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The Loves of Krishna in Indian Painting and Poetry by W. G. Archer

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Garhwal, Punjab Hills, c. 1790

Learning of Radha's plight, Krishna longs to comfort her. Before
approaching her, however, he spends a night passionately dallying with
another cowgirl and only in the morning tenders his submission. By this
time, Radha's mood has turned to bitter anger and although Krishna begs to
be forgiven, Radha tells him to return to his latest love.

'Go, Krishna, go. Desist from uttering these deceitful words.
Follow her, you lotus-eyed, she who can dispel your trouble, go to her.'

In the picture, Krishna is striving to calm her ruffled feelings while
Radha, 'cruel to one who loves you, unbending to one who bows, angry with
one who desires, averting your face from this your lover,' has none of

According to the poem, the scene of this tense encounter is not a palace
terrace but the forest--the Garhwal artist deeming a courtly setting more
appropriate for Radha's exquisite physique. The suavely curving linear
rhythm, characteristic of Garhwal painting at its best, is once again the
means by which a mood of still adoration is sensitively conveyed.



_The last Tryst_

Illustration to the _Gita Govinda_
Basohli. Punjab Hills, c. 1730
State Museum, Lahore

Having brusquely dismissed Krishna, Radha is overcome with longing and
when he once again approaches her she showers on him her adoring love. The
friend urges her to delay no longer.

'Your friends are all aware that you are ready for love's conflict
Go, your belt aloud with bells, shameless, amorous, to the meeting.'

Radha succumbs to her advice and slowly approaches Krishna's forest bower.

In the picture, Krishna is impatiently awaiting her while Radha, urged
onward by the friend, pauses for a moment to shed her shyness. The picture
is part of an illustrated edition of the poem executed in Basohli in 1730
for a local princess, the lady Manaku. As in other Basohli paintings,
trees are shown as small and summary symbols, the horizon is a streak of
clouds and there is a deliberate shrinkage from physical refinement. The
purpose of the picture is rather to express with the maximum of power the
savagery of passion and the stark nature of lovers' encounters.



_The closing Scene_

Illustration to the _Gita Govinda_
Basohli, Punjab Hills. c. 1730
Art Gallery, Chandigarh, East Punjab

From the same series as Plate 26.

After agonies of 'love unsatisfied,' Radha and Krishna are at last

'She looked on Krishna who desired only her, on him who for long wanted
Whose face with his pleasure was overwhelmed and who was possessed with
Who engendered passion with his face made lovely through tremblings of
glancing eyes,
Like a pond in autumn with a pair of wagtails at play in a fullblown
Like the gushing of the shower of sweat in the effort of her travel to
come to his hearing,
Radha's eyes let fall a shower of tears when she met her beloved,
Tears of delight which went to the ends of her eyes and fell on her
flawless necklace.
When she went near the couch and her friends left the bower, scratching
their faces to hide their smiles,
And she looked on the mouth of her loved one, lovely with longing, under
the power of love,
The modest shame of that deer-eyed one departed.'

In the picture, Radha and Krishna are again united. Krishna has drawn
Radha to him and is caressing her cheek while friends of Radha gossip in
the courtyard. As in Plate 25, the artist has preferred a house to the
forest--the sharp thrust of the angular walls exactly expressing the
fierceness of the lovers' desires.



_Krishna awaiting Radha_

Illustration to the _Rasika Priya_ of Keshav Das
Bundi (Rajasthan), c. 1700
National Museum, New Delhi

Following the Sanskrit practice of discussing poetic taste, Keshav Das
produced in 1592 a Hindi manual of poetics. In this book, poems on love
were analysed with special reference to Krishna--Krishna himself
sustaining the role of _nayaka_ or ideal lover. During the seventeenth
century, illustrated versions of the manual were produced--poems appearing
at the top of the picture and the subjects being illustrated beneath. The
present picture treats Radha as the _nayika_ or ideal mistress and shows
her about to visit Krishna, She is, at first, seated on a bed but a little
later, is leaning against a pillar as a maid or friend induces her to
descend. In the left-hand bottom corner, Krishna sits quietly waiting. The
bower is hung with garlands and floored with lotus petals while lightning
twisting in the sky and torches flickering in the courtyard suggest the
storm of love. The figures with their neat line and eager faces are
typical of Bundi painting after it had broken free from the parent style
of Udaipur.



_Radha and Krishna making Love_

Illustration to the _Sursagar_ of Sur Das
Udaipur, Rajasthan, c. 1650
G.K. Kanoria collection, Calcutta

Like Plate 28, an illustration to a Hindi poem analysing Krishna's conduct
as ideal lover.

Krishna is here embracing Radha while outside two of Radha's friends await
the outcome. Above them, two girls are watching peacocks--the strained
advances of the birds and the ardent gazes of the girls hinting at the
tense encounter proceeding in the room below.

The Udaipur style of painting with its vehement figures, geometrical
compositions and brilliant colouring was admirably suited to interpreting
scenes of romantic violence.



