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During the period when the pictures in the Green collection were painted, religious themes remained popular with both Hindu and Jain patrons, although no Jain example is included in this selection. In addition to illustrated religious books, series of pictures depicting specific religious themes, such as Vishnu's avatars, were also made for Hindu patrons. Sometimes individual pictures were painted to commemorate a particular religious festival, but others, even though the theme is religious, such as the Holy Family on the March, may not have had any religious use. In still other instances, although the theme of the picture is not necessarily sacred, such as Ragamala or rhetorical works (see introduction to Musical Modes section), the principal characters were often identified with the deities Krishna and Radha.
The most popular religious text to be illustrated appears to have been the Bhagavatapurana, which is represented in the catalogue by several examples. The word purana, meaning "ancient," signifies a class of encyclopedic sacred literature in Sanskrit which includes mythological, genealogical, moral, ethical, and other material regarded by Hindus as authoritative texts both for religious and social purposes. It is not easy to date the puranas precisely, nor did they have single authors. The purana known as Bhagavata (Pertaining to the lord), a text said to have been compiled no later than the twelfth century somewhere in South India, is dedicated primarily to Vishnu. The section of this text that is especially popular with Vaishnavas (followers of Vishnu) is the tenth book, where Krishna's activities are recounted in great detail. Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu but is also considered by Vaishnavas to be the supreme deity. The accounts of Krishna, both as a heroic child and as a divine lover, provided artists with rich material for illustrations.
Two other sacred books, also written in the Sanskrit language and represented in the catalogue by a few examples, are the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Both are essentially Vaishnava texts, although originally both were nonreligious epic sagas. Again there is no certainty as to their dates or authorship. The Mahabharata is said to have been composed by the mythical Vedavyasa and the Ramayana by Valmiki, who is considered to be the first poet in the Sanskrit language. After accretions and interpolations over the centuries both texts probably took their present shape by the early centuries of the common era; they subsequently came to be regarded as the two epics of the Hindus. However, they also attained the status of religious texts (dharmasastra). The divine Krishna is a major figure in the Mahabharata, and Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, is believed to be an avatar of Vishnu. Because of their enormous sizes (the Mahabharata is much larger than the Ramayana) rarely was either epic copied and illustrated completely. Stories contained in them also served as subject matter for other literary works, some of which were copied and illustrated.
Some paintings included here did not belong to any religious books but served other devotional purposes. Important pilgrimage sites still produce paintings both for temple functions and for the pilgrims. While large paintings on cloth are an important part of the rituals enacted in the temples, smaller pictures were prepared for pilgrims to take away as sacred souvenirs. One such painting is a distillation of the important festival of annakuta, literally "mountain of food," observed annually at the shrine of the Vallabhacharyas at Nathadwar near Udaipur in Rajasthan. The form of Krishna worshiped there is known as Sri-Nathji, and the statue was the inspiration of the sect's founder, Vallabhacharya the shrine is extremely popular with Vaishnavas of western India. A second picture in the collection that served a similar commemorative purpose depicts another popular festival also associated with Krishna.
Two of the religious pictures in the collection represent Saiva themes, and one depicts the goddess Durga killing a titan. It is not possible to determine whether they belong to series of pictures illustrating texts or arc isolated examples. The Devimahatmya (Glorification of the goddess), the text most revered by those Hindus who believe in the femininity of the Supreme Being and are known as Saktas (from the word sakti, meaning "power" or "energy"), was illustrated both in Rajasthan and the Hill States. It is possible that the illustration showing Durga's battle belongs to such a series, but there is no text to confirm or deny this. The two Pahari pictures of Siva and his family, however, represent themes that were very popular with hill patrons and probably had little if anything to do with any specific texts. Many versions of both themes exist, and they are not only the Saiva counterparts of popular Krishna pictures, such as the Hour of Cowdust, but are also attempts to portray the deities in human terms as well as to provide the mythology with a local flavor.
The greater number of Vaishnava pictures in the Green collection is neither serendipitous nor a matter of choice. Generally, Hindu patrons during the Mughal period preferred pictures depicting Vaishnava rather than Saiva or Sakta themes. The rhetorical and poetic literature in the Hindi language also shows a distinct Vaishnava bias. The mystical love of Krishna and Radha forms a steady refrain in the romantic literature.
1. Two Illustrations from a Bhagatapurana Series
The picture showing the procession scene (A) has a brief and fragmentary inscription on the reverse, but it does not help in identifying the subject. The inscription on the front in the middle of the composition reads so nana. On B the letters Rama of Mitharama (known from other leaves of the same manuscript) can be recognized in the upper left. Nana and Mitharama are considered to be the names of previous owners of this Bhagavatapurana series. The inscription at the bottom makes no sense.
