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This charming bucolic scene vividly captures the early morning bustle as the cowherds of Brindavan lead their animals to pasture in the adjoining forest. It is from a series of Bhagavatapurana pictures that once belonged to a member of the ruling house of Bilaspur. It is assigned to Bilaspur by family tradition, which has been confirmed by both Khandalavala (sec Literature above) and Archer (1973, I: 241-42) on stylistic grounds.
The exact identification of the scene is not possible as there is no accompanying text. In fact, the series may have had no text. How-ever, it may well illustrate an instance in the Bhagavatapurana of an early morning scene in Brindavan.
One morning, with the intention of having his breakfast in the woods, Krishna woke up all the cowherds with his horn. As he and Balarama walked behind their cows, others joined them with theirs. Being boys, they indulged in games and pranks as they moved along. Although they were adorned with beads and ornaments, they plucked flowers and leaves and decorated themselves further.
In the picture, as the boys move toward the forest with their cattle, we see a cowherd jumping the fence to join the group; a calf runs behind another cowherd with a shaven or bald head as they both try to catch up; Krishna and Balarama, distinguished by their luxuriant capes and headdresses and placed in the middle of the composition, seem to be engaged in a tete-a-tete; one cowherd climbs up a tree, while yet another breaks a leafy branch to feed his cow. The series is distinguished by lively compositions, abundant foliage, and the diversely colored and brindled cows. Apart from their varied complexions, one bovine is even speckled with gold flecks. Although the palette reveals a wide variety of shades, the tonality is quite muted, and the picture glows with a restrained brilliance.
The inscription in Newari above the picture tells us that Krishna has arrived at Avantipur, where other princes have gathered for the svayamvara (a public assembly of princes where a princess chooses her husband); that below informs us that Krishna forcibly takes Mitravinda away. This incident is described very briefly in the tenth book of the Bhagavatapurana. Mitravinda was a princess of Avanti and an admirer of Krishna. Her brothers, however, did not care for Krishna and instructed their sister not to select him at the svayamvara. At the assembly Krishna forcibly carried away Mitravinda while the princes watched helplessly.
The unknown artist has given us a sort of bird's-eye view of the palace at Avantipur. The incidents unfold before us with utmost clarity. In the upper section of the palace the eager and expectant princes wait in the assembly hall, while below them are shown two views of Krishna leading Mitravinda by the hand to the chariot. In the foreground the two drive away from the palace.
This picture is from a large series illustrating in great detail Book Io of the Bhagavatapurana. These illustrations are bigger in size than the average Indian painting. The artist may have been familiar with some of the larger-sized paintings that were popular in the neighboring Hill States about this time. He was very fond of predominantly architectural compositions, especially of sectional views of interiors from an aerial perspective. He was also an observant artist, for the forms do closely copy local palaces and temples that still stand in Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. Although we do not know for whom the series was done, only a princely patron could have afforded such a large commission.
When previously published (see Literature above), this picture has been ascribed to a Bhagavatapurana series formerly in the Lambagraon court collection and the subject identified as Krishna serenading Radha. Though it is stylistically closely related to the Lambagraon Bhagavatapurana pictures, there are two minor points that should be noted. There is no folio number on this sheet, whereas the other known examples from that series do have such numbers. The height of the sheet is almost a half inch shorter than the measurements (11.3 in.) given in Randhawa 1959. It is, of course, possible that the sheet was cropped after it left the Lambagraon court collection, and consequently the number was lost.
If it does belong to the Lambagraon Bhagavatapurana series, then the lady being serenaded can hardly be identified as Radha. She does not appear as a character in that text. She may therefore represent Rukmini, one of Krishna's wives, or a cowherdess (gopi), but no such occasion is described in the text. Thus, it is possible that the picture does not belong to the Bhagavatapurana series and the lady does represent Radha, who, in later Vaishnava literature, is the principal beloved of Krishna and who is always filled with rapture hearing the sound of Krishna's flute.