_The Lover approaching_

Illustration to the _Rasamanjari_ of Bhanu Datta
Basohli, Punjab Hills, c. 1680
Victoria and Albert Museum, London (I.S. 52-1953)

Although the _Rasika Priya_ of Keshav Das was the manual of poetry most
frequently illustrated by Indian artists, an earlier Sanskrit treatise,
the _Rasamanjari_ of Bhanu Datta, excited a particular raja's interest and
resulted in the production at Basohli of a vividly illustrated text. The
original poem discusses the conventions of ordinary lovers. Under this
Basohli ruler's stimulus, however, the lover was deemed to be Krishna and
although the verses make no allusion to him, it is Krishna who monopolizes
the illustrations.

In the present instance, Krishna the lover, carrying a lotus-bud, is about
to visit his mistress. The lady sits within, a pair of lotus-leaves
protecting her nude bust, her hair falling in strands across her thighs. A
maid explains to Krishna that her mistress is still at her toilet and
chides him for arriving so abruptly.

The poem expresses the sentiments which a lover, denied early access,
might fittingly address to his mistress.

'Longing to behold your path, my inmost heart--like a lotus-leaf when a
new rain-cloud has appeared--mounts to your neck. My eye, too, takes
wing, soaring in the guise of a lotus-bird, to regard the moon of your

[Footnote 131: Translation R.H.B. Williams.]

In the picture, the lotus imagery is retained but is given a subtle
twist--the lotus-leaves themselves, rather than the lover's inmost heart,
being shown as mounting to the lady's neck.



_Radha extinguishing the Lamp_

Basohli, Punjab Hills, c. 1690
Bharat Kala Bhawan, Benares

Although no inscription has so far been published, it is likely that this
picture is an illustration to the _Rasamanjari_ of Bhanu Datta. The lover
is once again Krishna and the girl most probably Radha. Krishna is
inviting her to extinguish the lamp so that they may better enjoy the
excitements of darkness.

With its air of violent frenzy, the picture is typical of Basohli painting
at the end of the seventeenth century--the girl's wide-flung legs and
rushing movements symbolizing the frantic nature of passionate desire.



_The Month of Asarh (June-July)_

Illustration to a _Barahmasa_ (or Cycle of the Months)
Bundi, Rajasthan, c. 1750
Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay

In Hindi poetry, lovers were sometimes described against a background of
the twelve months--each month suggesting a different kind of mood or
behaviour. Such poems known as _Barahmasa_ (barah, twelve; masa, month)
were sometimes illustrated--a princely lover and his lady being shown
seated on a terrace with the sights and scenes appropriate to the month
going on around. When this lover was identified with Krishna, any aspect
of love was regarded as, in some degree, expressive of his character.

The present picture portrays the beginning of the Rains. The sky is black
with clouds. On a lake lovers dally in a tiny pavilion, while in the
background two princes consult a hermit before leaving on their travels.
The rainy season was associated in poetry with love in separation and for
this reason a lonely girl is shown walking in a wood. In a garden pavilion
Krishna dallies with Radha, the approaching rain augmenting their desire.



_Radha and Krishna swinging_

Illustration to the musical mode. _Hindola Raga_
('the swinging music')
Malwa, Middle India, c. 1750
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A poem celebrating one of the main modes of Indian music is here
represented by Radha and Krishna seated on a swing. The mode itself is
called 'the swinging music' but since swinging was symbolical of
love-making and also took place during the rains, the season of longing,
its spirit was sometimes impersonated not by an ordinary prince but by
Krishna himself. In the picture, peacocks, which were common symbols for
the lover, are shown against a storm-tossed sky--the battered clouds and
writhing lightning being symbolic references to 'the strife of love.' At
the foot, lotus plants, their flowers symbolizing the male, their leaves
the female, rise from a rain-filled river.

The picture represents one of the more poetic traditions of Indian
painting but at a comparatively late stage of its development. During the
sixteenth century the Malwa style had played a decisive part in the
evolution of Rajput painting, but by the eighteenth century had shed
something of its early ardour.



_Krishna attended by Ladies_

Illustration to the musical mode, _Bhairava Raga_
Hyderabad. Deccan, c. 1750
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Like Plate 33, an illustration to a poem accompanying a leading mode of
Indian music. Krishna is sitting on a bed while Radha is rubbing his right
arm with sandal preparatory to making love. In the foreground a maid is
grinding the sandalwood into a paste. Although the poem itself contains no
mention of Krishna, it speaks of Bhairava--a form of Siva--as a raging
lover, 'insensate in a whirlwind of desire.' On this account
Krishna--identified by his blue skin--has been inserted in the picture,
his character as a lover according with the frenzied character of the
poem. In the background a bullock is lifting water from a well and a
gardener is bending over a bed of poppies. Ducks and fishes sport in the

Illustrations to modes of music were common features of the Muslim art of
the Deccan--the association of certain modes with Krishna being carefully
preserved. One of the finest series of _raga_ and _ragini_ pictures
executed at Hyderabad and now in the India Office Library, London,
contains exquisite versions with Krishna themes.



