Part 2 out of 4
heavenly wishing tree, Krishna finds that he has aroused the jealousy
of his third consort, Satyabhama. To please her, he accordingly undertakes
to get for her not merely a flower or branch but the tree itself. He
therefore goes to Vaikuntha, the paradise of Vishnu, and takes the
opportunity to return the earrings of Aditi and place the canopy over the
lord of the gods. He then sends a message to Indra asking for the tree.
Indra as the tree's custodian recalls his former discomfiture in Brindaban
when Krishna had abolished his worship and venerated the hill Govardhana
in his place. Despite his subsequent surrender to Krishna, and abject
worship of him, Indra is still incensed and bluntly refuses. Krishna then
goes to the tree, wounds its guardians and bears the tree away. Indra is
tempted to do battle but realizing Krishna's superior power calls off his
hosts. Back in Dwarka, Krishna instals the tree in Satyabhama's palace but
returns it to Indra a year later.
On another occasion, Krishna and Rukmini are making love on a golden bed
in a palace bedecked with gems. The sheets are white as foam and are
decorated with flowers. Pictures have been painted on the walls and every
aid to pleasure has been provided. Rukmini is lovelier than ever, while
Krishna, 'the root of joy,' dazzles her with a face lovely as the moon, a
skin the colour of clouds, a peacock crown, a long garland of flowers and
a scarf of yellow silk. As he lies, he is 'the sea of beauty, the light of
the three worlds.' After making love, Krishna suddenly asks Rukmini why
she preferred him to Sisupala. He points out that he is not a king and is
therefore quite unworthy of her, that since he has rescued her from
Sisupala, her wish has been accomplished and it is best that she should
now leave him and marry a prince of the royal blood who will be worthy of
her name. Rukmini is stunned at the suggestion. She collapses on the
floor, her hair obscuring her lovely face. Krishna raises her up, sits her
on his knees, and strokes her cheeks. When at length Rukmini revives,
Krishna hastens to explain that he was only jesting and that in view of
her deep love he will never abandon her. Rukmini assures him that nowhere
in the world is there Krishna's equal. The beggars who recited his praises
and from whom she first heard his name, were in fact Brahma and Siva. All
the gods revere him. To adore him is the only joy. Those who love Krishna
alone are happy. If blinded by pride a man forgets him, Krishna abases
him. It was because Rukmini besought his compassion that Krishna has loved
her. Hearing her simple sincerity, Krishna is greatly moved and says,
'Love of my heart, you know me through and through. You have given
yourself to me, adored me and known my love. I shall love you always.'
Rukmini hears him with deep contentment and the two make love.
Such a declaration however is not intended to imply a cold neglect of his
other wives for it is part of Krishna's role that he should please and
satisfy all. Accordingly, when Narada, the sage, makes one of his
recurring appearances--this time in order to investigate how Krishna
contrives to keep happy so vast a concourse of women--he finds Krishna
everywhere. With Rukmini he reclines at ease, with Jambhavati he plays
dice, at Satyabhama's house, he is having his body rubbed with oil, at
Kalindi's, he is asleep. In this way, wherever Narada goes, he finds
Krishna with one or other of his queens. In fact, the same 'delusive'
powers which he had earlier employed when dancing with the
cowgirls--making each believe he was dancing with her and her alone--are
now being used to satisfy his wives.
In this way Krishna continues to live. Sometimes his wives caress his
body, ply him with delicacies or swathe him in perfumed garments.
Sometimes to ease their passion they make little figures of him or let
themselves be dressed by him. One night they go with him to a tank and
there make love in the water. Everything in the scene reminds them of
their love and they address first a _chakai_ bird. 'O _chakai_ bird, when
you are parted from your mate, you spend the whole night sadly calling and
never sleeping. Speak to us of your beloved. We are Krishna's
slave-girls.' They speak to the sea. 'O sea, you lie awake night and day,
heaving sighs. Do you grieve for a loved one who is far away?' Then they
see the moon. 'O moon, why do you grow thin? Are you also filled with
longing? Are you fascinated by Krishna?' In this way they address birds,
hills and rivers, seeking from each some consolation for their frenzied
In due course, each of the sixteen thousand one hundred and eight bears
Krishna ten sons and one daughter and each is beautiful as himself.
[Footnote 36: Plate 18.]
[Footnote 37: Lanka--modern Ceylon.]
[Footnote 38: Note 12.]
[Footnote 39: A sight of the heavenly wishing-tree, the _kalpa_ or
_parijata_, which grew in Indra's heaven, was believed to make the old
(iii) Last Phases
This gradual expansion of his marital state takes Krishna even farther
from the adoring loves of his youth, the cowgirls of Brindaban. Indeed for
months on end it is as if he has dismissed them from his mind. One day he
and Balarama are sitting together when Balarama reminds him of their
promise that after staying for a time in Mathura they will assuredly visit
them. Krishna, it is clear, cannot go himself, but Balarama is less
impeded and with Krishna's approval, he takes a ploughshare and pestle,
mounts a chariot and speeds on his way.
As he nears Brindaban, the familiar scenes greet him. The cowherds and
cowgirls come into view, but instead of joy there is general despair. The
cows low and pant, rejecting the grass. The cowherds are still discussing
Krishna's deeds and the cowgirls cannot expel him from their minds. As
Balarama enters their house, Nanda and Yasoda weep with joy. Balarama is
plied with questions about Krishna's welfare and when he answers that all
is well, Yasoda describes the darkness that has descended on them since
the joy of their hearts left. Balarama now meets the cowgirls. Their hair
is disordered, they are no longer neat and smart. Their minds are not in
their work and despite Krishna's absence, they are filled with passionate
longings and frenzied desires. Some of them marvel at Krishna's love and
count it good even to have known him. Others bitterly upbraid Krishna for
deserting them. Balarama explains that his visit is to show them that
Krishna has not entirely forgotten them and as proof he offers to re-enact
the circular dance and himself engage with them as lover.
In this way the circular dance is once again performed. The full moon
pours down, the cowgirls deck themselves and songs rise in the air. Flutes
and drums play and in the midst of the throng Balarama sings and dances,
clasping the cowgirls to him, making love and rousing them to ecstasy.
Night after night the dance is performed, while each day Balarama comforts
Nanda and Yasoda with news of Krishna. One night as his visit is ending,
he feels exhausted and commands the river Jumna to change its course and
bathe him with its water. The Jumna fails to comply, so Balarama draws the
river towards him with his plough and bathes in its stream. From that time
on, the Jumna's course is changed. His exhaustion now leaves him and he
gratifies the cowgirls with fresh passion. With this incident his visit
ends. He bids farewell to Nanda, Yasoda and the cowgirls and leaving the
forest returns to Dwarka.
Krishna's relations with the cowgirls are now completely ended, but on one
last occasion he happens to meet them. News has come that the sun will
soon be eclipsed and accordingly, Krishna and Balarama take the Yadavas on
pilgrimage. They choose a certain holy place, Kurukshetra, and assembling
all their queens and wives, make the slow journey to it. When they
arrive, a festival is in progress. They bathe and make offerings. While
they are still encamped, other kings come in, including the Pandavas and
Kauravas. With them are their wives and families and Kunti, the mother of
the Pandavas, is thus enabled to meet once more her brother, Vasudeva, the
father of Krishna. A little later, Nanda and Yasoda along with the
cowherds and cowgirls also arrive. They have come on the same pilgrimage
and finding Krishna there, at once throng to see him. Vasudeva greets his
old friend, Nanda, and recalls the now long-distant days when Krishna had
lived with him in his house. Krishna and Balarama greet Nanda and Yasoda
with loving respect, while the cowgirls are excited beyond description.
Krishna however refuses to regard them and faced with their ardent looks
and impassioned adoration, addresses to them the following sermon.
'Whoever believes in me shall be fearlessly carried across the sea of
life. You gave me your bodies, minds and wealth. You loved me with a love
that knew no limit. No one has been so fortunate as you--neither Brahma
nor Indra, neither any other god nor any man. For all along I have been
living in you, loving you with a love that has never faltered. I live in
everyone. What I say to you cannot easily be understood, but as light,
water, fire, earth and air abide in the body, so does my glory.' To the
cowgirls such words strike chill. But there is nothing they can say and
when the festival is over, Krishna and the Yadavas return to Dwarka, while
Nanda with the cowherds and cowgirls go back to Brindaban. This is the
last time Krishna sees them.
This dismissal reveals how final is Krishna's severance from his former
life, yet provided the cowherds are not involved, he is quick to honour
earlier relationships. One day in Dwarka his mother, Devaki, tells him
that she has a private grief--grief at the loss of the six elder brothers
of Krishna slain by the tyrant Kansa. Krishna tells her not to mourn,
descends to the third of the three worlds, interviews its ruler, Raja
Bali, and effects the release of the six brothers. Returning with them, he
gives them to his mother and her joy is great.
On another occasion he is visited by Sudama, a Brahman who had lived with
him, when, after slaying the tyrant, he and Balarama had gone for
instruction to their spiritual preceptor. Since then Sudama has grown thin
and poor. The thatch on his hut has tumbled down. He has nothing to eat.
His wife is alarmed at their abject state and advises him to seek out
Krishna, his chief friend. 'If you go to him,' she says, 'our poverty will
end because it is he who grants wealth and virtue, fulfils desires and
bestows final happiness.' Sudama replies that even Krishna does not give
anyone anything without that person giving him something first. As he has
not given, how can he hope to receive? His wife then ties up a little rice
in an old white cloth and gives it to Sudama as a present to Krishna.
Sudama sets out. On reaching Dwarka, he is admitted to Krishna's presence,
is immediately recognized and is treated with the utmost kindness and
respect. Krishna himself washes his feet and reveres him as a Brahman.
'Brother,' he says, 'from the time you quitted our preceptor's house, I
have heard nothing of you. Your coming has purified my house and made me
happy.' Krishna then notices the rice and laughingly asks Sudama what
present his wife has sent him and why it is hidden under his arm. Sudama
is greatly abashed but allows Krishna to take the bundle. On taking it,
Krishna eats the rice. He then conducts Sudama within, feasts him on
delicacies and puts him to bed. During the night he sends Visvakarma, the
divine architect, to Sudama's home, with instructions to turn it into a
palace. The next morning Sudama takes leave of Krishna, congratulating
himself on not having asked Krishna for anything. As he nears home, he is
dismayed to find no trace of his hut, but instead a golden palace. He
approaches the gate-keeper and is told it belongs to Sudama, the friend of
Krishna. His wife comes out and he finds her dressed in fine clothes and
jewels and attended by maid-servants. She takes him in and at first he is
abashed at so much wealth. Krishna, he reflects, can only have given it to
him because he doubted his affection. He did not ask Krishna for wealth
and cannot fathom why he has been given it. His wife assures him that
Krishna knows the thoughts of everyone. Sudama did not ask for wealth, but
she herself desired it and that is why Krishna has given it to them.
Sudama is convinced and says no more.
All these incidents provide a clue to Krishna's nature. They illustrate
his attitudes, confirm him in his role as protector and preserver and show
him in a new light--that of a guardian and upholder of morality. He is
still a fervent lover, but his love is sanctioned and formalized by legal
marriage. Moreover, a new respect characterizes his dealings with Brahmans
and his approach to festivals. Instead of the young revolutionary, we now
meet a sage conservative. These changes colour his final career.
As life at Dwarka runs its course, Krishna's activities centre more and
more on wars with demons and his relations with the Pandavas. Despite his
prowess and renown, demons trouble the Yadavas from time to time, but all
are killed either by Krishna wielding a magic quoit or by Balarama plying
his plough or pestle. On one occasion, a monkey demon runs amok, harassing
the people and ravaging the country. He surprises Balarama bathing in a
tank with his wives, despoils their clothes and defiles their pitchers. A
great combat then ensues, the monkey hurling trees and hills while
Balarama counters with his plough and pestle. But the outcome is hardly in
doubt and at last the monkey is killed.
