Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, is one of the most flamboyant, enigmatic and charismatic phenomena of the Hindu pantheon, mythology, culture and arts. To most, Krishna is a God who rouses ecstasy with just the uttering of His name; to many He is a mystery.
Believed to have walked Bharatavarsha 20,000 years ago, the legend of Krishna, with its multifarious stories of fantasy, has endured the test of time. Krishna is at once a leader, a hero, a protector, a philosopher, and a friend par excellence.
If the Bhagavatam extols His playas the God-child - from the lovable butter stealer to the slayer of Kamsa and his hordes, and the soulmate of gopis - the Mahabharata portrays Him as a steadfast friend, a brother, a politician and a teacher.
This timeless hero figures foremost in Indian scriptures as also in prose, poetry, painting, music, dance, sculpture and murals. Every art form has depicted Him variously as the butter thief, the passionate lover, the supreme being. After all, His life, from the very moment of His birth, is an endless chain of fantastic events and has become a part of the Hindu psyche.
Some of the popular stories include: the killing of demoness Puthana when He was just six days old, followed by the slaying of Trunavarta, Keshi, Aristhasur, Bakasur and Pralambasur, all agents of His uncle Kamsa; revealing the whole world in His mouth to His foster mother Yasodha; the killing of the five-hooded serpent Kaliya; rescuing a clan of Yadava chiefs ousted by King Jarasandha of Maghadha; saving His kingdom from Narakasura, the demon king of Pragjyotisapura, who had abducted 16,000 princesses; and lifting with His little finger the Govardhana hill to protect the people of Vrindavan from the torrential rain unleashed by Indra.
Krishna's celebrated cosmic dances with the gopis, and the soulful music that He played on His flute to delight cows and cowherds alike are well known. His counsel to Arjuna at the start of the Kurukshetra war, which forms the core of how life should be lived (the idea of nishkama karma, or action without expectation of results) flowed as the Gita, perhaps one of the most celebrated pieces of literature even in this post-modern world.
Krishna evokes myriad emotions, feelings and sensations. He stands testimony to outstanding relationships - as a son when He kills His wicked maternal uncle Kamsa to liberate His jailed parents; as a husband to Rukmini and Sathyabama, with His reciprocation of respect and love; as a lover of Radha, with pure and intense attachment; as a brother and friend to Draupadi whom He protected by providing her with unending streams of vastram to save her from dishonour in Duryodhana's court; and as a Guru, counseling Arjuna during the Kurukshetra war.
It is this versatility of the Krishna persona that various art forms love to bring to life. Sans Krishna, the different forms of art would never have gained such richness. Apart from stories of His life, saints, poets and artistes have given their own interpretations of this phenomenon, leaving Indian art and cultural in the thrall of Krishna.
Krishna is believed to have lived for 1 25 years, but he continues to rule the hearts of millions for over millennia. His influence permeates time and space, religion and philosophy, mysticism and literature, painting and sculpture, dance and music, and all aspects of Indian folklore.
In this book we attempt to capture the portrayal of Krishna across centuries from various aspects - music, dance, paintings, sculpture, literature, epics and temples - that bear the influence of Krishna, being fully aware, of course, that justice can never be done to completely understand this phenomenon of Krishna. We have also tried to retain the individual writing style of every contributor to bring out the multifarious appeal of Krishna at different level. We Have also used paintings displayed at some of the top museums of the world.
The well-known monk Om Swami, in a beautiful story, captures the essence of Krishna: how true surrender elevates you to higher realms of thought and action. If Dr. T Sathyamurthy depicts the prominence of Krishna in mural paintings, Dr. Chithra Madhavan offers a tour of the most popular temples across India.
Rajny Krishnan captures the significance of Krishna in Indian sculptures, even as Geetha Raja traces the evolution of music and composers, who have deified Krishna in their compositions and stimulated the Bhakti movement.
Dr. Rajkumar Bharathi, the great-grandson of Mahakavi Bharathi, brings but the nuances and splendour of Mahakavi's Krishna poems, which he fondly called Bharathi Kannamma.
Dr. Lakshmi Ramaswamy uses the swirls and graceful movements of Bharathnatyam to bring out the varied emotions of Krishna.
Madhulika Acharya, in a scholarly work, highlights the navarasas - or the nine emotions - popularly portrayed in traditional dance forms from Krishna's life.
Paintings of established and upcoming artists across various styles glorify Krishna. Among the artists who have contributed to this book are A.V. lIango, Keshav (Venkata Raghavan), Sumitra Subramaniam and Aditi Kashyab.
Articles on the symbolism of Krishna by A. Parthasarathy, the spiritual significance of gopis of Vrindavan by Prema Pandurang, and the message of the Gita by Ananda are courtesy of Tattvaloka, where they have appeared earlier but their import remains.
To give a sense and awareness of the Bhakti emotion that goes with experiencing Krishna as God, also included are verses from the ever-popular Krishnashtakam, as also the Pasurams of the Azhwars - the Vaishnava saints.
The book is interspersed with captivating pictures to bring alive the richness of Krishna's life in its diverse facets. We are especially thankful to Keshav for allowing us to use his art creations generously throughout the book.
We are grateful to Asha Krishnakumar, a former journalist who now curates multimedia dance productions, and J. Srinivasan, a senior journalist, for conceptualising this book and commissioning and putting together the articles.
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