Explanations on Paintings




A Vaishnava priest in conversation with two devotees
Bundikalam, late 18th century, 24.5 25.9 cm

A Vaishnava priest sits facing left on a chauki below a tree. His outstretched right hand indicates that he is in conversation with a devotee who sits cross-legged on the terrace in front of him. The devotee is clad in a yellow dhoti and holds a manuscript in his left hand. Behind him sits another devotee in a white dhoti wearing a white turban and telling the beads of a rosary (akshamala) with his right hand. Both devotees have a full beard and sectarian marks on the forehead, throat, breast and shoulders, like the priest and the attendant behind him. This young attendant waves a small hand-fan near the head of the priest and carries a crooked stick. Four white birds are flying in the blue sky above a yellow landscape.

The four figures are identified by Nagari inscriptions above their heads. The name of the priest or prior is given as 'Mahamta îsaradâsajî'. The devotee in front of him is 'Kisanadâsajî' and the second devotee is called 'Samtokadâsajî'. The name of the attendant is 'Caranadâsajî'. 

The sectarian marks identify the four men as Vaishnavas, perhaps belonging to the Ramanandi order. The title of the prior, Mahant, indicates that he does not belong to one of the most common Vaishnava sects, the Vallabhacharya Sampradaya. The crooked staff held by the attendant belongs to the mahant and is a common attribute of wandering monks of various religious orders. Kisandasji has opened the manuscript in his left hand and Isardasji seems to be commenting on a passage in the text.

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Krishna kills Srigala
Mughal, c. 1590, 29.3 18.7 cm.

The painting is divided into two parts: a scene showing a fortified town beyond small hills and a river in de top part, and a battle field at the bottom, where the main action takes place. Krishna arrives on the battlefield from the left, standing immovable on his two-wheeled chariot drawn by two horses. The charioteer is sitting on the shaft holding the reins with his left hand and whipping the horses with his right. The horses, thus driven, are rearing up in front of two horses of another chariot which arrives from the right hand side whose charioteer turns around to see his master Srigala being beheaded by Krishna's infallible weapon, the chakra. Srigala's trunk is about to collapse on the chariot while his head with the crown at its side lands on the ground. 

This scene is witnessed by Krishna's elder brother, Balarama, who sits in a chariot on Krishna's proper right side, holding his plough with his right hand, while his charioteer turns to him and points at the beheaded combatant with his outstretched left hand. Another charioteer in the foreground points with both hands at the slain warrior while turning his head towards his master. 

Three armed horseman arriving from the right are also moved by this tragic event. The battlefield is bordered by stony hills at the rear, behind which a pool with lotuses is visible. A group of seven soldiers, some of them on horseback, have witnessed the scene on the battlefield from a distance in the vicinity of a city. One of them raises his arms in despair, while two other soldiers motion towards the field with their outstretched arms. A soldier on foot, armed with a shield and sword, moves towards a horseman who has just passed through the city gate leading several armed riders.

The city gate is flanked by two towers, topped with battlements and built of red sandstone like the other walls and protruding bastions, which are partly hidden behind deciduous trees or tall plantains. Flat roofs and closely grouped cupolas dominate the appearance of the city. A courtyard with a well at one end is filled with soldiers on foot and armed horseman, while other soldiers appear on the battlements of the city. 

This painting belongs to an imperial Mughal manuscript of the Harivamsha ('genealogy of Hari', i.e. Vishnu-Krishna). Still the most important contribution to the study of this illustrated translation of the Hindu epic, which forms a sort of appendix to the larger epic of the Mahabharata.

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Vasudeva carries the child Krishna to the house of Yashoda
Mewar, late 18th or early 19th century, 21.7 37.3 cm
[An illustration to a Hindi version of the Bhagavatha Purana (X,3,49)]

This narrative painting has to be 'read' from left to right: Vasudeva has left the prison in the left section of the painting, where the guards with demonic heads are sleeping in front of the door. Devaki, exhausted from giving birth to Krishna, sleeps on the bed within the enclosure of the prison. Vasudeva carries the child Krishna on his head and has just reached the river Yamuna when a terrible thunderstorm starts. Streaks of lightning in the shape of golden snakes are visible in the dark sky. In this situation, the snake Shesha arrives to shelter the child from the terrible downpour. The river has swollen considerably, but it gives way to Krishna and Vasudeva, who are able to ford it without difficulty, still protected by the hoods of Shesha and now also accompanied by a tiger. Vasudeva reaches the other side of the river safely and continues his way to the house of Yashoda, still protected by the snake.

The Nagari inscription in the text panel reads:

'srî bhâgavate, dasama ro patra, 32,
pache jamunâjî, 
srî bhagavâna râ carana jadî lâgâ vihâra dîdho'

('folio from the Bhagavata tenth [book/folio] 32. The Yamuna gave way after it touched the feet of the Lord').