On another occasion, Krishna is compelled to intervene in force. Following
his marriage with his first queen, Rukmini, a son, Pradyumna has been
born. He is no less a person than Kama, the god of love, whom Siva has
burnt for disturbing his meditations. When grown up, Pradyumna is married
to a cousin, the daughter of his uncle, Rukma. Rukma has never forgiven
Krishna for abducting and marrying his sister, Rukmini, and despite their
intimate alliance is sworn to kill him. His plot is discovered and in a
final contest, Balarama kills him. Meanwhile, Pradyumna has had a son,
Aniruddha, who grows up into a charming youth, while at the same time
Vanasura, a demon with a thousand arms, has a lovely daughter, Usa. When
Usa is twelve years old, she longs for a husband and in a dream sees and
embraces Aniruddha. She does not know who he is, but describes him to a
confidante. The latter draws pictures of all the leading royalty, and
among the Yadavas, Usa recognizes her love, Aniruddha. The confidante
agrees to bring him to her and going through the air to Dwarka, finds him
sleeping, dreaming of Usa. She transports him to Usa's palace and on
waking. Aniruddha finds himself alone with his love. Usa conceals him, but
the news reaches her father and he surrounds the palace with his demon
army. Aniruddha routs the army but is caught by Vanasura, who then
imprisons the two young lovers. News now reaches Krishna who rushes an
army to the scene. A battle ensues during which Vanasura loses all his
arms save four. He then worships Krishna, and Aniruddha and Usa are
Meanwhile Krishna is carefully maintaining relations with the Pandavas. We
have seen how immediately after the slaying of the tyrant he sends an
envoy to inquire after his aunt Kunti, the sister of his father, and
mother of the five Pandavas. We have also noticed how during a visit to
the Pandava court, he has acquired a new queen, Kalindi. He now embarks on
several courses of action, each of which is designed to cement their
relations. During a visit to his court, Arjuna, the brother whose lucky
shot won Draupadi for the Pandavas, falls in love with Subhadra, Krishna's
sister. Krishna is delighted to have him as a brother-in-law and as
already narrated in the epic, he advises Arjuna to marry her by capture. A
little later Krishna learns that Yudhisthira will shortly proclaim himself
a 'ruler of the world' and decides to visit the Pandava court to assist at
the sacrifice. He takes a vast army with him and advances on the court
with massive splendour. As he arrives, he learns that Jarasandha whose
feud is unabated has now imprisoned twenty thousand rajas, all of whom cry
to be released. Krishna decides that Jarasandha's demon activities must be
ended once for all and taking two of the Pandavas with him, Bhima and
Arjuna, he sets out to destroy him. Jarasandha elects to engage Bhima in
single-handed combat and for twenty-seven days the fight proceeds, each
wielding a club and neither securing the advantage. Krishna now learns
that Jarasandha can only be killed if he is split in two. He directs
Bhima, therefore, to throw him down, place a foot on one of his thighs and
catching the other leg with his hand, tear him asunder. Bhima does so and
in this way Jarasandha is destroyed. The captive rajas are now released
and after returning home they foregather at the Pandavas' court to assist
at the sacrifice.
As arrangements proceed an incident occurs which illustrates yet again the
complex situation arising from Krishna's dual character. Krishna is God,
yet he is also man. Being a man, it is normally as a man that he is
regarded. Yet from time to time particular individuals sense his Godhead
and then he is no longer man but God himself. Even those, however, who
view him as God do so only for brief periods of time and hence the
situation is constantly arising in which Krishna is one moment honoured as
God and then a moment later is treated as a man. And it is this situation
which now recurs.
As we have already seen in the epic, part of the custom at imperial
sacrifices was to offer presents to distinguished guests, and according to
the epic the person chosen to receive the first present was Krishna
himself. The _Purana_ changes this by substituting gods for guests.
Yudhisthira is uncertain who should be worshipped first. 'Who is the great
lord of the gods,' he asks, 'to whom we should bow our heads?' To this a
Pandava gives a clear answer. Krishna, he says, is god of gods. 'No one
understands his nature. He is lord of Brahma, Siva and Indra. It is he who
creates, preserves and destroys. His work is endless. He is the unseen and
imperishable. He descends upon the earth continually for the sake of his
worshippers and assuming mortal form appears and acts like a mortal. He
sits in our houses and calls us 'brothers.' We are deluded by his power
and consider him a brother. Yet never have we seen one as great as him.'
He speaks in fact as one who, knowing Krishna, has seen, for the moment,
the god beyond the man. His vision is shared by the others present.
Krishna is therefore placed on a throne and before the vast concourse of
rajas, Yudhisthira worships him.
Among the guests, however, is one raja to whom the vision is denied. He is
Sisupala, Krishna's rival for the hand of Rukmini, and since Rukmini's
abduction, his deadly enemy. Krishna's elevation as a god is more than he
can stomach and he utters an angry protest. Krishna, he says, is not god
at all. He is a mere cowherd's son of low caste who has debased himself by
eating the leavings of the cowherds' children and has even been the lover
of the cowgirls. As a child he was an arrant pilferer, stealing milk and
butter from every house, while as a youth he has trifled with other men's
wives. He has also slighted Indra. Krishna quietly listens to this
outburst. Then, deeming Sisupala's enmity to have reached its furthest
limit, he allows his patience to be exhausted. He reaches for his quoit
and hurling it through the air, slays Sisupala on the spot. The ceremonies
are then completed and Krishna leaves for Dwarka. As he nears the city, he
discovers the Yadavas hard pressed by an army of demons. He and Balarama
intervene. The demons are either killed or put to flight and the Yadavas
are rescued. When a little later Sisupala's two brothers bring an army
against him, they too are vanquished.
Twelve years now intervene. Yudhisthira in the moment of triumph has
gambled away his kingdom. The Pandavas have once again been driven into
exile and the old feud has broken out afresh. As the exile ends, both
sides prepare for war and Krishna also leaves for the battle. Balarama is
loath to intervene so goes away on pilgrimage. After various adventures,
however, he also arrives on the scene. As he comes, a series of
single-handed combats is in progress with Krishna and other Rajas looking
on. Duryodhana, the son of blind Dhritarashtra, the king of the Kauravas
is fighting Bhima, the powerful Pandava and just as Balarama arrives he is
dealt a foul blow and wounded in the thigh. Balarama is shocked to see so
many uncles and cousins involved in strife and begs them to desist.
Duryodhana replies that it is Krishna who has willed the war and that they
are as puppets in his hands. It is Krishna who is actively aiding the
Pandavas and the war is only being carried on because of his advice. It is
Krishna also who has sponsored foul play. Balarama is pained at such
accusations and strongly criticizes Krishna. Krishna, however, is ready
with an answer. The Kauravas, he says, cheated the Pandavas of their
kingdom by the game of dice. Duryodhana had told Draupadi to sit on his
thigh and so he deserved to have it broken. So unjust and tyrannical are
the Kauravas that any methods used against them are fair. Balarama keeps
silent and a little later returns to Dwarka.
This incident concludes the _Purana's_ references to the war. Nothing is
said of Krishna's sermon--the _Bhagavad Gita_. No mention is made of
Krishna's role as charioteer to Arjuna. Nothing further is said of its
deadly outcome. Krishna's career as a warrior, in fact, is ended and with
this episode the _Purana_ enters its final phase.
As Krishna lives at Dwarka, surrounded by his wives and huge progeny, he
wearies of his earthly career. By now his mission has been accomplished.
Hordes of demons have been slain, cruel monarchs killed and much of
Earth's burden lifted. There is no longer any pressing need for him to
stay and he decides to quit his body and 're-enter with all his emanations
the sphere of Vishnu.' To do this, however, the whole of the Yadava race
must first be ended. One, day some Yadava boys make fun of certain
Brahmans. They dress up one of their company as a pregnant girl, take him
to the Brahmans and innocently inquire what kind of child the woman will
bring forth. The Brahmans immediately penetrate the disguise and angered
at the youth's impertinence, they reply, 'A club that will crush the whole
Yadava race.' The boys run to King Ugrasena, relate what has happened and
are even more alarmed when an iron club is brought forth from the boy's
belly. Ugrasena has the club ground to dust and thrown into the sea, where
its particles become rushes. One part of the club, however, is like a
lance and does not break. When thrown into the sea, it is swallowed by a
fish. A hunter catches it and taking the iron spike from its stomach lays
it aside for future use. It is an arrow made from this particular spike
which a little later will bring about Krishna's death. Similarly it is the
iron rushes which will cause the death of the Yadavas. Already, therefore,
a chain of sinister happenings has been started and from now onwards the
action moves relentlessly to its grim and tragic close.
As the final scene unfolds, the gods, headed by Brahma and Siva, approach
Krishna begging him to return. Krishna tells them that everything is now
in train and within seven nights he will complete the destruction of the
Yadavas and return to his everlasting home.
Signs portending the destruction of Dwarka now appear. 'A dreadful figure,
death personified, haunts every house, coming and going no one knows how
and being invulnerable to weapons by which he is assailed. Strong
hurricanes blow; large rats multiply and infest the roads and houses and
attack persons in their sleep; starlings scream in their cages, storks
imitate the hooting of owls and goats the howling of jackals; cows bring
forth foals and camels mules; food in the moment of being eaten is filled
with worms; fire burns with discoloured flames and at sunset and sunrise
the air is traversed by headless and hideous spirits.' Krishna draws
the Yadavas' attention to these omens and advises them to leave Dwarka and
move to Prabhasa, a site farther inland.
Udho, who earlier in the story has acted as Krishna's envoy to the
cowgirls quickly realizes that the end is near and approaches Krishna for
advice. 'Tell me, O Lord, what it is proper I should do. For it is clear
that shortly you will destroy the Yadavas.' Krishna then tells him to go
to a shrine high up in the mountains and by meditating on Krishna obtain
release. He adds minute instructions on the technique of penance and ends
with some definitions of the yoga of devotion. He concludes by telling
Udho that when all the Yadavas have perished, he himself will go to heaven
and Dwarka will be swallowed by the ocean. Udho bows low and leaves for
Krishna now assembles the leading Yadavas and leaving behind only the
elders, the women and children, escorts them to Prabhasa, a town inland,
assuring them that by proper worship they may yet avert their fate. At
Prabhasa the Yadavas bathe and purify themselves, anoint the gods' statues
and make offerings. They appease the Brahmans with costly gifts--'thereby
countering evil omens, gaining the road to happiness and ensuring rebirth
at a higher level.'
Their worship however, is of no avail for almost immediately they fall to
drinking. 'As they drank, the destructive flame of dissension was kindled
amongst them by mutual collision, and fed with the fuel of abuse.
Infuriated by the divine influence, they fell upon one another with
missile weapons and when these were expended, they had recourse to the
rushes growing high. The rushes in their hands became like thunderbolts
and they struck one another with them fatal blows. Krishna interposed to
prevent them but they thought that he was taking part with each severally,
and continued the conflict. Krishna then, enraged, took up a handful of
rushes to destroy them, and the rushes became a club of iron and with this
he slew many of the murderous Yadavas; whilst others, fighting fiercely,
put an end to one another. In a short time, there was not a single Yadava
left alive, except the mighty Krishna and Daruka, his charioteer.'
With the slaughter thus completed, Krishna feels free to leave the earth.
Such Yadavas who have been left behind in Dwarka have been spared, but the
greater part of the race is dead. He therefore makes ready for his own
departure. Balarama, who has helped Krishna in the brawl, goes to the
sea-shore, performs yoga and, leaving his body, joins the Supreme Spirit.