A.) The nonchalance with which the animals, chariots, and figures cross the river by ignoring natural laws clearly indicates the divine nature of the occasion. Since there is no corroborating text, however, it could be an example of the genre of depicting a royal party on the march. There are the usual elephants, chariots, and horsemen as well as a palanquin being borne by four men. As is typical in Indian paintings, the elephants are much better rendered than the horses. Despite the presentation in formal registers, it is a lively scene that conveys the bustle and complexity of a large procession with clarity and naiveté. The division of the composition by the diagonal placement of the river that meanders like a python adds an illusion of depth to the otherwise flat space. No horizon or sky is indicated, perhaps because of the celestial nature of the subject.
B.) Five adults and four cowherd boys (gopas) are represented in a single row. The focal point is thee woman on the right, who is seen either hugging or protecting one of the boys. His blue Complexion helps to identify him as Krishna and the lady as his foster mother, Devaki. The portly and bearded gentleman behind diem is Vasudeva, Krishna's foster father. It would appear that Krishna has just performed a heroic deed, much to the relief and delight of Devaki and the other members of community. The white boy standing behind Krishna and under a mango tree is Balarama, Krishna's half-brother. Several inure flowering trees symbolize the rural setting. Characteristically, all the figures are depicted on a single ground plane, and a wavy line highlighted in white indicates the sky.
This particular Bhagavatapurana is generally considered to be a major example of sixteenth-century Hindu painting of pre-Mughal India. Although not as polished as some of the other works in this style, it is among the most vivacious and animated. With varied compositions and themes, vivid coloring, and lively narratives, the pictures are characterized by spontaneous charm and vitality.
The story illustrated here is that of Vishnu rescuing the elephant called Gajendra, which literally means "lord of the elephants." The gist of the tale is recounted twice, once in Sanskrit on the front and again in Hindi on the back. Both texts describe how, without any reason, a crocodile attacked Gajendra while he and some other elephants were sporting in the water. The elephants called out to Vishnu, who swiftly appeared on the scene, even faster than his own avian mount, the Garuda. With his wheel Vishnu dispatched the crocodile to the other shore.
This didactic tale, known as Gajendramoksha, is one of many that were composed to demonstrate how Vishnu is always available to save a devotee who calls him at a time of distress. This particular story appears to have been popular with Hindu patrons, particularly in Rajasthan. It is possible, however, that this rendering was once part of a series of Bikaner pictures depicting various avatars of Vishnu for two other examples, see McInerney, pp. 54-57, nos. 21-22. In all three examples a Sanskrit verse on the front describes the theme, and there is a Hindi verse on the back. Their measurements too are almost the same, as is the mode of representation. The numeral three on the back of this picture would indicate its place in the series. Below the numeral are the words narayina or naradina in bold letters and gajagraha in faint letters. Either reading of the first word could be relevant. Narayina may be a variation of Narayana, a synonym of Vishnu, and Naradina of Nur ad-din, the name of a well-known Bikaner artist. Gajagraha means "devouring elephant."
Interestingly, Vishnu is not represented here with four arms or as riding his Garuda, which he usually does in this episode. The artist obviously followed the accompanying text literally, as the god is said to have appeared on the spot faster than Garuda. However, Garuda was not far behind, for he has arrived in time to see his divine master hurl the wheel at the crocodile. The landscape is a mixture of pictorial realism and fantasy. Curiously, the highly stylized and decorative trees rise directly from the lotus pond. The elephants are rendered naturalistically, but clearly the artist was not familiar with crocodiles.
The brief inscription in Devanagari letters identifies the scene as Krishna swallowing the forest fire. The picture does not, however, follow the description of the incident in the Bhagavatapurana, in which the miracle takes place in a forest and Krishna saves animals from the conflagration. In this instance the people shown behind the dark hero are the residents of Vraja, including his foster parents and cowherds. This incident is described only in Vira-raghava's (dates unknown) Bhagavata Chandrika, which is a commentary on the Bhagavatapurana.
In the jungle dried up with summer, a great forest conflagration broke out at night and surrounding the Vraja lying fast asleep, it began to scorch them. Touched by the fire, the inhabitants of V raja woke up and in their bewilderment sought resort to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord who had assumed a human form through his Maya.... Perceiving this helplessness and danger of his people (devotees), the Supreme Ruler of the earth, the Infinite Lord of unfathomable powers swallowed up that terrible fire.
The red-and-yellow flames are shaped like leaves. Krishna, distinguished from the others by his complexion, his brow painted with sandlewood paste, and his hair tied in a long and rather stiff single braid, is about to swallow the fire like a juggler. Colorfully dressed, the residents of Vraja watch the miracle in awe. Their emotions are expressed with various gestures. Characteristic of the Sirohi School, the faces of the figures are rather large, with prominent noses. Note-worthy is the fact that only Krishna's eye is open wide; the others are squinting from the glare. The bright yellows and reds of the flames and the pink complexions of the figures are brilliantly set off against a slate gray ground, and there are faint tufts of grass in the foreground. The picture is provided with a wide floral border that adds a decorative touch.
