Krishna-Lila Episodes and Rasa

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Item Code: PL45
Watercolor on PattiArtist: Rabi Behera
39.0 inches X 24.0 inches
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This brilliant ‘pata-chitra’, simply a miracle that brush rarely accomplishes, rendered on a thick card-sheet with finely textured cloth piece pasted on it, rendered using a wide range of colours – deep red, green, blue and yellow, in characteristic Orissa idiom, represents a blend of two Krishna-related thematic traditions – Maharasa and Krishna-lila, most widely painted in both classical and folk art styles. Krishna’s Rasa or Maharasa is a popular theme of Rajasthani miniatures, those from Jaipur and Nathadwara in particular, and his life and exploits, of the entire medieval art anywhere but a blend of two traditions on one canvas is unusual. The artist has wisely used the centre of the rectangular space, which the canvas afforded, for representing Maharasa, the cosmic dance, Krishna’s ‘lila’ – his divine sport, in which the entire cosmos participates in its true spirit and form, and the rest, for representing various aspects of his life and exploits.

Within this square have been carved three concentric circles, suggestive of cosmos divided into three tiers, an inner-most circle – the centre, which Radha and Krishna, the Supreme Self and its arch seeker, enshrine, a middle circle, divided into sixteen arched windows, in eight of which are Krishna’s icons, his image multiplied, and in other eight, the figures of Gopis, Krishna’s icons and Gopi-figures alternating each other. The outer-most circle, a wider one, also has sixteen arched windows each of which a form of Krishna and a Gopi-figure engaged in love enshrine. In the inner-most circle – symbolic of the axis of cosmos, Radha and Krishna appear to be seated on a cow, much in the style of Vrashavahana Shiva and Parvati, under a Kadamba tree with two Gopis attending on them. Perceiving Krishna as Jagannatha, the Lord of the world, such regalia is most usual in Orissa tradition of Krishna iconography. A ‘purna-ghata’, the symbol of accomplishment, flanked by a pair of stylised peacock icons, manipulates the four corners of the square. The peacock, a being of the earth as also of the sky – celestial space, symbolises continuous flow of life that Krishna as Jagannatha ensures and inspires.

The rest of the canvas space has been divided into sixty windows, twenty-eight, circular with white background, framing the central square on all its four arms, and thirty-two, rectangular with orange background, comprising four rows of eight windows each – two on the right and two on the left of the canvas. Except two, one on the extreme right corner on the bottom, portraying Kali with a female devotee, and other, on the right top corner of the twenty-eight circular windows, portraying Vishnu reclining on the coils of the great serpent Shesh with Lakshmi massaging his feet, all other windows, circular or rectangular, are dedicated to Krishna-lila covering almost all significant aspects of his life and exploits.

The eight circles the of bottom row, framing the central square, portray from right to left (1) Krishna killing Putana by sucking her life out of her breasts; (2) Krishna and Balarama in the lap of Nanda; (3) Kansa killing Yogamaya taking her as Devaki’s eighth child. Yogamaya slips off his hands and disappears into the sky; (4) Kansa taking away one of Devaki’s eight children. Devaki and Vasudeva praying him not to kill it; (5) wife of Kansa praying her husband not to kill innocent children; (6) Vasudeva leaving baby Krishna with Yashoda and taking away her daughter; (7) Vasudeva crossing river Yamuna with Krishna on his head. The great serpent Shesh unfurls his hood for protecting Krishna from rain; (8) Indra or some celestial being paying homage to the new born.

The eight windows of the top row represent from right to left : (1) Lord Vishnu reclining on the coils of the Great Serpent Shesh. Lakshmi, his consort, massaging his feet; (2) Vasudeva and Devaki in marriage costumes; (3) after their marriage Kansa, Devaki’s brother, himself drives the chariot of Vasudeva and Devaki. A divine oracle foretells that Devaki’s eighth child would kill Kansa; (4) despite that Devaki and Vasudeva pray him Kansa puts them into prison; (5) Vasudeva and Devaki in prison; (6) Vasudeva and Devaki in prison with a newborn baby lying on the floor; (7) prison-guards informing Kansa of the birth of Devaki’s child; and (8) Kansa taking away the newborn, Vasudeva and Devaki entreating not o kill it.