Sesha, the white serpent of eternity, issues from his mouth and hymned by
snakes and other serpents proceeds to the ocean. 'Bringing an offering of
respect, Ocean came to meet him; and then the majestic being, adored by
attendant snakes entered into the waters of the deep.'
Krishna then seats himself by a fig tree, lays his left leg across his
right thigh, turns the sole of his foot outwards and assumes one of the
postures in which abstraction is practised. As he meditates he appears
lovelier than ever. His eyes flash. The four arms of Vishnu spring from
his body. He wears his crown, his sacred thread and garland of flowers. As
he sits, glorious and beautiful, the same hunter, who earlier had salvaged
the iron spike from the fish, chances to pass by. His arrow is tipped with
a piece of the iron and mistaking Krishna's foot for part of a deer, he
shoots his arrow and hits it. Approaching the mark, he sees Krishna's four
arms and is horrified to discover whom he has wounded. As he begs
forgiveness, Krishna grants him liberation and dispatches him to heaven.
Daruka, Krishna's charioteer, now comes in search of his master. Finding
him wounded, he is overwhelmed with grief. Krishna tells him to go to
Dwarka and inform the surviving Yadavas what has happened. On receiving
the news they must leave Dwarka immediately, for the sea will shortly
engulf it. They must also place themselves under Arjuna's protection and
go to Indraprastha. 'Then the illustrious Krishna having united himself
with his own pure, spiritual, inexhaustible and universal spirit abandoned
his mortal body.'
Daruka goes mournfully to Dwarka where he breaks the news. Vasudeva with
his two wives, Devaki and Rohini, die of grief. Arjuna recovers the bodies
of Krishna and Balarama and places them on a funeral pyre. Rukmini along
with Krishna's seven other queens throw themselves on the flames.
Balarama's wives, as well as King Ugrasena, also die. Arjuna then appoints
Krishna's great grandson, Parikshit, to rule over the survivors and, after
assembling the remaining women and children, removes them from Dwarka and
travels slowly away. As they leave, the ocean comes up, swallowing the
city and engulfing everything except the temple.
[Footnote 40: Plate 19.]
[Footnote 41: Note 13.]
[Footnote 42: Note 14.]
[Footnote 43: Note 7.]
[Footnote 44: Plate 1 and Note 7.]
[Footnote 45: Plate 2 and Note 7.]
(iv) The _Purana_ Re-considered
Such an account gives us what the _Mahabharata_ epic did not give--a
detailed description of Krishna's career. It confirms the epic's view of
Krishna as a hero and fills in many gaps concerning his life at Dwarka,
his relations with the Pandavas, his life as a feudal prince and finally,
his death. It makes clear that throughout the story Krishna is an
incarnation of Vishnu and that his main reason for being born is to aid
the good and kill demons. At the same time, it shows him in two important
new lights--firstly, as one whose youth was spent among cowherds, in
circumstances altogether different from those of a prince and secondly, as
a delightful lover of women, who explores to the full the joys of sexual
love. The second role characterizes him both as cowherd and prince but
with important differences of attitude and behaviour. As a prince, Krishna
is wedded first to Rukmini and then to seven other wives, observing on
each occasion the requisite formalities. Even the sixteen thousand one
hundred girls whom he rescues from imprisonment receive this formal
status. With all of them Krishna enjoys a variety of sexual pleasures and
their love is moral, respectable and approved. Krishna the prince, in
fact, is Krishna the husband. Krishna the cowherd, on the other hand, is
essentially a lover. The cowgirls whose impassioned love he inspires are
all married and in consorting with them he is breaking one of the most
solemn requirements of the moral code. The first relationship has the
secure basis of conjugal duty, the second the daring adventurousness of
The same abrupt contrast appears between his character as a cowherd and
his character as a prince. As a youth he mixes freely with the cowherds,
behaving with an easy naturalness of manner and obtaining from them an
intense devotion. This devotion is excited by everything he does and
whether as a baby crying for the breast, a little boy pilfering butter or
a young man teasing the married girls, he exerts a magnetic charm. At no
time does he neglect his prime duty of killing demons but this is
subordinated to his innocent delight in living. He is shown as impatient
with old and stereotyped forms of worship, as scorning ordinary morality
and treating love as paramount. Although he acts continually with princely
dignity and is always aware of his true character as Vishnu, his impact on
others is based more on the understanding of their needs than on their
recognition of him as God. When, at times, Krishna the cowherd is adored
as God, he has already been loved as a boy and a young man. In the later
story, this early charm is missing. Krishna is frequently recognized to
be God and is continually revered and respected as a man. His conduct is
invariably resolute but there is a kind of statesmanlike formality about
his actions. He is respectful towards ritual, formal observances and
Brahmans while in comparison with his encounters with the cowgirls his
relations with women have an air of slightly stagnant luxury. His wives
and consorts lavish on him their devotion but the very fact that they are
married removes the romantic element from their relationship.
Such vital differences are only partially resolved in the _Bhagavata
Purana_. Representing as they do two different conceptions of Krishna's
character, it is inevitable that the resulting account should be slightly
biased in one direction or the other. The _Bhagavata Purana_ records both
phases in careful detail blending them into a single organic whole. But
there can be little doubt that its Brahman authors were in the main more
favourably inclined towards the hero prince than towards the cowherd
lover. There is a tendency for the older Krishna to disparage the younger.
Krishna the prince's subsequent meetings with the cowgirls are shown as
very different from his rapturous encounters with them in the forest and
the fact that his later career involves so sharp a separation from them
indicates that the whole episode was somewhat frowned upon. This is
especially evident from the manner in which Krishna addresses the cowgirls
when they meet him during the eclipse of the sun. By this time he has
become an ardent husband constantly satisfying his many wives. He is very
far from having abjured the delights of the flesh. Yet for all his former
loves who long for him so passionately he has only one message. They must
meditate upon him in their minds. No dismissal could be colder, no
treatment more calculatingly callous. And even the accounts of Krishna's
love-making reflects this bias. The physical charms of the cowgirls are
minimized and it is only the beauty of Rukmini which is stressed. It is
clear, in fact, that however much the one tradition involved a break with
morals, the second tradition shrank from countenancing adultery and it was
this latter tradition which commanded the authors' approval. Finally, on
one important issue, the _Purana_ as a whole is in no doubt. Krishna's
true consort is Rukmini. That Krishna's nature should be complemented by a
cowgirl is not so much as even considered. The cowgirls are shown as
risking all for Krishna, as loving him above all else but none is singled
out for mention and none emerges as a rival. In this long account of
Krishna's life what is overwhelmingly significant is that the name of his
supreme cowgirl love is altogether omitted.
THE KRISHNA OF POETRY
(i) The Triumph of Radha
During the next two hundred years, from the tenth to the twelfth century,
the Krishna story completely alters. It is not that the facts as given in
the _Bhagavata Purana_ are disputed. It is rather that the emphasis and
view-point are changed. Krishna the prince and his consort Rukmini are
relegated to the background and Krishna the cowherd lover brought sharply
to the fore. Krishna is no longer regarded as having been born solely to
kill a tyrant and rid the world of demons. His chief function now is to
vindicate passion as the symbol of final union with God. We have already
seen that to Indians this final union was the sole purpose of life and
only one experience was at all comparable to it. It was the mutual ecstasy
of impassioned lovers. 'In the embrace of his beloved, a man forgets the
whole world--everything both within and without; in the same way, he who
embraces the Self knows neither within nor without.' The function of
the new Krishna was to defend these two premises--that romantic love was
the most exalted experience in life and secondly, that of all the roads to
salvation, the impassioned adoration of God was the one most valid. God
must be adored. Krishna himself was God and since he had shown divine love
in passionately possessing the cowgirls, he was best adored by recalling
these very encounters. As a result, Krishna's relations with the cowgirls
were now enormously magnified and as part of this fresh appraisal, a
particular married cowgirl, Radha, enters the story as the enchanting
object of his passions. We have seen how on one occasion in the _Bhagavata
Purana_, Krishna disappears taking with him a single girl, how they then
make love together in a forest bower and how when the girl tires and begs
Krishna to carry her, he abruptly leaves her. The girl's name is not
mentioned but enough is said to suggest that she is Krishna's favourite.
This hint is now developed. Radha, for this is the girl's name, is
recognized as the loveliest of all the cowgirls. She is the daughter of
the cowherd Vrishabhanu and his wife, Kamalavati, and is married to Ayana,
a brother of Yasoda. Like other cowgirls, her love for Krishna is
all-consuming and compels her to ignore her family honour and disregard
her husband. Krishna, for his part, regards her as his first love. In
place, therefore, of courtly adventures and battles with demons, Krishna's
adulterous romance is now presented as all in all. It is the moods,
feelings and emotions of a great love-affair which are the essence of the
story and this, in turn, is to serve as a sublime allegory expressing and
affirming the love of God for the soul. With this dramatic revolution in
the story, we begin to approach the Krishna of Indian painting.
Such a change can hardly have come about without historical reasons and
although the exact circumstances must perhaps remain obscure, we can see
in this sharp reversal of roles a clear response to certain Indian needs.
From early times, romantic love had been keenly valued, Sanskrit poets
such as Kalidasa, Amaru and Bhartrihari celebrating the charms of womanly
physique and the raptures of sex. What, in fact, in other cultures had
been viewed with suspicion or disquiet was here invested with nobility and
grandeur. Although fidelity had been demanded in marriage, romantic
liaisons had not been entirely excluded and thus there was a sense in
which the love-poetry of the early Indian middle ages had been partly
paralleled by actual courtly or village practice. From the tenth century
onwards, however, a tightening of domestic morals had set in, a tightening
which was further intensified by the Muslim invasions of the twelfth and
thirteen centuries. Romance as an actual experience became more difficult
of attainment and this was exacerbated by standard views of marriage. In
early India, marriage had been regarded as a contract between families
and romantic love between husband and wife as an accidental, even an
unexpected product of what was basically a utilitarian agreement. With the
seclusion of women and the laying of even greater stress on wifely
chastity, romantic love was increasingly denied. Yet the need for romance
remained and we can see in the prevalence of love-poetry a substitute for
wishes repressed in actual life. It is precisely this role which the
story of Krishna the cowherd lover now came to perform. Krishna, being
God, had been beyond morals and hence had practised conduct which, if
indulged in by men, might well have been wrong. He had given practical
expression to romantic longings and had behaved with all the passionate
freedom normally stifled by social duty, conjugal ethics and family
morals. From this point of view, Krishna the prince was a mere pillar of
boring respectability. Nothing in his conduct could arouse delight for
everything he did was correct and proper. Krishna the cowherd on the
other hand, was spontaneous, irresponsible and free. His love for the
cowgirls had had a lively freedom. The love between them was nothing if
not voluntary. His whole life among the cowherds was simple, natural and
pleasing and as their rapturous lover nothing was more obvious than that
the cowgirls should adore him. In dwelling, then, on Krishna, it was
natural that the worshipper should tend to disregard the prince and should
concentrate instead on the cowherd. The prince had revered Brahmans and
supported established institutions. The cowherd had shamed the Brahmans of
Mathura and discredited ceremonies and festivals. He had loved and been
loved and in his contemplation lay nothing but joy. The loves of Krishna,
in fact, were an intimate fulfilment of Indian desires, an exact
sublimation of intense romantic needs and while other factors must
certainly have played their part, this is perhaps the chief reason why,
at this juncture, they now enchanted village and courtly India.