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Krishna and other children playing with Nanda
Guler, c. 1800-1810, 18.2 22.2 cm

The child Krishna sits on the lap of Nanda, who is lying on a large bed. Nanda is being fanned by a boy near the bed, and another boy crawls on the ground playing with a peahen. A woman, probably Yashoda, leans on the bed to Nanda's proper left and is about to receive a small boy, apparently Balarama, from a standing woman who is probably Rohini. A balustrade at the rear bounds the white terrace on which the scene takes place. Banana trees and flowering shrubs indicate a garden in the distance, where the golden glow of the evening light is visible.

Nanda lookes as usual more like a grandfather than a foster-father. Nanda takes Krishna for his own son because he is not supposed to know that the girl born to Yashoda, his wife, has been exchanged for Krishna by the latter's actual father, Vasudeva. Yashoda and Rohini have no particular iconography with regard to Krishna and his elder brother, Balarama (the son of Vasudeva and Rohini). The child Balarama was usually shown dressed in a long blue shirt.

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Krishna and his favourite
Kulu or Basohli, 18th century, 24.9 16.9 cm

Krishna gazes into the eyes of his favourite and is about to embrace her as they pass in front of a pavilion, the curtain of which has been rolled up. The woman holds a lotus in her left hand and touches her chin with the forefinger of her right hand, giving an impression of shyness. A large peacock struts behind her. The balustrade on either side of the central pavilion reflects the movements of Krishna's arms and appears to embrace the pair of lovers and the peacock. Trees on either side behind the balustrade are set against an orange-red background which extends up to the narrow band of white and blue sky above the flat-roofed pavilion.

Krishna wears peacock feathers in his crown and a real peacock follows the woman. The pavilion, which is half-closed behind the woman, reflects her attitude towards Krishna; she is not open-hearted and is still undecided. 

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The 'Rasikapriyâ' of Kes'ava (Keshavdas)
Mewar, c. 1740-50,  28.6 16.9 cm

The painting is divided into two registers. In the upper register Krishna reclines on a bed with a seated woman astride his loins. Trees are growing behind the terrace on which the bed stands, and a radiant sun is shining in the blue sky. In the lower register two women are seated in conversation. A leafy bower with a cushion and hanging garlands fills the right half of the register. The four-line Nagari inscription in the text panel quotes chapter I, verse 20 of the "Rasikapriyâ" of Kesava (Keshavdas), the translation of which is as follows:

An example of hidden love.

Once in the woods when Krishna did sport
With Radha, seeking pleasures sweet,
And shouts of joy did issue forth
As oft when lustful lovers meet,
When she did take the active role
Her necklace studded with dark gems
Did wildly shake thus to and fro,
Says Keshava, as it were the sun
Had taken Saturn on his lap
And joyfully him he had swayed
In swing of black silk- so did flash
Those dark gems with each move she made.

The 'active role' adopted by Radha does not mean that she sits fully dressed in Krishna's lap, as shown by the present artist; she should in fact have sexual intercourse with Krishna in the 'revered position' which fascinated so many Hindu erotic writers. 

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The four-headed Brahma [An illustration to the Bhagavata Purana]
(X, 13, 63 et seq. or a related text)
South-West Rajasthan or Gujarat, early 18th century, 15 17 cm

The four-headed Brahma prostrates himself in front of Krishna, who stands on a rock. Brahma's vehicle, Hamsa (goose), stands behind his lord with a bell round his neck. Three different trees indicate the landscape in which this scene takes place. The painting probably illustrates Book Ten of the Bhagavata Purana,  chapter 13, verse 63 et seq., in which Brahma tries to deceive Krishna, but is finally compelled to accept the latter's superiority. [see also Srimad Bhagavatam]

No colophon is known which might indicate the place of origin of this manuscript, of which other folios are traceable. Several folios are insribed in Nagari and the language used is a form of Gujarati, hence we would also propose Gujarat for its place of origin. Sirohi has mainly been suggested in this connection, but no similar work from Sirohi is known which offers a convincing comparison. A great part of the known folios are surrounded by a rather uncommon border, as in this case, where a part of the central tree, and the feet of Brahma and Hamsa protrude into it. The set itself is quite unique.

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Krishna, Hij die iedereen tot Zich trekt, de Alaantrekkelijke; He Who attracks everyone;
Acyuta, (letterlijk: iemand die nooit ten val komt); Onfeilbare, gezegd van Krishna; The Infallible;
  Alvervulde; The Divine Personality of Godhead;
Devadeva, God der goden; God of gods;
Purushottama, Hoogste Persoon; The Supreme Personality;
Âdideva, Oergod; Original, The Eternal God;
âsvata Purusha Divya, Onvergankelijke Godspersoon; The Immortal Supreme Personality;
Pavitra Parama, Hoogste Louteraar; The Highest Purifier;
Anantarûpa, Hij wiens Gedaanten oneindig zijn; He whose Forms are Endless;
Aja, Ontstaanloze; The Beginningless,
Vishnu, Algrote; The Allmighty;
Aprameya, Onmetelijke, The Immeasurable One.

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