Under Pushtimarga service rendered to the deity was the ultimate ritual and the means of transcendence. The adornment of the deity-image, known as ‘saja’, was also changed at least three times a day : morning, evening and night. Such set of daily services apart, the annual cycle too was divided into various festivals and special occasions, twenty-four of them being pre-fixed and comprised the annual calendar of Shrinathji service-schedule. These special occasions were marked not only by special ‘saja’ to include also the shrine’s special decoration but also by a set of special rituals. Annakuta Puja, a highly popular rite-cum-festival amongst followers of Krishna’s Vaishnavism observed on the first day of Karttika Shukla – the later half consisting of white nights in every month, that is, the day next to Diwali festival, has been since earliest times one of these twenty-four special occasions. It commemorates the event of Govardhana-puja – worship of Mount Govardhana, symbolic of nature, that Krishna had prescribed replacing the worship of Indra, the god of rain-fall and monsoon.
Annakuta relates to harvesting of post-monsoon Kharif crop. As the mythical tradition has it, after the crop-cycle completed and food-grains reached home people of Brij performed the worship of Indra, the rain-god, for expressing their gratitude to him for giving them good rains and good crop. They piled like a ‘kuta’ – mountain, their entire ‘anna’ – crop, and offered it to Indra and used it after such symbolic offering as the Indra’s bounty. Krishna, when yet in his early years, objected to it and convinced the people of Brij to discard Indra’s worship and worship instead Mountain Govardhana, symbolic of nature, that was the real giver of their crops and sustenance, besides giving food and shelter to their cows, their lifeline. As mandated, Indra’s Puja was replaced though not without annoying Indra who enraged flooded Brij with weeklong torrential rains. Krishna, for protecting Brij and its people, tore the mount Govardhana from its place and held it like an umbrella securing under it all – people, cows and stocks. Indra did not fail to realise his folly and Krishna’s identity as Vishnu, and rushed to him bare-footed and prostrated before him in apology. Of all four deity-forms of Krishna enshrining four major seats Shrinathji alone is ‘Govardhana-dhari’ – one who holds Govardhana, symbolised by his raised left hand.
In the iconography of the main deity image, as also the main priest except some variations in his ornaments, forms of three tiny icons painted just under the main image, piling of the baskets of laddus, symbolic of food-grains, and in the style of sanctum and some of the background motifs the painting pursues the style of an early painting from Nathadwara datable to 1770-1780. Besides the main deity icon rendered pursuing exact Nathadwara art idiom, the painting also portrays three repeat smaller icons, all in varying sizes, representing Bala-Gopala, the child Krishna, whose image enshrines a subordinate seat at Nathadwara shrine. The early Nathadwara miniature, as also most others, includes symbolic icons of mother Yashoda, Balarama and Subhadra. Perhaps the image just below the main deity image is a representation of Balarama. The floral arch on its right enshrines flute-playing Krishna flanked by the icons of Yashoda and Subhadra, his sister. One on its left contains just the image of Krishna with mother Yashoda. A gold image of flute-playing Krishna wearing a two-tiered crown enshrines the vertical space on the extreme left to the main deity image; and on the extreme right, there is another gold-icon of the flute-playing Krishna with tiny icons of mother Yashoda and Subhadra. Besides the main priest, the painting incorporates five subordinate priests, one with a fan and other four with ‘chowris’, one of them being a woman.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.