The results of this new approach are apparent in two distinct ways. The
_Bhagavata Purana_ continues to be the chief chronicle of Krishna's
acts but the last half of Book Ten and all of Book Eleven fall into
neglect. In their place, the story of Krishna's relations with the
cowgirls is given new poignancy and precision. Radha is constantly
mentioned and in all the incidents in the _Purana_ involving cowgirls,
it is she who is given pride of place. At the river Jumna, when Krishna
removes the cowgirls' clothes, Radha begs him to restore them. At the
circular dance in which he joins with all the cowgirls, Radha receives his
first attentions, dancing with him in the centre. When Krishna is about to
leave for Mathura, it is Radha who heads the cowgirls and strives to detain
him. She serves, in fact, as a symbol of all the cowgirls' love. At the
same time, she is very far from being merely their spokesman or leader and
while the later texts dwell constantly on her rapturous love-making with
Krishna, they also describe her jealousy when Krishna makes love to other
girls. Indeed the essence of their romance is that it includes a temporary
estrangement and only after Krishna has neglected Radha, flirted with
other cowgirls and then returned to her is their understanding complete.
The second result is the allegorical interpretation which Krishna's
romances now received. In Christian literature, the longing of the soul
for God was occasionally expressed in terms of sexual imagery--the works
of the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, including 'songs of the
soul in rapture at having arrived at the height of perfection which is
union with God.'
Oh night that was my guide!
Oh darkness dearer than the morning's pride,
Oh night that joined the lover
To the beloved bride
Transfiguring them each into the other.
Within my flowering breast
Which only for himself entire I save
He sank into his rest
And all my gifts I gave
Lulled by the airs with which the cedars wave.
This same approach was now to clarify Radha's romance with Krishna. Radha,
it was held, was the soul while Krishna was God. Radha's sexual passion
for Krishna symbolized the soul's intense longing and her willingness to
commit adultery expressed the utter priority which must be accorded to
love for God. If ultimate union was symbolized by romantic love, then
clearly nothing could approach such love in ultimate significance. In
deserting their husbands and homes and wilfully committing adultery, Radha
and the cowgirls were therefore illustrating a profound religious truth.
Not only was their adultery proof of Krishna's charm, it was vital to the
whole story. By worldly standards, they were committing the gravest of
offences but they were doing it for Krishna who was God himself. They were
therefore setting God above home and duty, they were leaving everything
for love of God and in surrendering their honour, were providing the most
potent symbol of what devotion meant. This approach explained other
details. Krishna's flute was the call of God which caused the souls of
men, the cowgirls, to forsake their worldly attachments and rush to love
him. In removing the clothes of the cowgirls and requiring them to come
before him naked, he was demonstrating the innocent purity with which the
soul should wait on God. In himself neglecting Radha and toying with the
cowgirls, he was proving, on one level, the power of worldly pleasures to
seduce the soul but on another level, the power of God to love every soul
irrespective of its character and status. From this point of view, the
cowgirls were as much the souls of men as Radha herself and to demonstrate
God's all-pervasive love, Krishna must therefore love not only Radha but
every cowgirl. Equally, in the circular dance, by inducing every cowgirl
to think that she and she alone was his partner, Krishna was proving how
God is available to all. Finally it was realized that even those portions
of the story which, at first sight, seemed cruel and callous were also
susceptible of religious interpretation. When Radha has been loved in the
forest and then is suddenly deserted, the reason is her pride--pride that
because Krishna has loved her, she can assert herself by asking to be
carried. Such assertiveness is incompatible with the kind of humble
adoration necessary for communion with God. To prove this, therefore,
Radha's pride must be destroyed and Krishna resorts to this seemingly
brusque desertion. Action, in fact, which by human standards would be
reprehensible is once again a means for imparting spiritual wisdom. In a
similar way, Krishna's departure for Mathura and final abandonment of the
cowgirls was accorded a religious interpretation. At one level, his
departure symbolized 'the dark night of the soul,' the experience which
comes to every devotee when, despite the most ardent longing, the vision
fades. At another level, it illustrated how life must be lived when God or
Vishnu was no longer on earth. If Krishna's love-making was intended to
symbolize the ultimate rapture, his physical absence corresponded to
conditions as they normally existed. In instructing the cowgirls to
meditate upon him in their minds, Krishna was only attuning them to life
as it must necessarily appear after he has left the human stage.
It was these conceptions which governed the cult of Krishna from the
twelfth century onwards and, as we shall shortly see, informed the poems
which were now to celebrate his love for Radha.
[Footnote 46: Note 15.]
[Footnote 47: Note 16.]
[Footnote 48: Note 17.]
[Footnote 49: I.e. the whole of Krishna's career after his destruction of
[Footnote 50: Roy Campbell, _The Poems of St. John of the Cross_ (London,
(ii) The Gita Govinda
The first poem to express this changed conception is the _Gita
Govinda_--the Song of the Cowherd--a Sanskrit poem written by the Bengali
poet, Jayadeva, towards the close of the twelfth century. Its subject is
the estrangement of Radha and Krishna caused by Krishna's love for other
cowgirls, Radha's anguish at Krishna's neglect and lastly the rapture
which attends their final reunion. Jayadeva describes Radha's longing and
Krishna's love-making with glowing sensuality yet the poem reverts
continually to praise of Krishna as God.
If in recalling Krishna to mind there is flavour
Or if there is interest in love's art
Then to this necklace of words--sweetness,
The words of Jayadeva, listen.
He aims, in fact, at inducing 'recollection of Krishna in the minds of
the good' and adds a description of the forest in springtime solely, he
says, in order once again to recall Krishna. When, at last, the poem
has come triumphantly to its close, Jayadeva again exhorts people to adore
Krishna and 'place him for ever in their hearts, Krishna the source of all
The poem begins with a preface of four lines describing how Krishna's
romance with Radha first began. The sky, it says, was dark with clouds.
All around lay the vast forest. Night was coming up and Nanda who had
taken the youthful Krishna with him is alarmed lest in the gathering gloom
the boy should get lost. Radha, who is somewhat older, is with them, so
Nanda desires her to take Krishna home. Radha leads him away but as they
wander by the river, passion mounts in their hearts. They forget that
Nanda has told them to hurry home. Radha ignores the motherly character of
her mission and loitering in the trees, the two commence their
dalliance. In this way the love of Radha and Krishna arises--the love
which is to dominate their hearts with ever-growing fervour.
The poem then leaps a period of time and when the drama opens, a crisis
has occurred. Radha, after long enjoying Krishna's passionate embraces,
finds herself abruptly neglected. Charming but faithless, Krishna is now
pursuing other girls and the jilted Radha wanders alone. Meanwhile spring
has come to the forest and the thought that others are enjoying Krishna's
love tortures her to the point of madness. As she broods on her lost joys,
a friend describes to her what is happening.
Sandal and garment of yellow and lotus garlands upon his body of
In his dance the jewels of his ears in movement dangling over his
Krishna here disports himself with charming women given to love.
He embraces one woman, he kisses another, and fondles another
He looks at another one lovely with smiles, and starts in pursuit of
Krishna here disports himself with charming women given to love.
Suddenly Radha sees Krishna and going into the midst of the cowgirls,
she kisses him violently and clasps him to her; but Krishna is so inflamed
by the other girls that he abandons her in a thicket.
As Radha broods on his behaviour, she is filled with bitter sadness.
Yet her love is still so strong that she cannot bring herself to blame
him and instead calls to mind his charm.
I remember Krishna, the jests he made, who placed his sport in the
The sweet of whose nectar of lips kept flowing with notes of his luring
With the play of whose eyes and the toss of whose head the earrings
kept dangling upon his cheeks.
I remember Krishna, the jests he made, who placed his sport in the
Whose brow had a perfect sandal spot, as among dark clouds the disc
of the moon,
Whose door-like heart was without pity when crushing the bosoms of
Desire even now in my foolish mind for Krishna,
For Krishna--without me--lusting still for the herd-girls.
Seeing only the good in his nature, what shall I do?
Agitated I feel no anger. Pleased without cause, I acquit him.
And she continues:
O make him enjoy me, my friend, that Krishna so fickle,
I who am shy like a girl on her way to the first of her trysts of love,
He who is charming with flattering words, I who am tender
In speech and smiling, he on whose hip the garment lies loosely worn.
O make him enjoy me, my friend, that Krishna so fickle,
Me who sweated and moistened all over my body with love's exertion,
That Krishna whose cheeks were lovely with down all standing on end
as he thrilled,
Whose half-closed eyes were languid, and restless with brimming
O make him enjoy me, my friend, that Krishna so fickle,
Me whose masses of curls were like loose-slipping flowers, whose
Were vague as of doves, that Krishna whose bosom is marked
With scratches, surpassing all in his love that the science of love
O make him enjoy me, my friend, that Krishna so fickle,
To whose act of desire accomplished the anklets upon my feet bejewelled
Vibrated sounding, who gave his kisses seizing the hair of the head,
And to whom in his passionate love my girdle sounded in eloquence
As Radha sits longing for him in lonely sadness, Krishna suddenly
repents, is filled with remorse and abruptly goes in quest of her. He does
not know, however, where to find her and as he wanders, he expresses his
Radha so deeply wronged, troubled to see me surrounded by women,
She went, and I, in fear of my guilt, made no attempt to stop her,
Alas, alas, she is gone in anger, her love destroyed.
O my slender one, I imagine your heart is dejected,
I cannot console you kneeling in homage, I know not where to find
If you pardon me now I shall never repeat this neglect of you ever--
O beautiful, give me your pleasure again. I burn with desire.
As Krishna searches unavailingly, Radha's friend lights upon him and
conveys news of her love-tormented state.
Armour she makes of tender lotus garlands to hide her bosom from
Large garlands, as if to protect you from heavy showers of shafts from
the god of love.
She fears an attack of Love upon you, and lies away hidden;
She wastes away, Krishna, parted from you.
As he hears this, Krishna is torn with longing. He does not, however, go
immediately to Radha but instead asks the friend to bring Radha to him.
The girl departs, meets Radha and gives her Krishna's message. She then
describes Krishna's love-lorn state:
When he hears the noise of swarms of bees, he covers his ears from their
Pain he feels, night after night, of a heart in love that is parted.
He droops, separated from you, O friend, the wearer of garlands.
The girl assures Radha that Krishna is contrite and urges her to delay no
He has gone into the trysting place, full of all desired bliss, O you
with lovely hips delay no more
O go forth now and seek him out, him the master of your heart, him
endowed with passion's lovely form.
On fallen feathers of the birds, on leaves about the forest floor, he
lies excited making there his bed,
And he gazes out upon the path, looks about with trembling eyes, anxious,
looking out for your approach.
There on that bed of tender leaves, O lotus-eyed, embrace his hips, his
naked hips from whence the girdle drops,
Those hips from whence the garment falls, those loins which are a
treasure heap, the fountain and the source of all delight.
Radha would willingly go but she is now so sick with love that she can no
longer move. The girl has, therefore, to go once more to Krishna and
describe Radha's state.
In secret on every side she sees you
Drinking the honied sweet of her lips.
Where Radha stays now she wilts away,
She may live no longer without your skill,
Again and again she keeps telling her friend,
'O why must Krishna delay to come?'
Of her jewels abundant her limbs she adorns and spreads out her bed--
Imagining you on her fluttering couch of leaves--
And so to indulge, in a hundred ways, in the sport of love
She is fully resolved, arranging her bed with every adornment;
Not another night may that beautiful girl endure without you.
Why so much apathy, Krishna, beside the fig tree?
O brother, why not go to the pasture of eyes, the abode of bliss?
Despite this message, however, Krishna still delays and Radha, who has
half expected him, endures still greater anguish.
My lover has failed to come to the trysting place,
It is perhaps that his mind is dazed, or perhaps that he went to another
Or lured perhaps by festive folk, that he delays,
Or perhaps along the dark fringe of the forest he wanders lost.
She imagines him toying with another cowgirl.
