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Krishna-Lila Phad

Krishna-Lila Phad
Item Code: PN26
Phad Painting on Cotton
44 inch X 21.5 inch
This vigorous Phad executed with elaborate but fine details represents some major episodes from the life of Krishna from his birth to the accomplishment of the principal objective of his incarnation : annihilation of Kansa, Mathura’s demon king. Rendered using just few colours, various tones of green, a little black and golden and of course the white – the base colour of the canvas used with great thrust almost in the same proportion as green and as one of its proper colours, the Phad has transformed each episode into a high emotional drama and all without diluting its mythical aspect. Hearing the news that the venomous serpent Kaliya has entrapped Krishna in its coils, not only those, the cowherds and the cows, on the same bank of the river but even those on the river’s other side rush to the spot. The river Yamuna is in high flood but deeply concerned cows, ignoring its challenge, jump into it. Vasudeva has changed the newborn Krishna with Yashoda’s newborn daughter and is now away from her but a feeling of guilt and the fear of being seen widely reflect on his face. While trying to escape Krishna drags the ‘okhali’ – stone-crusher, he was tied with, along the two Arjuna trees standing in the courtyard and pulls them down. The fear of punishment for this yet another mischief lurks in his eyes.

Besides the snow-covered Himalayan hill-range on the top, the rest of the canvas is divided into three horizontal register. The closet on the extreme right in the uppermost register represents Lord Vishnu appearing in the vision of Vasudeva and Devaki in the prison of Kansa. He reveals that for eliminating the atrocious Kansa he shall soon incarnate as their son and also as to how Vasudeva has to shift the newborn to the Nanda’s house in Gokul and bring from there in exchange the newborn daughter of Yashoda, Nanda’s wife who being in deep sleep would not know anything. The second closet portrays the prison’s guards in deep slumber. Just close on left of the closet there is the depiction of the river Yamuna originating from the Himalayas, the most ingenious feature of this Phad. A number of miniatures have portrayed the theme of Krishna’s birth and other related events but the river’s origin is never its part. Apart, the artist has used Yamuna, as it was in Krishna’s life, like a thread that binds the canvas into one unified whole.

The Phad represents Yamuna not only as streaming all across but also portrays along its flow in rare unity three episodes from Krishna’s life revealing three aspects of his being : his divinity revealing in his birth, act of subduing evil and the dually interpreted act of ‘Vastra-harana’. As Lord Vishnu revealed, after Krishna was born on the midnight and the prison-gates opened, Vasudeva takes the newborn in a basket across a fully flooding river Yamuna. For protecting the child from rains the great serpent Shesha umbrella-like unfurls its multi-hooded head over the child. A cluster of houses on the river’s other side denotes the village Gokul. Here in a pavilion Yashoda is asleep. Vasudeva lays Krishna on her right and takes away her newborn daughter and leaves.

Towards the bottom the river is the venue of two other episodes. A venomous serpent, named Kaliya, had immigrated from Ramanaka Island in the sea to Yamuna and with its venom had polluted not only a large stretch of Yamuna’s waters but also the air and the environment around. Krishna heard of it and decided to curb Kaliya’s acts. One day when playing around he lets his ball fall in Kaliyadah, the zone of Yamuna that Kaliya occupied, and for collecting it jumped into it. With his peace disturbed the furious Kaliya attacks Krishna and entraps him into its coils. Hearing the news all rushes to Kaliyadah and prays for Krishna’s life. However, before the serpent harmed him, Krishna so much expands his form that Kaliya fails to contain it. After its grip loosens, Krishna overpowers the serpent, rides over its head and begins trampling it under his feet. Kaliya piteously cries for mercy. Hearing it implore its wives too rush to the spot and pray Krishna to forgive their husband. On promising that it would vacate Yamuna, retire to ocean and would not pollute nature any more, Krishna spares him.

On the extreme left Yamuna represents yet another episode known as ‘Vastra-harana’, sometimes interpreted as one of his romantic mischievous acts, and sometimes, a measure for correcting a social ill. As the tradition goes, young Gopis were in habit of bathing nude in Yamuna’s waters leaving their garments on the river’s bank. One day Krishna stole all costumes and taking them with him mounted on a close-by Kadamba tree. When Gopis looked for their garments they found instead a mischievous smiling Krishna on the nearby tree and their textiles hung on its branches. They entreated Krishna for returning them. Now the puritan version claims that Krishna asked them to promise not to ever bathe nude in a public place, whereas according to the more popular version, Krishna asked them to come out of the water with both hands folded and take their clothes from him.

The upper register, ahead of Vasudeva carrying back Yashoda’s daughter, represents three widely known episodes, killing the she-demon Putana, crane demon Bakasura, and lifting the mount Govardhana. Putana was the first that Kansa nominated for killing child Krishna. With deadly poison coated on her breasts she goes to Krishna and feeds the child but Krishna sucks her breast with such force that she instantly dies. When playing away in the forest a demon in the form of crane reached Krishna and took him in his large beak. Krishna expanded his form and tore the demon into two parts. The last episode in the register portrays him as lifting Mount Govardhana for protecting the people of Vraja and their cows from Indra’s wrath and to destroy Indra’s vanity and ego.

The middle register towards the right portrays two episodes, one relating to getting from the tailor of Kansa some new clothes for his ‘sakhas’ who accompany him to Mathura on Kansa’s invitation, and the other, one of Kansa’s guards attacking Krishna with his sword though only to be himself killed. On the left to river Yamuna, the first episode relates to his uprooting two Arjuna trees that were two Yakshas transformed into two trees under a curse; the next relates to stealing butter contained in pots hanging on the high ceiling. Krishna gives his plan effects by preparing ladder of his ‘sakhas’; the third relates to eliminating the cow demon Vatsa that was mixing with his cows to kill him and his cows; and the last, relates to killing the python demon Aghasura that with as wide a mouth as a cave lays midway believing that Krishna, his sakhas and cows would walk in and it will swallow all. It all happened but before it did any harm, Krishna expanded his figure and tore the python into two parts.

The Phad illustrates three more episodes on the right half of the bottom register. The extreme right corner portrays Krishna and Balarama confronting Kansa’s elephant demon Kubalyapitha posted on the entrance to his palace. Kansa had invited Krishna and Balarama to the Mathura’s annual celebration with the design to kill them and had arranged one after the other steps to kill him. Kubalyapitha was his strongest organ to do it. However, Krishna picked the elephant, flung it into air and thrashed it on the earth to finally die. In this illustration Kubalyapitha is with a mahout. In the next compartment Krishna is killing Kansa portrayed with disheveled hair and long moustaches. Fully overwhelmed Kansa is lying under Krishna’s feet. In the other compartment Krishna and Balarama are in the prison for freeing their parents. Krishna is standing in between Vasudeva and Devaki whereas Balarama, perhaps unaware that Vasudeva is his father too, stands hesitant on the door.

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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