Six windows in the vertical row adjacent to right arm represent from bottom to top : (1) Shakatasura, the cart demon, and child Krishna in the cradle; (2) Tranavarta, cyclone-demon, snatching away Krishna from the hands of a Gopi; (3) Krishna widening his mouth where to her amazement Yashoda sees the whole Brahmanda – cosmos; (4) Gargacharya, the family priest of Nanda, making forecast in regard to Krishna and Balarama; (5) Yashoda showing moon to Krishna and Balarama; and, (6) Radha and Krishna lying on bed, a lady attending on them. The six windows on the opposite side, that is, on left, represent from bottom to top : (1) birth of Krishna. Nanda and Yashoda worried about the safety of the child; (2) Vishnu appearing in the vision of Nanda and Yashoda; (3) Kansa cautioning someone about the birth of Devaki’s eighth child; (4 and 5) prison-guards informing him about the birth of Devaki’s child. They represent two different occasion. (6) Kansa throwing on the ground Devaki’s new born child for killing it.

The two rows of eight windows each on the right side represent from top to bottom : (1+1) Krishna and a Gopa realising from Gopis their share of butter they are carrying to Mathura; Krishna and his friends stealing butter from the pot hung on a hanger; (2+2) Fed up with complaints against him Yashoda, as punishment, ties Krishna with a stone crusher; Krishna drags the stone crusher and two trees that come in the way fall. The trees were two cursed Gandharvas, Nalakubara and Manigriva. Redeemed of the curse they appear before Krishna to pay homage; (3+3) Krishna teasing a fruit-selling woman; Krishna instructing a Sakha – friend, how to play on flute; (4+4) Krishna and Balarama herding their cows; Krishna rescuing cow from the mouth of Aghasura, the python demon; (5+5) Krishna dining with friends in the forest while herding cows; Krishna killing Vakasura, the crane demon; (6+6) Krishna subduing Kaliya whose wives pray for mercy; Krishna killing Keshi, the horse demon; (7+7) Krishna killing Arishta, the bull demon; Vastra-harana : Krishna steals garments of Gopis polluting the river water by bathing nude in it; and, (8+8) Kali in her ferocious form; a demon frightening a lady with a snake.

Such two rows on the other side, that is, on left, represent from top to bottom : (1+1) a lady offering something to Krishna; Radha and Krishna boating; (2+2) Radha and Krishna in the forest in amorous mood; Krishna playing on his flute, enchanted Radha inclines to dance to its tones; (3+3) Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana on his finger; seated on a mound Krishna playing on his flute in the meadow. Its melody draws a Gopi; (4+4) Kansa orders Akrura to go to Vrindavana for bringing Krishna and Balarama to Mathura’s annual function with design to kill them; Akrura reach Vrindavana and meet Nanda and Yashoda; (5+5) Krishna and Balarama going to Mathura with Akrura on his chariot; when at Mathura they come across a hunch-backed lady, Kubja. Krishna holds her foot with his foot and holding her upper part pulls her and restores her figure; (6+6) Krishna chastises Rajakabadha – the washer man of Kansa; Krishna kills Kuvalyapitha, Kansa’s elephant demon; (7+7) Krishna breaks the Kansa’s prestigious bow of annual function; Krishna and Balarama kill Kansa’s soldiers who attack them for breaking the bow; (8+8) Krishna drags Kansa from his throne. He is praying for mercy; Krishna and Balarama release king Ugrasena, Kansa’s father from his prison and enthrone him back as Mathura’s king.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.

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