The Battle of Ganga and Jamuna is one of Husain's most significant works to appear at auction. Originally in the Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, this work is part of a series of 27 paintings he began in 1971 for the 11th Sao Paolo Biennial on the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic detailing the cosmic civil war between forces of right and wrong with the subject matter of morality and duty at its core. The epic prefaced the founding of ancient India. Husain was specially invited to the Biennale to exhibit alongside Pablo Picasso. Though Husain has since revisited the themes from the Mahabharata, the 1971 series was the first time he attempted the subject-matter. Other works from this series are currently housed in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.
The goddesses, Ganga and Jamuna, are the personifications of the holy rivers originating in the Himalayas and here are depicted as a conjoined being labeled in Sanskrit on both sides of the split. This treatment of the figure is a highly complex and brilliant conceptualization of the internecine strife between the warring factions of the Kuru lineage: the Pandava and Kaurava cousins, each descended from these River Goddeses. The mass of figures on the right foreshadow the toll of war and pay subtle homage to Picasso, whose Guernica remains a formative influence on Husain. Also evident in this work are the strong influences of classical Indian painting and sculptural traditions. The division of space into four distinct color planes is a feature derived from the narrative style in Rajasthani miniature painting, while the heavily delineated figures are reminiscent of Indian temple sculpture in their dynamic contortions. The abstract hand serves as a protective mudra and is a motif that appears frequently in Husain's body of work. With age-old themes of jealousy and competition that divide familes and nations, Husain achieves a remarkable feat as he distills the central feature of the Mahabharata into a single moving image that is monumental in scale and yet very human in scope.