A certain girl, excelling in her charms unrivalled, dallies with the
Her face, a moon, is fondled by the fluttering petals in her hair,
The exciting moisture of his lips induces langour in her limbs,
Her earrings bruise her cheeks while dancing with the motion of her
Her girdle by the tremor of her moving hips is made to tinkle,
She utters senseless sounds, through fever of her love,
He decorates with crimson flowers her curly tresses, curls which are
upon her lively face a mass of clouds,
Flowers with crimson flashings lovely in the forest of her tresses, haunt
of that wild creature love's desire.
And thinking of her own hapless state, Radha contrasts it bitterly with
that of the fortunate girl.
She who with the wearer of the garland lies in dalliance.
With him whose lovely mouth is like a lotus that is opening,
With him whose words are nectar in their sweetness and their tenderness,
With him who wears a garment streaked with gold, all white and
Not made to sigh is she, my friend, derided by her girls!
Next morning Radha is standing with her girls when Krishna tries to
approach her. Now, however, he has come too late. Radha has suffered too
greatly. Her patience is at an end and although Krishna implores her to
forgive him, she rounds on him in anger, ordering him to return to the
other girl whom he has just left.
Your mouth, O Krishna, darkened, enhances the crimson beauty of
your lovely body,
Enhances with a, darkness, a blackness that arises from the kissing of
eyes coloured with black unguent.
Go, Krishna, go. Desist from uttering these deceitful words.
Follow her, you lotus-eyed, she who can dispel your trouble, go to
I who follow you devoted--how can you deceive me, so tortured by
love's fever as I am?
O Krishna, like the look of you, your body which appears so black,
that heart of yours a blackness shall assume.
Follow her, you lotus-eyed, she who can dispel your trouble, go to her.
Faced with these reproaches, Krishna slinks away. Radha's friend knows,
however, that despite her bitter anger, Radha desires nothing more than
his love. She attempts, therefore, to instil in her a calmer frame of
mind, urging her to end her pride and take Krishna back. She goes to look
for Krishna and while she is absent, Krishna returns. Standing before
Radha, he implores her once again to end her anger.
If you speak but a little the moon-like gleam of your teeth will destroy
the darkness frightful, so very terrible, come over me;
Your moon of a face which glitters upon my eye, the moon-bird's eye,
now makes me long for the sweet of your lips.
O loved one, O beautiful, give up that baseless pride against me,
My heart is burnt by the fire of longing; give me that drink so sweet
of your lotus face.
O you with beautiful teeth, if you are in anger against me, strike me
then with your finger nails, sharp and like arrows,
Bind me, entwining, with the cords of your arms, and bite me then
with your teeth, and feel happy punishing.
O loved one, O beautiful, give up that baseless pride against me.
At these words, Radha's anger leaves her; and when Krishna withdraws, it
is to go to the forest and await her coming. Radha's joy returns. She
decks herself in the loveliest of her ornaments and then, accompanied by
her maids, moves slowly to the tryst. As they reach the bower which
Krishna has constructed, her friend urges her to enter.
O you who bear on your face the smile that comes of the ardour of
Sport with him whose love-abode is the floor of the beautiful bower.
Radha approaches and their love strains to its height.
She looked at Krishna who desired only her, on him who for long
Whose face with his pleasure was overwhelmed and who was possessed
After embracing her long and ardently, Krishna with his necklace of
Krishna like the Jumna in a mighty flood with its necklace of specks of
The cowgirls go and Krishna speaks to Radha.
O woman with desire, place on this patch of flower-strewn floor your
And let your foot through beauty win,
To me who am the Lord of All, O be attached, now always yours.
O follow me, my little Radha.
O lovely woman, give me now the nectar of your lips, infuse new life
into this slave of yours, so dead,
This slave, whose heart is placed in you, whose body burned in
separation, this slave denied the pleasure of your love.
Radha yields and as the night passes they achieve height upon height of
Their love play grown great was very delightful, the love play where
thrills were a hindrance to firm embraces,
Where their helpless closing of eyes was a hindrance to longing looks
at each other, and their secret talk to their drinking of each the
other's nectar of lips, and where the skill of their love was
hindered by boundless delight.
She loved as never before throughout the course of the conflict of love,
to win, lying over his beautiful body, to triumph over her lover;
And so through taking the active part her thighs grew lifeless, and
languid her vine-like arms, and her heart beat fast, and her eyes
grew heavy and closed.
In the morning most wondrous, the heart of her lord was smitten with
arrows of Love, arrows which went through his eyes,
Arrows which were her nailed-scratched bosom, her reddened sleep-denied
eyes, her crimson lips from a bath of kisses, her hair disarranged
with the flowers awry, and her girdle all loose and slipping.
With hair knot loosened and stray locks waving, her cheeks perspiring,
her glitter of lips impaired,
And the necklace of pearls not appearing fair because of her jar-shaped
breast being denuded,
And her belt, her glittering girdle, dimmed in beauty,
The happy one drank of the face where the lips were washed with the
juice of his mouth,
His mouth half open uttering amorous noises, vague and delirious, the
rows of teeth in the breath of an indrawn sigh delightedly chattering.
Drank of the face of that deer-eyed woman whose body lay helpless,
released of excessive delight, the thrilling delight of embraces.
When their passion is at last ended, Radha begs Krishna to help her with
She said to the joy of her heart,
Adorn the curl on my brow which puts the lotus to shame, my spotless
Make a beautiful spot on my forehead, a spot with the paste of the
O giver of pride, on my tresses, untidy now on account of desire, place
Place on my hips the girdle, the clothes and the jewels,
Cover my beautiful loins, luscious and firm, the cavern of Love to be
Make a pattern upon my breasts and a picture on my cheeks and fasten over
my loins a girdle,
Bind my masses of hair with a beautiful garland and place many bracelets
upon my hands and jewelled anklets upon my feet.
Krishna does so and with a final celebration of Krishna as God and of the
song itself--its words 'sweeter than sugar, like love's own glorious
flavour'--the poem ends.
[Footnote 51: Note 18.]
[Footnote 52: Plate 20.]
[Footnote 53: Plates 21 and 22.]
[Footnote 54: Note 19.]
[Footnote 55: Plate 23.]
[Footnote 56: Plate 24.]
[Footnote 57: Plate 25.]
[Footnote 58: Plate 26.]
[Footnote 59: Plate 27.]
(iii) Later Poetry
Jayadeva's poem quickly achieved renown in Northern and Western India and
from the early thirteenth century became a leading model for all poets who
were enthralled by Krishna as God and lover. In Western India,
Bilvamangala, a poet of Malabar, composed a whole galaxy of Krishna songs,
his poem, the _Balagopala Stuti_ (The Childhood of Krishna) earning for
him the title 'the Jayadeva of the South.' But it is during the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries that the most important developments occurred. In
Bengal, the poets Vidyapati and Chandi Das flourished in about the year
1420, while in Western India, Mira Bai, a local princess, began a
wide-spread popular movement. Mira Bai was followed by Vallabhacharya
(born 1478) who in turn inspired four poet disciples--Krishna Das, Sur
Das, Parmanand Das and Kumbhan Das. All these were at their height in the
middle of the sixteenth century, writing Hindi poems in which Radha's
adventures with Krishna and their rapturous love-making were devotedly
The work of Sur Das was of special importance for in one of his
compositions he took each of the thirty-six traditional modes of Indian
music-the _Ragas_ and _Raginis_--but instead of celebrating them as
separate 'musical characters,' appended to each a love-poem about Krishna.
Sur Das was followed by Keshav Das of Orchha (fl. 1580), Govind Das (fl.
1590), Bihari Lai (fl. 1650) and Kali Das (fl. 1700)--all poets in whom
religious ecstasy was blended with a feeling for passionate romance. Of
these poets Bihari Lai is famous for the _Sat Sai_ in which he celebrated
Krishna's romance in seven hundred verses.
All this later poetry differed from the _Gita Govinda_ in one important
respect. Instead of dwelling on the temporary rupture in Radha and
Krishna's relationship, it roved freely over the many phases of their
love-making, subjecting every incident to delighted analysis. A poet
thought and felt himself into Radha's mind when as a young girl about to
become a woman she discovered for the first time the exquisite sensations
of awakening love. Or he imagined he was Krishna stumbling on Radha by
accident and being stirred to ecstasy by his first glimpse of her glowing
charms. Sometimes he even became the unseen viewer of their rapturous
exchanges, comforting Radha with sage remarks or egging her on to appease
her hungry lover. In this way many incidents not recorded of any cowgirl
in the _Bhagavata Purana_, though possibly preserved in oral tradition,
came gradually into prominence, thereby confirming Radha as Krishna's
The following incidents will illustrate this process. Radha would be
described as one day taking her curds and milk to a village the farther
side of the river Jumma. Krishna hears of her expedition and along with
other cowherd boys waylays Radha and her friends and claims a toll. Radha
refuses to pay but at last offers to make a token gift provided he ferries
them over. Meanwhile a cowherd boy has hidden the boat and night is coming
on. It is now too late to return so the girls have no alternative but to
stay with Krishna. They lie down by the bank but in the darkness give
Krishna not only the toll but also their souls and bodies.
In another poem, Krishna is shown pestering the cowgirls for curds. Radha
decides to stand this no longer and partly in jest dresses herself up as a
constable. When Krishna next teases the girls, she descends upon him,
catches him by the wrist and 'arrests' him as a thief.
It is in the poems of Chandi Das, however, that Krishna's most daring
ruses are described. Having once gained admittance to Radha's house by
dressing himself as a cowgirl, he is shown pretending to be a
flower-seller. He strings some flowers into a bunch of garlands, dangles
them on his arm and strolls blandly down the village street. When he
reaches Radha's house, he goes boldly in and is taken by Radha into a
corner where she starts to bargain. Krishna asks her to let him first
adorn her with a garland and then she can pay him. Radha agrees and as he
slips a garland over her head, Krishna kisses her. Radha suddenly sees who
it is and holds his hand.
On another occasion, Radha is ill from love and is lying at home on her
bed. Krishna thereupon becomes a doctor and goes from house to house
curing the sick. So successful are his cures that Radha also is tempted to
consult the new doctor and sends a maid to call him, Krishna comes but
before entering adopts a wild disguise--putting his clothes on inside out,
matting his hair with mud, and slinging a bag of roots and plants over his
shoulder. As he enters, he sits on Radha's bed, lifts her veil, gazes
intently at her face and declares that certainly she is very ill indeed.
He then takes her pulse and says, 'it is the water of love that is rotting
her heart like a poison.' Radha is elated at this diagnosis, rouses
herself and stretches her limbs. 'You have understood my trouble,' she
says. 'Now tell me what I am to do.' 'I feel somewhat diffident at
explaining my remedy,' replies the doctor, 'But if I had the time and
place, I could ease your fever and cure you utterly.' As he says this,
Radha knows that he is Krishna and this is only another of his reckless
wiles designed to bring him near her.
But it was less in the recording of new incidents than in lyrical
descriptions of Radha and Krishna, their physical charms and ecstatic
meetings, that the poets excelled.
Krishna is dancing in a medley of moods and poses.
His crown sways, his eye-brows move,
Displaying the arts of a clever dancer.
The swing of his waist makes his girdle sing
And the anklets jingle.
One fancies one is listening to the sweet voice of a pair of geese as
they touch each other in dalliance.
The bangles glitter and the rings and armlets shoot their rays.
When with passion he moves his arms, what grace the movements bless!
Now he dances after the gait of ladies and now in a manner of his own.
The poet's lord is the jewel of the passionate
And builds his dance in the depths of ecstasy.
With Krishna in their midst the cowherds come to their homes.
The calves and cows are ahead, frisking and playing as they go.
All the pipes and horns go forth, each his own notes playing.
The sound of the flute moves the cows to low as they raise a cloud of
The crown of peacocks' feathers glistens on the head like a young moon.
The cowherd boys frolic on the path and Krishna in the centre sings his
Ravished by the sight, the cowgirls pour out their minds and bodies,
Gazing on Krishna, quenching their heart's desire.