_Radha disguised as a Constable arresting Krishna as a Thief_

Garhwal, Punjab Hills, c. 1785
Indian Museum, Calcutta

Tired of Krishna's attempts to waylay the cowgirls, Radha dons a turban,
brandishes a constable's heavy staff and seizes Krishna by the wrist. 'I
am a policeman of Raja Kansa, come to take you to gaol,' she says. The
picture shows the cowgirls standing with their pitchers of curd, while
cowherd boys--Krishna's accomplices--take to their heels. Krishna himself
stands limply by, as if uncertain who the constable is.

The incident is unrecorded in the _Bhagavata Purana_ but appears in later
poetry as an instance of Radha and Krishna's mutual fun--teasing being an
essential part of their love-making.

The picture is by the same master artist as Plate 19.



_Krishna meeting Radha_

Illustration to a poem from the _Sat Sai_ of Bihari
Kangra, Punjab Hills, c. 1790
N.C. Mehta collection. Bombay

An example of Krishna's meetings with Radha. Appearing as if by accident
Krishna is lolling on his cowherd's stick while Radha, encouraged by a
friend, has come to meet him. As she stands, there ensues that idyllic
'meeting of eyes' which Indian sentiment regarded as one of the most
electrifying experiences in romance. In the picture, a tree pushes its
flowering branches across open rolling slopes, suggesting by its fresh
upsurgence the exquisite emotions stirring in Radha's and Krishna's

The picture is most probably by the Kangra artist, Kushala, to whom Plate
21 may also be assigned.



_Radha's Longing_

Guler, Punjab Hills, c. 1810
Bharat Kala Bhawan, Banaras

In Indian painting and poetry, it was women driven to distraction by
unappeased longing rather than men hungry with desire who formed the chief
subject of romantic art. Pictures focussed on woman in all her varied
moods and flattered the male mind by portraying her wilting with sadness
when deprived of husband or lover.

The present picture shows Radha frenziedly contemplating her lonely state.
Ornaments grown too hot for wearing--from the passion burning in her
heart--are strewn about the bed, while hands tightly clasped suggest her
wild unhappy torment. The vast and barren hills, empty angular buildings,
tiny guttering candles and lonely flowering tree provide a sympathetic

With its sinuous line and innocent delight in feminine form, the picture
is typical of Guler painting at the start of the nineteenth century.



_Radha and Krishna returning in the Rain_

Nahan, Punjab Hills, c. 1820
State Museum, Lahore.

A scene from Radha and Krishna's idyllic life together. Caught by a gale
of wind and rain, the lovers are hurrying to shelter, Krishna carrying a
leaf umbrella while cows and cowherds bend before the storm. In the
distance, small figures wearing hooded cloaks hasten towards the village.
Although keenly evocative of actual landscapes in the Punjab Hills--where
palaces were usually set on rocky hill-tops with nearby villages
clustering at their feet--the picture's main concern is to illustrate and
interpret the lovers' feelings. The black clouds lit by eerie lightning
and the trees tossing and swaying in the wind symbolize the passion raging
in their hearts and suggest its ultimate outcome.

The picture represents a style of painting which is thought to have grown
up at Nahan, the capital of Sirmur, after its neighbour, Garhwal, had been
overrun by Gurkhas in 1804. Garhwal artists probably sought asylum at the
Sirmur court and there developed a distinctive offshoot of the Garhwal



_The Triumph of Radha_

Kishangarh, Rajasthan, c. 1770
C.K. Kanoria collection, Calcutta

During the eighteenth century, Radha was often regarded as Krishna's
permanent consort and was accorded divine honours--the present picture
illustrating her final apotheosis. Seated together, their heads surrounded
by haloes, the two lovers display their courtly charms. Krishna has now
the mannered luxury of a high-born prince and Radha, no longer the simple
cowgirl, is the very embodiment of aristocratic loveliness. As the lovers
sit together, their forms offset by a carpet of lotus petals, Krishna
attempts to put betel-nut in Radha's mouth--the gesture subtly indicating
their loving intimacy.


Frontispiece. By courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and of
Messrs Faber and Faber.

1, 2. Hendley, _Memorials of the Jeypore Exhibition, IV, the Razm Namah_.

5. By courtesy of State Museum, Lucknow and of Mr. M.M. Nagar.

6, 12, 20, 28. Archeological Survey of India, New Delhi.

10, 19, 30, 33, 34. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

18. Stchoukine, _La Peinture Indienne_.

22, 26, 31, 38. Messrs. A.C. Cooper Ltd, London.

23, 24. By courtesy of the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay and of Dr. Moti

25. _Journal of Indian Art_, Vol. XVI, 116.

27. By courtesy of Mr. M.S. Randhawa, I.C.S.

39. By courtesy of Mr. Gopi Krishna Kanoria.

3, 4, 7-9, 11, 13-17, 21, 29, 32, 35-37. Author's photographs.

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