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“Life of Krishna in Indian Art”

Updated: Nov 12, 2021


THERE is an enormous volume of literature and art on the life and teachings of Krishṇa. He is a composite figure and many legends and ideas have combined to constitute the framework of his concept. While most scholars look upon him as a historical person, some consider him to be a myth. The truth seems to be that originally, he was a human being as Rāma and Buddha, but he was deified as a God, perhaps during his lifetime, because of the inconceivable qualities he possessed. He is the amalgam of both the divine and the human. In the Mahābhārata the earliest source of his life, he is described both as man and God. From the very beginning of the Krishṇa concept it is difficult to separate the human aspect of his life from the divine. He is a grand mystery, and everyone has tried to understand him in their own way. He is the embodiment of all rasas, and his many-sided activities have attracted people in different ways. The yogīs considered him to be the absolute truth, the Gopīs the highest object of love and the warriors as an ideal hero.

The life of Krishṇa from childhood to his last days has been a source of perennial inspiration to the poets and the artists, as he represents the perfection of human

character, and endeavour. He is the embodiment of the intellectual and spiritual glory. Krishņaism permeates the entire Indian culture and thought. No other single individual or idea has so much influenced the course of India’s religion, philosophy, art and literature as the life and personality of Krishṇa. As a child, he was a wonderful child, an object of love to all, as a youth, he was physically most perfect and beautiful. As an intellectual he was the very embodiment of Vedic scholarship and his teachings in the Gītā embody the immortal message of desire less action, knowledge and single-minded devotion. As a profound yogī he is called Yogesvara (which aspect is revealed on many occasions). As a fighter, he was without a rival, as a statesman, most shrewd, as a social thinker, very liberal, as a teacher, the most eloquent, as a friend, never failing, and as a householder, the most ideal.

The love and adoration of Krishṇa had sunk deep into the heart and soul of India and the religion that grew round him drew adherents from all walks of life.

Krishṇa became the centre and pioneer of the theistic Bhakti movement which has exercised the profoundest influence on the religious history of India. He embodies the synthesis of the higher and popular spheres of thought. On the one hand he is the Supreme Brahman of the Yogīs and on the other, the object of the devotion of the Gopīs.

Artists have potrated the Life of Krishna in a number of ways, be it in their poems, paintings, sculpture.

Delightful portrayals:

‘Driving the flock’ is just too delightful a portrayal of the Krishna theme. Yashoda’s cherished pet, the little Krishna, is off to graze the cows, along with Balarama, his brother. Yashoda gives a stick to Krishna, to drive the herd. Balarama is shown as a chubby and happy boy. His priorities are clear, depicted by the many laddus being wrapped in his waistcloth, ready for feasting later, in the woods. A lady holds a plateful of laddus- simple joyful treats.

‘Feast in the forest’ shows a gang of boys sitting down to lunch in a clearing—the leaf plates and ‘donnais’ are filled with delicacies. The rich and the poor are enjoying the repast together—Krishna, the provider, and the protector of all.

Holi, the festival of colour, has long projected joy. Krishna and his mates happily spray maidens with the red coloured water, refilling their sprayers from pots carried by some others of the gang. Singing and dancing is part of the revelry.

‘Krishna’s magic flute’ shows him alone, playing just for his love of music, and for other beings. A pair of cranes, cows in all shades, trees, flowers, the forked lightning, and other cowherds—all get transfixed in sheer ecstasy. The river too seems to leave its course, taking a bend towards Krishna and his melody. The tinkling bells of the cows and their taut tails all show rapt reaction to the ethereal flute.

The engrossed twosome wander among the glades by the river, sit down on a branch of the bauhinia, under a mango tree near a plantain grove. In the Gita Govindam, Jayadeva narrates the separation and reconciliation of Radha and Krishna, as a pastoral drama. Radha sits alone by a tree, while Krishna dances with gopis, afar. A gopi brings Radha news of Krishna – “There he is, the sky-coloured figure, anointed with sandal, enrobed in gold, wearing a garland of wildflowers and forest leaves. See how the curls of His tresses fall on His temple, as He goes hand in hand with 100 brides.”

The pacified Radha meets Krishna in a garden of tamaala trees, with atimukta creepers flowering freely. Krishna has spread His blanket on the ground, and they sit on it, with Krishna devotedly braiding Radha’s hair. She has eyes only for Him, while the birds, lotus blooms, peacocks and dark clouds create the perfect romantic setting. The paintings of Radha Krishna are immensely prestigious because they strongly represent true love and devotion.

Krishna is seen and portrayed in different ways, as the most beautiful child, a lover, a teacher, a warrior, a friend, and a philosopher.

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