Radha's glances dart from side to side.
Her restless body and clothes are heavy with dust.
Her glistening smile shines again and again.
Shy, she raises her skirt to her lips.
Startled, she stirs and once again is calm,
As now she enters the ways of love.
Sometimes she gazes at her blossoming breasts
Hiding them quickly, then forgetting they are there.
Childhood and girlhood melt in one
And young and old are both forgotten.
Says Vidyapati: O Lord of life,
Do you not know the signs of youth?
Each day the breasts of Radha swelled.
Her hips grew shapely, her waist more slender.
Love's secrets stole upon her eyes.
Startled her childhood sought escape.
Her plum-like breasts grew large,
Harder and crisper, aching for love.
Krishna soon saw her as she bathed
Her filmy dress still clinging to her breasts,
Her tangled tresses falling on her heart,
A golden image swathed in yak's tail plumes.
Says Vidyapati: O wonder of women,
Only a handsome man can long for her.
There was a shudder in her whispering voice.
She was shy to frame her words.
What has happened tonight to lovely Radha?
Now she consents, now she is scared.
When asked for love, she closes up her eyes,
Eager to reach the ocean of desire.
He begs her for a kiss.
She turns her mouth away
And then, like a night lily, the moon seized her.
She felt his touch startling her girdle.
She knew her love treasure was being robbed.
With her dress she covered up her breasts.
The treasure was left uncovered.
Vidyapati wonders at the neglected bed.
Lovers are busy in each other's arms.
Awake, Radha, awake
Calls the parrot and its love
For how long must you sleep,
Clasped to the heart of your Dark-stone?
Listen. The dawn has come
And the red shafts of the sun
Are making us shudder.
Startled, the parrot calls.
See those young lovers are still asleep.
On a bed of tender leaves
His dark figure is lying still.
She, the fair one,
Looks like a piece of jewelled gold.
They have emptied their quivers.
All their flower-arrows are discharged,
Drowning each other in the joy of love.
O lovely Radha, awake.
Your friends are going to the temple.
Asks Govind Das:
Whose business is it
To interrupt the ways of love?
In another kind of poem, Radha and Krishna are themselves made to
speak--Krishna, for example, describing his first glimpses of Radha and
Radha struggling to evoke in words the ecstasies of their love.
Like stilled lightning her fair face.
I saw her by the river,
Her hair dressed with jasmine,
Plaited like a coiled snake.
O friend, I will tell you
The secret of my heart.
With her darting glances
And gentle smiles
She made me wild with love.
Throwing and catching a ball of flowers,
She showed me to the full
Her youthful form.
Peeped from her dress.
Her face was bright
With taunting smiles.
With anklet bells
Her feet shone red.
Says Chandi Das:
Will you see her again?
Listen, O lovely darling,
Cease your anger.
I promise by the golden pitchers of your breasts
And by your necklace-snake,
Which now I gather in my hands,
If ever I touch anyone but you
May your necklace-snake bite me;
And if my words do not ring true,
Punish me as I deserve.
Bind me in your arms, hit me with your thighs,
Choke my heart with your milk-swollen breasts,
Lock me day and night in the prison of your heart.
Never have I seen such love nor heard of it.
Even the eyelids' flutter
Clasped to my breasts, you are far from me.
I would keep you as a veil close to my face.
I shudder with fright when you turn your eyes away,
As one body, we spend the night,
Sinking in the deeps of delight.
As dawn comes, we see with anxious hearts
Life desert us.
The very thought breaks my heart.
Says Chandi Das:
O sweet girl, how I understand.
O friend, I cannot tell you
Whether he was near or far, real or a dream.
Like a vine of lightning,
As I chained the dark one,
felt a river flooding in my heart.
Like a shining moon,
I devoured that liquid face.
I felt stars shooting around me.
The sky fell with my dress
Leaving my ravished breasts.
I was rocking like the earth.
In my storming breath
I could hear my ankle-bells,
Sounding like bees.
Drowned in the last-waters of dissolution
I knew that this was not the end.
How can I possibly believe such nonsense?
[Footnote 60: Plate 29.]
[Footnote 61: Plate 35.]
[Footnote 62: Note 20.]
[Footnote 63: Note 20.]
(iv) The Rasika Priya
It is a third development, however, which reveals the insistent
attractions of Krishna the divine lover. From about the seventh century
onwards Indian thinkers had been fascinated by the great variety of
possible romantic experiences. Writers had classified feminine beauty and
codified the different situations which might arise in the course of a
romance. A woman, for example, would be catalogued according as she was
'one's own, another's or anyone's' and whether she was young, adolescent
or adult. Beauties with adult physiques were divided into unmarried and
married, while cutting across such divisions was yet another based on the
particular circumstances in which a woman might find herself. Such
circumstances were normally eight in number--when her husband or lover was
on the point of coming and she was ready to receive him; when she was
parted from him and was filled with longing; when he was constant and she
was thus enjoying the calm happiness of stable love; when, for the time
being, she was estranged due to some quarrel or tiff; when she had been
deceived; when she had gone to meet her lover but had waited in vain,
thereby being jilted; when her husband or lover had gone abroad and she
was faced with days of lonely waiting; and finally, when she had left the
house and gone to meet him. Ladies in situations such as these were known
as _nayikas_ and the text embodying the standard classification was the
Sanskrit treatise, the _Bharatiya Natya Sastra_. A similar analysis was
made of men--lovers or _nayakas_ being sometimes divided into fourteen
Until the fourteenth century, such writings were studies in erotics
rather than in literature--the actual situations rather than their
literary treatment being the authors' prime concern. During the fourteenth
century, however, questions of literary taste began to be discussed and
there arose a new type of Sanskrit treatise, showing how different kinds
of lover should be treated in poetry and illustrating the correct
attitudes by carefully chosen verses. In all these writings the standard
of reference was human passion. The lovers of poetry might bear only a
slight relation to lovers in real life. Many of the situations envisaged
might rarely, if ever, occur. It was sufficient that granted some
favourable accident, some chance suspension of normal circumstances,
lovers could be imagined as acting in these special ways.
It is out of this critical literature that our new development springs. As
vernacular languages were used for poetry, problems of Hindi composition
began to dwarf those of Sanskrit. It was necessary to discuss how best to
treat each _nayika_ and _nayaka_ not only in Sanskrit but in Hindi poetry
also, and to meet this situation Keshav Das, the poet of Orchha in
Bundelkhand, produced in 1591 his _Rasika Priya_. Here all the standard
situations were once again examined, _nayikas_ and _nayakas_ were newly
distinguished and verses illustrating their appropriate treatments were
systematically included. The book differed, however, in two important ways
from any of its predecessors. It was written in Hindi, Keshav Das himself
supplying both poems and commentary and what was even more significant,
the _nayaka_ or lover was portrayed not as any ordinary well-bred young
man but as Krishna himself. As a girl waits at the tryst it is not for
an ordinary lover but for Krishna that Keshav Das depicts her as longing.
'Is he detained by work? Is he loath to leave his friends? Has he had a
quarrel? Is his body uneasy? Is he afraid when he sees the rainy dark? O
Krishna, Giver of Bliss, why do you not come?'
As a girl waits by her bed looking out through her door, it is the
prospect of Krishna's arrival--not of an ordinary lover's--that makes her
'As she runs, her blue dress hides her limbs. She hears the wind ruffling
the trees and the birds shifting in the night. She thinks it must be he.
How she longs for love, watching for Krishna like a bird in a cage.'
When the lover arrives at dawn, having failed to come in the night, the
girl (another _nayika_, 'one who has been deceived') upbraids Krishna for
wandering about like a crow, picking up worthless grains of rice, wasting
his hours in bad company and ruining houses by squatting in them like an
Similarly when a married girl sits longing for her husband's return, her
companion comments not on an ordinary husband's conduct but on that of
Krishna. 'He said he would not be long. "I shall be back," he said, "as
soon as I have had my meal." But now it is hours since he went. Why does
he sit beside them and no one urge him to go? Does he know that her eyes
are wet with tears, that she is crying her heart out because he does not
Krishna, in fact, is here regarded as resuming in himself all possible
romantic experiences. He is no longer merely the cowherd lover or the hero
prince, the central figure of a sacred narrative. Neither is he merely or
only the lover of Radha. He is deemed to know love from every angle and
thus to sanctify all modes of passionate behaviour. He is love itself.
Such a development concludes the varied phases through which the character
of Krishna has passed. The cowherd lover supersedes the hero prince. Radha
becomes all in all, yet touches of Krishna's princely majesty remain
throughout. Even as a cowherd Krishna shows an elegance and poise which
betrays his different origin. And in the _Rasika Priya_ it is once again
his courtly aura which determines his new role. A blend of prince and
cowherd, Krishna ousts from poetry the courtly lovers who previously had
seemed the acme of romance. Adoration of God acquires the grace and charm
of courtly loving, passionate sensuality all the refinement and nobility
of a spiritual religion. It is out of all these varied texts that the
Krishna of Indian painting now emerges.
[Footnote 64: Plate 28.]
[Footnote 65: Note 21.]
THE KRISHNA OF PAINTING
Indian pictures of Krishna confront us with a series of difficult
problems. The most exalted expressions of the theme are mainly from
Kangra, a large Hindu state within the Punjab Hills. It was here that
Krishna, the cowherd lover, was most fully celebrated. Pictures were
produced in large numbers and the Kangra style with its delicate
refinement exactly mirrored the enraptured poetry of the later cult. This
painting was due entirely to a particular Kangra ruler, Raja Sansar Chand
(1775-1823)--his delight in painting causing him to spare no cost in
re-creating the Krishna idyll in exquisite terms. Elsewhere, however,
conditions varied. At the end of the sixteenth century, it was not a Hindu
but a Muslim ruler who commissioned the greatest illustrations of the
story. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Hindu patrons were the
rule but in certain states it was junior members of the ruling family
rather than the Raja himself who worshipped Krishna. Sometimes it was not
the ruling family but members of the merchant community who sponsored the
artists and, occasionally, it was even a pious lady or devout princess who
served as patron. Such differences of stimulus had vital effects and, as a
consequence, while the cult of Krishna came increasingly to enthrall the
northern half of India, its expression in art was the reverse of neat and
orderly. Where a patron was so imbued with love for Krishna that adoration
of the cowherd lover preceded all, the intensity of his feeling itself
evoked a new style. There then resulted the Indian equivalent of pictures
by El Greco, Grunewald or Altdorfer--paintings in which the artist's own
religious emotions were the direct occasion of a new manner. In other
cases, the patron might adhere to Krishna, pay him nominal respect or take
a moderate pleasure in his story but not evince a burning enthusiasm. In
such cases, paintings of Krishna would still be produced but the style
would merely repeat existing conventions. The pictures which resulted
would then resemble German paintings of the Danube or Cologne
schools--pictures in which the artist applied an already mature style to a
religious theme but did not originate a fresh mode of expression. Whether
the greatest art resulted from the first or second method was
problematical for the outcome depended as much on the nature of the styles
as on the artist's powers. In considering Indian pictures of Krishna,
then, we must be prepared for sudden fluctuations in expression and abrupt
differences of style and quality. Adoration of Krishna was to prove one of
the most vital elements in village and courtly life. It was to capture the
imagination of Rajput princes and to lead to some of the most intimate
revelations of the Indian mind. Yet in art its expression was to hover
between the crude and the sensitive, the savage and the exquisite. It was
to stimulate some of the most delicate Indian pictures ever painted and,
at the same time, some of the most forceful.
