top of page

Water’s Myth 

By  Shilpa Shanker Narain

Artist's statement:  


In early Indian texts, the idea of the divine was drawn from human experiences and thought. This is where my series Water’s Myth begins. It is an attempt to understand the primal nature of water as a substratum of human life and evolution—seen through the lens of an ancient civilization—through re-living, re-experiencing, re-imagining, and re-telling the stories and legends. Water’s Myth is a digital art and illustration series.






Shilpa Shanker Narain is a self-taught artist and illustrator working primarily in the field of digital art and painting. She uses traditional drawing and illustration techniques to explore ancient Indic stories, narratives, and mythology. Her art uses contemporary and modern color palettes, vibrant expression, and detailing in illustrations. Born and brought up in New Delhi, India, Shilpa is currently based out of Manila, Philippines. 



Shilpa 1.jpg

In the beginning, there was an expanse of water whose waves coiled and heaved in the darkness of the unborn universe. From it emerged the five-headed Adishesha. With his uncoiling in the dark waters, time was born and creation began. The waters also contained a beautiful golden egg, in which the creator of the universe sits, assimilating everything within himself. This is Hiranyagarbha, the collective totality of the universe. Untold aeons pass before the egg hatches, splitting into two parts. The sun, the sky, and the heavens arise from the upper part. The lower half transforms itself into the earth, with its mountains, rivers, and other landforms. And so begins life on earth, the cycle of life and death. But Adishesha continues to rest on the waves.

The Call

Shilpa 2.jpg

Saraswati, the primaeval source of all creativity and learning, sits on a rock that symbolizes a solid foundation. She is immersed in music that she draws out of her instrument. In the background, her pet swan discerns milk from water, separating value from information. Saraswati stirs the deep waters of the ocean towards her while she plays the veena. Moving in response to her call, the ocean opens up, and from its depths emerges a lotus untouched by the waters to receive the elixir of beauty, art, and knowledge (Rasa).

The First

Shilpa 3.jpg

Vishnu takes the form of a giant meen (fish) avatar that pulls Manu’s boat out of the perilous ocean to safety. My art highlights the mythical creature fighting waves that stand up like rocks to protect all living beings. Smaller fish support by looking out for any signs of alarm.


Shilpa 4.jpg

Shiva—the perfect and absolute musician—decides to sing. The music builds up and grows its roots and branches. Layers of musical phrases overlap and emanate as he raises his hand to touch the pinnacle of the rising scale. The magic of the moment and the energy causes Vishnu, absorbed deep in the music, to dissolve into an essence. The precious essence is at the risk of getting lost, but Brahma collects it in his Kamandalu. It turns into holy water that later descends on earth as Ganga. Music unites all elements of the holy trinity.

The Descent

Shilpa 5.jpg

Ganga in the heavens is invoked to descend onto earth as a large white wave. Within it co-exist the giant waves of time and timelessness, and existence and death in the three worlds. The pindas of the deceased ancestors of Bhagiratha wait patiently at the river bed for salvation. The earth turns deep red with the blood and pains of the undead lying in wait. To bear its wrath, stands the yogi ascetic, his matted flying hair ready to break the fall of the raging waters. Shiva destroys the ego of the waters, and cleanses the earth of its karma.


Shilpa 6.jpg

Driven by destiny, Ganga has immersed her seven newborns into her waters. Each time, their father Shantanu has stood watching in disbelief and despair, bound by an oath to never ask why. However, the eighth time around, unable to deal with the agony, he breaks his vow. To pay the price of his weakness borne out of love, the eighth child must live out his fate and his curse. Ganga lowers her eyes in acceptance of the failure. It is her time to leave. Her pet, Makara, the guardian of the gateway to the netherworld, stands waiting. The seven vasus, drowned in the holy waters and so freed from the curse of mortality, wait for the eighth to join them.

Three Days and Three Nights

Shilpa 7.jpg

When Ram reaches land’s end at Rameshwaram, he beholds a formidable sight—a vast and treacherous ocean that brings out his fears and doubts. The magnificent emerald green, with its tumultuous waves, belittles every human effort. Somewhere behind this unconquered ocean lies the destination, Lanka. ​For three days and three nights, Ram submits to tapas. Emanating powerful energies, he asks for support, pleads for subsistence, and prays for a way forward. Varuna watches with reverence as the divine avatar demonstrates the ideal approach when faced with difficulties—acknowledgement, acceptance, and submission. 

bottom of page