The text on the back (see Appendix) informs US that Krishna upheld the mountain with the little finger of his left hand for seven days while Indra, the lord of the heavens, sent forth relentless rains. Finally an exhausted Indra was humbled. This episode follows one in which Krishna forbids the residents of Vraja to offer sacrifices to Indra. Indra is the Vedic deity par excellence of the Aryans, and it is believed that these two stories along with a third, in which Krishna loots the celestial Parijata tree from Indra's garden, represent a feud between the Vedic and non-Vedic religious forces at Mathura in the distant past.
The shape of the leaf as well as the division of the composition in two horizontal tiers continue the pre-Mughal tradition of illustrated manuscripts. The lower register is further divided into three sections. In the middle section Krishna stands slightly off center on a box or pedestal as does a deity and effortlessly balances the mountain on the thumb, rather than the little finger, of his left hand. He looks at his foster parents to his right as a child does when seeking parental approbation. The mountain acts as a giant umbrella and protects the residents of Brindavan from Indra's storms. The artist appears to have been particularly concerned with symmetry in delineating the mountain, the pair of confronted peacocks, the foliage, and the falling rain.
These two folios are probably front a series illustrating stories from the tenth book of the Bhagavatapurana. The Takri inscriptions on the top borders of the rectos identify the incidents as: A, the destruction of Aghasura and 15, the destruction of titan Kesi.
A.) Krishna was only six years old when he was attacked by Aghasura, the brother of Purana and Bakasura, both of whom had been killed by Krishna. One day Aghasura laid a trap for Krishna and his companion cowherds. Assuming the form of a boa constrictor, Aghasura opened his mouth so wide that the lower part lay along the ground and the upper part was lost in the clouds. He then tricked the cowherds into believing that they were entering a verdant valley and swallowed them. Krishna, however, was not fooled. He entered the mouth and expanded himself so that the serpent could not breath and choked to death. The boys then emerged unscathed from the serpent's body.
It is clear that the artist responsible for this striking composition took a number of liberties and deviated considerably from the textual versions, such as that in the Bhagavatapurana. Although large, the serpent is not of cosmic proportions. He coils himself around a tree and appears to be miraculously suspended in midair. Instead of the boy Krishna, a four-armed figure of Vishnu (of whom Krishna is an avatar) stands triumphant on the serpent's head. Although no combat is depicted, the serpent's belly is streaked-with blood, indicating that it has been split open. Some cows and cowherds are seen dropping front the stomach, others have already emerged and straighten themselves out, and a few are still in the mouth as if awaiting their turn to jump. The artist's interpretation of the story is substantially different not only from written accounts but also from other painted versions.
B.) This is a fairly straightforward depiction of Krishna's fight with the titan Kesi, who came in the form of a horse. The titan had been sent by Kamsa, the usurper king of Mathura, to destroy the boy Krishna. Instead, Krishna killed Kesi. As in the other picture (A), high drama is played down, and the composition expresses little of the violent struggle described in the known textual versions. Krishna has thrust his left fist into the mouth of the white horse as he strikes the animal with his shepherd's staff. As a matter of fact, except for the offensive of the left hand, Krishna might well be taming a wild horse rather than killing a titan. The only other indications of combat are the streaks of blood on the horse's neck. Rather curious are the cropped depiction of the horse and the placement of both its ears on the far side of the head. Also noteworthy are the relative sizes of the two.
Stylistically these two pictures are closely related to a series depicting the Twenty-four Avatars of Vishnu iii the Museum Rietberg, Zurich, attributed to the well-known Chamba artist Mahesh, who flourished between about 1730 and 1775, and assigned to the second quarter of the eighteenth century (see Goswamy & Fischer, p. 169, figs. 54-55; p. 178, no. 68). If the two Green pictures are not by Mahesh, they are certainly from the same workshop. Simple and quiet compositions like those here are characteristic of the Zurich Avatar series as well, and the mode of rendering water seen in the foregrounds of the Green pictures seems to be typical of pictures from the Chamba workshop. It is possible that these two paintings do not belong to a Bhagavatapurana series but to a group, like the Avatar series, illustrating some of the heroic feats of Krishna.
A comparison of Krishna Destroys Kesi with a slightly earlier version of the subject from a Mankot workshop (Goswamy & Fischer, p. 114, no. 45; Sec also Pal 1983, pl. P6, for another earlier version) clearly demonstrates the originality of the Chamba artist. Although he has employed the detail of thrusting the left fist into the horse's mouth, he has completely eschewed the dynamic and violent combat emphasized by the earlier artists. This and the Aghasura picture make it clear he was confident enough to give expression to his own interpretation of the themes and of his own powers of imagination.
On the reverse of A is a sketch of the musical mode Bhairavi Ragini. She is personified as a woman seated in a pavilion and extending an arm toward a cow or a calf. An attendant fans her with a flywhisk. The mode Dipak Raga is depicted on the back of B. It is shown as a prince and his mahout riding an elephant, which holds a lamp (dipak) with its trunk. The sketches are probably of about 1750.
Writer Name: Pratapaditya Pal