By common consensus the Lambagraon Bhagavatapurana series has been attributed to Mankot and dated to about 1730. However, in a recent publication (Goswamy & Fischer, p. 118, no. 47), while the attribution to Mankot was retained, a date of about 1700- 1725 was suggested. More specifically, the authors attributed the series to the "Master at the Court of Mankot (or an associate)." Whether or not the Green picture is part of that series, it certainly is closely related to works produced at the Mankot court around 1725. There is an unfinished picture of the same subject and composition in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art collection.
Two sequential events are presented in a single composition following the technique of continuous narration. On the left, watched by her companions, a timid Radha with her face shielded from him by her scarf approaches Krishna. Next we see her seated on a platform with Krishna, but she is still bashful. The encounter takes place amidst lush vegetation reminiscent of a rain forest. The freshness and the verdancy of the foliage as well as the full stream in the foreground indicate that the season is that of the monsoon.
This painting belongs to a series from which at least five other examples are known (see Fine Oriental Miniatures and Manu-scripts . . . , Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, is December 1978, lots 141-46; the Green picture is lot 143). Three other pictures (Welch 1973, pp- 44-45, no. i9; Falk, no. 67; and Kramrisch 1986, p. 61, no. 54) are stylistically very similar and may also belong to the same series. Unfortunately no inscription on any of the folios identifies the text that inspired these delightful pictures. A stylistically similar picture, possibly even from the same series, has been identified as belonging to a picture-book of the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva (A. late twelfth century), but no evidence for this is cited (Dallapiccola. p1.4). In fact, a comparison with the known illustrations of the Gitagovinda does not corroborate the identification.
Most of the pictures in the series, like this example, are characterized by luxuriously verdant settings. The figures seem almost to be engulfed by lush foliage, which accentuates the passionate mood expressed in line and color. This particular picture is delightful for its subtle psychological expressiveness as well. Radha is a shy and eager maiden who approaches Krishna as a timid bride does her unknown groom in genteel traditional society.
An examination in the laboratory has revealed that some restoration work has been done in recent years.
Usually the expression jalayatra means a boat ride in the river, but here the deities the dark blue Gopalji and the fair Radha have to be content with water sprayed by sprinklers along the edge of the platform.
Clearly the scene represents a shrine within the courtyard of an affluent Vaishnava family. The images are placed on a platform amidst a grove of fruit-laden mango and banana trees. Various ritual vessels and two metal sculptures of bovines are placed on the altar. Some real cows can be seen beyond the trees on the right of the picture. On the veranda in front are offerings of mangoes and coconuts, and more fruits and ritual objects can be seen between the pillars on the deities' left. The rolled-up curtain is a rich textile adorned with delicately drawn flowers and birds.
A rather rotund and well-fed priest stands close to the altar, and members of the family and a group of musicians a cymbalist, a drummer, and a stringed-instrument player sit on either side of the veranda.
The picture was very likely commissioned for the family album as a memento of the occasion. It is from a Kota workshop, and although the artist's name is given (but the reading is unclear), nothing is known about him. There is some stylistic relationship between such Kota pictures depicting Krishna themes and contemporary Nathadwar paintings (see no. it). Apart from Nathadwar pictures, the artist appears to have been familiar with European works or European influenced Mughal paintings as well. This is perceptible in the realistic handling of the space, the greater naturalism of the figures and their activity, as well as the detailed and meticulous rendering of the architectural elements.
The occasion depicted in this painting is the food offering ceremony, literally "mountain of food" (annakuta), which forms one of the major annual festivals at the Nathadwar shrine of the Vallabhacharya sect of Vaishnava faith. Taking place on the first day of the lunar half of the month of Karttika (October-November), the festival has multiple significance for the Vallabhacharyas. It marks the beginning of the new year, thanksgiving for a good harvest, and the commemoration of the miraculous incident from the life of Krishna that is encapsulated in the principal image at Nathadwar. This is the large, central figure in the group of six in the second row in the picture. The gesture of the raised left arm of the deity symbolizes the occasion when Krishna raised Mount Govardhana to shelter his community and his cows from a relentless storm unleashed by Indra, the king of the gods (sec no. 4). In addition, he holds the shepherd's crook with his right hand and a flying sash with his left.