The first pictures of Krishna to be painted in India fall within this
second category. In about 1450, one version of the _Gita Govinda_ and two
of the _Balagopala Stuti_ were produced in Western India. They were
doubtless made for middle-class patrons and were executed in Western India
for one important reason. Dwarka, the scene of Krishna's life as a prince,
and Prabhasa, the scene of the final slaughter, were both in Western
India. Both had already become centres of pilgrimage and although Jayadeva
had written his great poem far to the East, on the other side of India,
pilgrims had brought copies with them while journeying from Bengal on
visits to the sites. The _Gita Govinda_ of Jayadeva had become in fact as
much a Western Indian text as the _Balagopala Stuti_ of Bilvamangala. With
manuscript illustrations being already produced in Western India--but not,
so far as we know, elsewhere--it was not unnatural that the first
illustrated versions of these poems should be painted here. And it is
these circumstances which determined their style. Until the fifteenth
century the chief manuscripts illustrated in Western India were Jain
scriptures commissioned by members of the merchant community. Jainism had
originated in the sixth century B.C. as a parallel movement to Buddhism.
It had proved more accommodating to Hinduism, and when Buddhism had
collapsed in Western India in the ninth century A.D., Jainism had
continued as a local variant of Hinduism proper. Jain manuscripts had at
first consisted of long rectangular strips made of palm-leaves on which
the scriptures were written in heavy black letters. Each slip was roughly
three inches wide and ten long and into the text had been inserted lean
diagrammatic paintings either portraying Mahavira, the founder of the
cult, or illustrating episodes in his earthly career.
About 1400, palm-leaf was superseded by paper and from then onwards
manuscripts were given slightly larger pages. Owing partly to their
association with the same religious order and partly to their constant
duplication, Jain manuscripts had early conformed to a certain rigid type.
The painting was marked by lean and wiry outlines, brilliant red and blue
and above all by an air of savage ferocity expressed through the idiom of
faces shown three-quarter view with the farther eye detached and
projecting into space. This style was exercised almost exclusively on Jain
subjects and in the year 1400 it was the main style of painting in Western
India and Raj as than.
During the fifteenth century, this exclusive character gradually weakened.
There arose the idea that besides Jain scriptures, secular poetry might
also be illustrated and along with the growing devotion to Krishna as God
came the demand for illustrated versions of Krishna texts. The three texts
we have just mentioned are due to this tendency. All three are illustrated
in the prevailing Jain style with its spiky angular idioms and all three
have the same somewhat sinister air of barbarous frenzy. At the same time,
all disclose a partial loosening of the rigid wiry convention, a more
boisterous rhythm and a slightly softer treatment of trees and animals;
and, although no very close correlation is possible, the theme itself may
well have helped to precipitate these important changes.
Between 1450 and 1575, Western Indian painting continued to focus on Jain
themes, adulterated to only a very slight extent by subjects drawn from
poetry. It is possible that the Krishna story was also illustrated, but no
examples have survived; and it is not until the very end of the sixteenth
century that the Krishna theme again appears in painting and then in two
distinct forms. The first is represented by a group of three
manuscripts--two of them dated respectively 1598 and 1610 and
consisting of the tenth book of the _Bhagavata Purana_, the third being
yet another illustration of the _Gita Govinda_. All three sets of
illustrations are in a closely similar style--a style which, while
possessing roots in Jain painting is now considerably laxer and more
sprawling. The faces are no longer shown three-quarter view, the detached
obtruding eye has gone and in place of the early sharpness there is now a
certain slovenly crudity. We do not know for whom these manuscripts were
made nor even in what particular part of Western India or Rajasthan they
were executed. They were clearly not produced in any great centre of
painting and can hardly have been commissioned by a prince or merchant of
much aesthetic sensibility. They prove, however, that a demand for
illustrated versions of the Krishna story was persisting and suggest that
even prosperous traders may perhaps have acted as patrons.
The second type is obviously the product of far more sophisticated
influences. It is once again a copy of the _Gita Govinda_ and was probably
executed in about 1590 in or near Jaunpur in Eastern India. As early as
1465, a manuscript of the leading Jain scripture, the _Kalpasutra_, had
been executed at Jaunpur for a wealthy merchant. Its style was
basically Western Indian, yet being executed in an area so far to the
east, it also possessed certain novelties of manner. The heads were more
squarely shaped, the eyes larger in proportion to the face, the ladies'
drapery fanning out in great angular swirls. The bodies' contours were
also delineated with exquisitely sharp precision. The court at the time
was that of Hussain Shah, a member of the marauding Muslim dynasties which
since the twelfth century had enveloped Northern India; and it is possibly
due to persistent Muslim influence that painting revived in the last two
decades of the sixteenth century. Illustrated versions of passionate love
poetry were executed and as part of the same vogue for poetic romance,
the _Gita Govinda_ may once again have been illustrated. Between the
style of these later pictures and that of the Jain text of 1465, there are
such clear affinities that the same local tradition is obviously
responsible. Yet the new group of paintings has a distinctive elegance all
its own. As in the previous group, the detached projecting eye has gone.
Each situation is treated with a slashing boldness. There is no longer a
sense of cramping detail and the flat red backgrounds of Western Indian
painting infuse the settings with hot passion. But it is the treatment of
the feminine form which charges the pictures with sophisticated charm. The
large breasts, the sweeping dip in the back, the proud curve of the
haunches, the agitated jutting-out of the skirts, all these convey an air
of vivid sensual charm. That Radha and Krishna should be portrayed in so
civilized a manner is evidence of the power which the Krishna story had
come to exercise on courtly minds. Krishna is portrayed not as God but as
the most elegant of lovers, Radha and the cowgirls as the very embodiment
of fashionable women.
Jaunpur painting does not seem to have survived the sixteenth century and
for our next illustrations of the theme, we must turn to the school of
painting fostered by the Mughals. During the sixteenth century at least
three Muslim states other than Jaunpur itself had possessed schools of
painting--Malwa in Central India and Bijapur and Ahmadnagar in the Deccan.
Their styles can best be regarded as Indian offshoots of a Persian mode of
painting which was current in the Persian province of Shiraz in about the
year 1500. In this style, known as Turkman, the flat figures of previous
Persian painting were set in landscapes of rich and glowing herbage,
plants and trees being rendered with wild and primitive vigour. In each
case the style was probably brought to India by Persian artists who
communicated it to Indian painters or themselves adjusted it to local
conditions. And it is this process which was repeated but on an altogether
grander scale by the Muslim dynasty of the Mughals. Under the emperor
Akbar (1556-1605), the Mughals absorbed the greater part of Northern
India, concentrating in one imperial court more power and wealth than had
probably been amassed at any previous time in India. Among Akbar's
cultural institutions was a great imperial library for which a colony of
artists was employed in illustrating manuscripts in Persian. The founders
of this colony were Persian and it is once again a local style of Persian
painting which forms the starting point. This style is no longer the
Turkman style of Shiraz but a later style--a local version of Safavid
painting as current in Khurasan. With its lively and delicate naturalism
it not only corresponded to certain predilections of the emperor Akbar
himself, but seems also to have appealed to Indian artists recruited to
the colony. Its representational finesse made it an ideal medium for
transcribing the Indian scene and the appearance at the court of European
miniatures, themselves highly naturalistic, stimulated this character
still further. The result was the sudden rise in India, between 1570 and
1605, of a huge new school of painting, exquisitely representational in
manner and committed to a new kind of Indian naturalism. Such a school,
the creation of an alien Muslim dynasty, would at first sight seem
unlikely to produce illustrations of Hindu religion. Its main function was
to illustrate works of literature, science and contemporary history--a
function which resulted in such grandiose productions as the _Akbarnama_
or Annals of Akbar, now preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
None the less there are two ways in which Mughal painting, as developed
under Akbar, contributed to the Krishna story. Akbar, although a Muslim by
birth, was keenly interested in all religions and in his dealings with the
Rajputs had shown himself markedly tolerant. He desired to minimise the
hatred of Muslims for Hindus and believing it to arise from mutual
ignorance, ordained that certain Hindu texts should be translated into
Persian and thus rendered more accessible. The texts chosen were the two
epics, the _Ramayana_ and the _Mahabharata_, and of these Persian
abridgements were duly prepared. The abridgement of the _Mahabharata_,
known as the _Razmnama_, was probably completed in 1588 but illustrated
copies, including the great folios now in the palace library at Jaipur,
were probably not completed before 1595. As part of the project, its
appendix, the _Harivansa_ was also summarized and a separate volume with
fourteen illustrations all concerned with Krishna is part of the great
version now at Jaipur. In these illustrations, it is Krishna the
prince who is chiefly shown, all the pictures illustrating his career
after he has left the cowherds. There is no attempt to stress his romantic
qualities or to present him as a lover. He appears rather as the great
fighter, the slayer of demons. Such a portrayal is what we might perhaps
expect from a Mughal edition. None the less the paintings are remarkable
interpretations, investing Krishna with an air of effortless composure,
and exalting his princely grace. The style is notable for its use of
smoothly flowing outlines and gentle shading, and although there is no
direct connection, it is these characteristics which were later to be
embodied in the Hindu art of the Punjab Hills.
Such interest by the Emperor may well have spurred Hindu members of the
court to have other texts illustrated for, ten to fifteen years later, in
perhaps 1615, a manuscript of the _Gita Govinda_ was produced, its
illustrations possessing a certain fairy-like refinement. Krishna in a
flowing dhoti wanders in meadows gay with feathered trees while Radha and
her confidante appear in Mughal garb. Romance is hardly evident for it is
the scene itself with its rustic prettiness which is chiefly stressed. Yet
the patron by whom this version was commissioned may well have felt that
it was sensitively rendered and within its minor compass expressed to
some extent the magical enchantment distilled by the verses. That the
Emperor's stimulus survived his death is plain; for in about the year
1620, two manuscripts of the _Bhagavata Purana_ appeared--both in a style
of awkward crudity in which the idioms of Akbar's school of artists were
consciously aped. The manuscripts in question are at Bikaner and it is
possible that one or two inferior Mughal artists, deprived of work at the
central court, travelled out to this northerly Rajput state, daring the
desert, and there produced these vapid works. It is likely that in the
early years of the seventeenth century, many areas of India possessed no
artists whatsoever and if a Hindu ruler was to copy Mughal fashion, the
only artists available to him might be those of an inferior rank. And
although exact data are wanting, such circumstances may well explain
another document of Krishna, the first illustrated version of Keshav Das's
_Rasika Priya_. As we have seen, this poem was composed at Orchha in
Bundelkhand in 1591, at a time when both poet and court were in close
association with Akbar. Yet the version in question shows the same
poverty-stricken manner with its crude aping of imperial idioms and utter
lack of sensitive expression. There is no evidence that at this time
Bundelkhand possessed its own school of painting and in consequence the
most likely explanation is that yet another inferior artist trained in the
early Mughal manner, migrated to the court and there produced this crude
prosaic version. In none of these provincial Mughal pictures is there any
feeling for Krishna as God or even as a character. The figures have a
wooden doll-like stiffness, parodying by their evident jerkiness the
exquisite emotions intended by the poet and we can only assume that
impressed by the imperial example minor rulers or nobles encouraged
struggling practitioners but in an atmosphere far removed from that of the
Such paintings in a broken-down Akbari manner characterize the period 1615
to 1630. From then onwards Mughal painting, as it developed under the
emperor Shah Jahan, concentrated on more courtly themes. The early
interest in dramatic action disappeared and the demand for costly
manuscripts, sumptuously illustrated, withered up. Under Aurangzeb,
tolerant understanding gave way to a vicious proselytism and it was only
in remote centres such as Bikaner that later Mughal artists exercised
their style on Krishna themes. It is significant that at Bikaner their
leader was a Muslim, Ruknuddin, and that his chief work was a series of
pictures illustrating the _Rasika Priya_. His figures have a shallow
prettiness of manner, stamping them once again as products of a style
which, in its earliest phases, was admirably suited to recording dramatic
action but which had little relevance to either religion or romance. For
these a more poetic and symbolic manner was necessary and such a style
appeared in the city of Udaipur in the Rajput State of Mewar.
