as the birthday of the sage Vedavyasa, is also known as Guru Purnima and Ashadha Purnima. The name Vedavyasa is synonymous with ancient Indian philosophy. More popularly known as the author of the Mahabharata, Vyasa's main contribution is the systematic classification of Vedic literature into four parts - Rig, Yajus, Sama and Atharva. He is the author of the Brahma Sutra and many Puranas and has also compiled the Vishnu Sahasranama.
Right from his birth, he is said to have solved many riddles of Vedic literature and set right many of the issues of the Kauravas and Pandavas. He was the son of Parashara rishi and Matsyagandhi, who was later known as Satyavati and married King Shantanu. Parashara rishi named him Krishna Dwaipayana as he was born on an island. He is known as a manifestation of Vishnu and is also known as Vasishta Krishna, as he was the great grandson of sage Vasishta. It is believed he had his ashrama in Badarinath and is hence also known by the name Badarayana. The Vishnu Sahasranama verses refer to him as Vysaya Vishnu Rupaya Vyasa Rupaya Vishnave ..., establishing him as a manifestation of Vishnu.
Vedavyasa has been depicted in the form of a sage in most of the art works. In sculptural examples, mainly in bronze and copper castings, his figure is depicted as seated in padmasana with yoga patta tied across the knees. In sculptures, his figure is seated on a small pedestal consisting of kurma pitha and is cladded in tiger/deer skin. A long beard, jata converting into an elongated ushnisha and a round face with a slightly heavy body are the features with which artists have conceived and represented him.
Images of Vedavyasa have been depicted in traditional Mysore and Tanjore style paintings dating from the early 19th century CE. Mysore traditions also have wood relief carving art works. One such example of Vedavyasa seated on a pedestal with other figures has been found in the Chitra Mantapa of the Sri Prasanna Venkatarama temple at Mysore, dated to 1842 CE. The panel is fixed on the central rear wall of the Chitra Mantapa. It consists of the image of Vedavyasa seated on a coiled serpent, which is on a pedestal. The serpent has five hoods spread behind Vedavyasa's head. The image is seated in maharaja leelaasana, with a pointed beard, jata and round face. The divine one has two arms: the right hand is in the chinmudra gesture of teaching while the left rests on the left thigh. The Vaishnava symbols of chakra and shankha are carved on either side of Vedavyasa. In the panel there are more figures as retinue to Vedavyasa. He is flanked by the seated figures of Bhimasena and Madhwacharya, carved on separate pedestals. Bhimasena is seated compactly with folded hands and has a gada on his shoulder. Madhwacharya is seated in padmasana with a tridandi (stick) and folded hands. Both figures are in profile depiction and are looking at Vedavyasa. There is a kamandalu beneath the pedestal seat of Madhwacharya. A kamandalu is also shown in front of Vedavyasa's asana to showcase him as sage. Further there are figures of Hanuman and Garuda on either side in their regular standing posture in anjali mudra. In this composition, the protagonist is Vedavyasa. All the figures look at him with great reverence. They are set within an artistically designed arched structure that emerges from the mouth of a lion (kirtimukha) while gandharvas are showering flowers from the sky. On the outer sides of this panel, there are Dashavatara figures of Vishnu, Venugopala, Rukmini Satyabhama, Vishnu Sridevi-Bhudevi, Rama Lakshmana and Sita on the upper register of the panel. In the lower register, there are historical figures—Dewan Purnayya, King Krishna Raj Wodeyar III and the saintly brothers Subbaraya Dasa and Seenappa Dasa. Subbaraya Dasa had received grants for the construction of the temple and the mantapa (Chitra Mantapa: Reminiscence of Mysore paintings, 5 October 2020). Vedavyasa as a chief deity worshipped by Vaishnavas has been depicted here since Subbaraya Dasa was a follower of Dwaita philosophy. That is why the figures of Hanuman, Bhima, Madhwa along with Garuda are depicted in this panel.
In a Tanjore style painting from Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, the figures of Hayavadana and Vedavyasa are depicted as in discourse. They are composed within arched ornamental elements that are further decorated with an inlay of semi-precious stones and coloured glass pieces. In the painting, Hayagriva with four arms is seated on a pedestal and gestures towards Vedavyasa. Vedavyasa, in attractive blue colour, is seated with yoga patta, his right hand in chinmudra. The composition of Hayagriva and Vedavyasa gives the feeling of a serious discourse about the partitioning of Vedas. Hayagriva was the keeper of Vedic scriptures; he is the one who handed them to Vedavyasa. The artist who painted the episode has a clear understanding of the figures and their purpose here.
The wood carving relief from Mysore and the painting from Kumbakonam are some of the best tributes to the great Vedavyasa.
(The writer is professor, Department of Art History, College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)