Although there are separate shrines for Sri-Nathji's various manifestations within the sprawling mansion at Nathadwar, in such commemorative pictures they are all shown being worshipped together. The most striking features of the images marking the ceremony are the silver attire and what is called a gokarna mukuta, a crown of peacock feathers flanked by leaf like appendages that resemble cow's ears. Also, this particular ceremony is marked by the orange cloths immediately behind the statues and the black cloth farther behind that is decorated with silver and gold thread.
In front of the images are placed food-laden baskets and numerous jars filled with milk and milk products. In the foreground is the symbolic mountain of rice embellished with the five sweet cakes (gunja) traditionally offered on this occasion (the fifth is not visible). That at the summit symbolizes Vishnu's head, and the others his four weapons. (See Ambalal, pp. 30-33, for a detailed description of the festival.).
On either side of the offerings stand priests performing various tasks. Although they have very stylized and uniformly shaped eyes, individuals rather than types are represented. Clearly the priests have not suffered from deprivation. The head priest, standing to the left of the picture, is engaged in offering a lamp, while others stand with peacock-feather morchals and one with a hand-fan to keep the flies at bay.
Among the several published paintings of this subject (e.g., Skelton 1973, pp. 52-60, nos. 11-15), this example is both Iconographically and stylistically closest to one published by Ambalal (p. 32). The principal priests in the two paintings appear to be the same per-son. There seems little doubt that the two pictures were rendered at about the Same time and in the same workshop. However, one small distinctive iconographic feature in the Green painting is the fact that there are six images of Sri-Nathji placed in a single row; ill all the others there are only five.
The inscriptions on top in Takri characters read (left to right): raja (king); the numeral 1o; Vasasada (Vasishtha?); sofa (bard); raja (kings). At the bottom left is athara (18).
The scene depicted here is from the Book of Ayodhya, part of the Ramayana. The king seated before a bolster is Dasaratha, the father of Rama, shown in conversation with his preceptor, the sage Vasishtha. Immediately behind the lightly clad priest are the court bard and three princes of the realm. Behind the king is an attendant holding a large sword and waving a flywhisk above the monarch's head.
The Ramayana series to which this folio once belonged is known generally as the Shangri Ramayana as the last owner before its dispersal was the ruler of the small state of Shangri, a branch of the larger Kulu state. The series was extensively studied by William Archer (1973, 1:325-29), who ascribed it to Kulu and recognized in it four different styles. Recently, Goswamy and Fischer (pp. 76-81) questioned Archer's attribution to Kulu but accepted his dating and the broad stylistic groupings. They made a strong case that the first two groups of pictures were probably painted in Balm, a small state, for Raja Kripal Dev (r. C. 1660-90) and his son Anand Dev (r. C. 1690-1730). The Green picture is from the second group and is probably by the same artist responsible for several others, now in various collections (Goswamy & Fischer, pp. 88-90, nos. 31-33).
As is characteristic of this Ramayana series, the palette consists of stridently bright colors that are applied so deftly they never seem to clash. The yellow and chocolate particularly are reminiscent of similar colors typical of Basohli paintings of the last quarter of the seventeenth century. In fact, in all -essentials—such as the coloring, the stylization of tress, the use of architecture, and the figural forms the Shangri Ramayana pictures an: so akin to earlier Basohli pictures that there can be little doubt that when Raja Kripal Dev of Bahu established a workshop he must have recruited one or more artists from Basohli. Apart from its rich palette, this particular picture is distinguished for the exquisite detailing of garments, carpet, and architectural features.
Writer Name: Pratapaditya Pal