Painting at Udaipur is inseparably associated with the influence of two
great rulers--Rana Jagat Singh (1628-1652) and Rana Raj Singh (1652-1681)
As early as 1605 pictures had been produced at the State's former capital,
Chawand--the artist being a Muhammadan named Nasiruddin. His style was
obviously quite independent of any Mughal influence and it is rather to
the separate tradition of painting which had grown up in Malwa that we
must look for its salient qualities--a tensely rhythmical line, a
flamboyant use of strong emphatic colours, vigorous simplifications and
boldly primitive idioms for plants and trees. It is this style which
thirty or forty years later comes to luxuriant maturity in a series of
illustrations executed at Udaipur. Although the artists responsible
included a Muslim, Shahabaddin, and a Hindu, Manohar, it is the Krishna
theme itself which seems to have evoked this marvellous efflorescence.
Rana Jagat Singh was clearly a devout worshipper whose faithful adhesion
to Rajput standards found exhilarating compensations in Krishna's role as
lover. Keshav Das's _Rasika Priya_ achieved the greatest popularity at his
court--its blend of reverent devotion and ecstatic passion fulfilling some
of the deepest Rajput needs. Between the years 1645 and 1660 there
accordingly occurred a systematic production not only of pictures
illustrating this great poetic text but of the various books in the
_Bhagavata Purana_ most closely connected with Krishna's career. Krishna
is shown as a Rajput princeling dressed in fashionable garb, threading his
way among the cowgirls, pursuing his amorous inclinations and practising
with artless guile the seductive graces of a courtly lover. Each picture
has a passionate intensity--its rich browns and reds, greens and blues
endowing its characters with glowing fervour, while Krishna and the
cowgirls, with their sharp robust forms and great intent eyes, display a
brusque vitality and an eager rapturous vigour. A certain simplification
of structure--each picture possessing one or more rectangular
compartments--enhances this effect while the addition of swirling trees
studded with flowers imbues each wild encounter with a surging vegetative
rhythm. Krishna is no longer the tepid well-groomed youth of Mughal
tradition, but a vigorous Rajput noble expressing with decorous vehemence
all the violent longings denied expression by the Rajput moral code. Such
pictures have a lyrical splendour, a certain wild elation quite distinct
from previous Indian painting and we can only explain these new stylistic
qualities by reference to the cult of Krishna himself. The realization
that Krishna was adorable, that his practice of romantic love was a
sublime revelation of Godhead and that in his worship lay release is the
motive force behind these pictures and the result is a new style
transcending in its rhythmical assurance and glowing ardour all previous
Such an outburst of painting could hardly leave other areas unaffected and
in the closing quarter of the seventeenth century, not only Bundi, the
Rajput State immediately adjoining Udaipur to the east, but Malwa, the
wild hilly area farther south east, witnessed a renaissance of painting.
At Bundi, the style was obviously a direct development from that of
Udaipur itself--the idioms for human figures and faces as well as the
glowing colours being clearly based on Udaipur originals. At the same
time, a kind of sumptuous luxuriance, a predilection for greens and
oranges in brilliant juxtaposition, a delight in natural profusion and the
use of recessions, shading and round volumes give each picture a
distinctive aura. In Malwa, on the other hand, the earlier tradition
seems to have undergone a new resuscitation. Following various wars in
Middle India, the former Muslim kingdom had been divided into fiefs--some
being awarded to Rajput nobles of loyalty and valour. The result was yet
another style of painting--comparable in certain ways to that of Bundi and
Udaipur yet markedly original in its total effect. In place of tightly
geometrical compositions, Malwa artists preferred a more fluid grouping,
their straining luxuriant trees blending with swaying creepers to create a
soft meandering rhythm and only the human figures, with their sharply cut
veils and taut intense faces, expressing the prevailing cult of frenzied
passion. Such schools of painting reflected the Rajput need for
passionate romance rather than any specially strong adhesion to Krishna,
the divine lover. Although one copy of the _Rasika Priya_ and one of the
_Bhagavata Purana_ were executed at both these centres, their chief
subjects were the _ragas_ and _raginis_ (the thirty-six modes of Indian
music) _nayakas_ and _nayikas_ (the ideal lovers) and _barahmasas_ (the
twelve months) while in the case of Malwa, there was the added theme of
Sanskrit love-poetry. Krishna the god was rarely celebrated and it was
rather as 'the best of lovers' that he was sometimes introduced into
pictures. In a Bundi series depicting the twelve months, courtly lovers
are shown sitting in a balcony watching a series of rustic incidents
proceeding below. The lover, however, is not an ordinary prince but
Krishna himself, his blue skin and royal halo leaving no possible doubt as
to his real identity. Similarly in paintings illustrating the
character and personality of musical modes, Krishna was often introduced
as the perfect embodiment of passionate loving. None of the poems
accompanying the modes make any allusion to him. Indeed, their prime
purpose is to woo the presiding genius of the melody and suggest the
visual scene most likely to evoke its spirit. The musical mode, _Bhairava
Raga_, for example, was actually associated with Siva, yet because the
character of the music suggested furious passion the central figure of the
lover dallying with a lady was depicted as Krishna. In _Hindola Raga_,
a mode connected with swinging, a similar result ensued. Swinging in
Indian sentiment was normally associated with the rains and these in turn
evoked 'memory and desire.' The character of the music was therefore
visualized as that of a young prince swinging in the rain--his very
movements symbolizing the act of love. Since Krishna, however, was the
perfect lover, nothing was easier than to portray _Hindola Raga_ as
Krishna himself. _Hindola_ might be invoked in the poem, but it was
Krishna who appeared seated on the swing. An exactly similar process
occurred in the case of _Megh Mallar Raga_. This was connected with the
rainy season, yet because rain and storm were symbolic of sex, _Megh
Mallar_ was portrayed not as a separate figure, but as Krishna once again
dancing in the rain with ladies accompanying him. Even feminine modes of
music suffered the same kind of transformation. _Vasanta Ragini_, 'the
music of springtime,' was normally apostrophized as a lovely lady, yet
because springtime suggested lovers, she was shown in painting as if she
were Krishna dancing with a vase of flowers, holding a wand in his hand or
celebrating the spring fertility festival. The mode, _Pancham Ragini_, was
also feminine in character and was conceived of as a beauty enjoying her
lover's advances. The lady herself was portrayed, yet once again Krishna
was introduced, this time as her lover. In all these cases the celebration
of Krishna was incidental to the main theme and only in one instance--a
Malwa _Rasika Priya_--is there a trace of undisguised adoration. In this
lovely series, Krishna's enchantment is perfectly suggested by the
flowering trees which wave above him, the style acquiring an even more
intense lyricism on account of its divine subject.
During the eighteenth century, painting in Rajasthan became increasingly
secular, even artists of Udaipur devoting themselves almost exclusively to
scenes of court life. The Ranas and the Mewar nobility were depicted
hunting in the local landscape, watching elephant fights or moving in
procession. Similar fashions prevailed in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner,
Bundi and Kotah. Only, in fact, in two Rajasthan States and then for only
brief periods was there any major celebration of the Krishna theme. At
Kishangarh, a small State midway between Ajmer and Jaipur, a series of
intensely poetic paintings were produced between the years 1750 and
1760--the prime stimulus being the delight of Raja Sawant Singh in
Krishna's romance. Born in 1699, Sawant Singh had ascended the throne
in 1748 and given all his time to three activities, the rapturous
re-living of Krishna's romance with Radha, the composition of ecstatic
poems and the daily worship of Krishna as lover god. So great was his
devotion that in 1757 he abandoned the throne and taking with him his
favourite maid of honour, the beautiful poetess, Bani Thani, retired to
Brindaban where he died in 1764. Sawant Singh's delight seems to have been
shared by a local artist, Nihal Chand, for under the Raja's direction he
produced a number of pictures in which Radha and Krishna sustained the
leading roles. The pictures were mainly illustrations of Sawant Singh's
own poems--the lovers being portrayed at moments of blissful wonder,
drifting on a lake in a scarlet boat, watching fireworks cascading down
the sky or gently dallying in a marble pavilion.
Here is Love's enchanted zone
Here Time and the Firmament stand still
Here the Bride and Bridegroom
Never can grow old.
Here the fountains never cease to play
And the night is ever young.
Nihal Chand's style was eminently fitted to express this mood of sensitive
adoration. Originally trained in the later Mughal style, he was able to
render appearances with exquisite delicacy but was also acutely aware of
rhythmical elegance. And it is this which constantly characterized his
work, his greatest achievement being the creation of a local manner for
portraying Radha and Krishna. Radha was endowed with great arched
eyebrows and long eyes--the end of the eye being tilted so as to join the
downward sweeping line of the eyebrow while Krishna was given a slender
receding forehead and narrow waist. Each was made to seem the acme of
elegance and the result was a conception of Krishna and his love as the
very embodiment of aristocratic breeding.
The same sense of aristocratic loveliness is conveyed by a scene of
dancing figures almost life size in the palace library at Jaipur.
Painted under Raja Pratap Singh (1779-1803) the picture shows ladies of
the palace impersonating Radha and Krishna dancing together attended by
girl musicians. Against a pale green background, the figures, dressed
in greenish yellow, pale greyish blue and the purest white, posture with
calm assured grace, while the pure tones and exquisite line-work invest
the scene with gay and luminous clarity. We do not know the circumstances
in which this great picture was painted but the existence of another
large-scale picture portraying the circular dance--the lines of cowgirls
revolving like flowers, with Radha and Krishna swaying in their
midst--suggests that the Krishna theme had once again inflamed a Rajput
Such groups of paintings are, at most, exquisite exceptions and it is
rather in the Rajput states of the Punjab Hills--an area remote and quite
distinct from Rajasthan--that the theme of Krishna the divine lover
received its most enraptured expression in the eighteenth century. Until
the second half of the seventeenth century this stretch of country
bordering the Western Himalayas seems to have had no kind of painting
whatsoever. In 1678, however, Raja Kirpal Pal inherited the tiny state of
Basohli and almost immediately a new artistic urge became apparent.
Pictures were produced on a scale comparable to that of Udaipur thirty
years earlier and at the same time a local style of great emotional
intensity makes its sudden appearance. This new Basohli style, with
its flat planes of brilliant green, brown, red, blue and orange, its
savage profiles and great intense eyes has obvious connections with
Udaipur paintings of the 1650-60 period. And although exact historical
proof is still wanting, the most likely explanation is that under Rana Raj
Singh some Udaipur artists were persuaded to migrate to Basohli. We know
that Rajput rulers in the Punjab Hills were often connected by marriage
with Rajput families in Rajasthan and it is therefore possible that during
a visit to Udaipur, Raja Kirpal Pal recruited his atelier. Udaipur
painting, however, can hardly have been the only source for even in its
earliest examples Basohli painting has a smooth polish, a savage
sophistication and a command of shading which suggests the influence of
the Mughal style of Delhi. We must assume, in fact, a series of influences
determined to a great extent by Raja Kirpal Pal's political contacts, his
private journeys and individual taste, but perhaps above all by an urge to
express his feelings for Krishna in a novel and personal manner. The
result is not only a new style but a special choice of subject-matter. The
_Rasika Priya_ and the _Bhagavata Purana_, the texts so greatly favoured
at Udaipur, were discarded and in their place Basohli artists produced a
series of isolated scenes from Krishna's life--the child Krishna stealing
butter, Krishna the gallant robbing the cowgirls or exacting toll,
Krishna extinguishing the forest-fire, Krishna the violent lover
devouring Radha with hungry eyes. Their greatest achievements, however,
were two versions of Bhanu Datta's _Rasamanjari_, one of them completed in