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The ‘pata-chitra’ artist has used his canvas for representing two sets of Krishna-related theme, one, the Bhagavata-based concept of Rasa or Maharasa, the cosmic dance, which is the core of Vaishnava-bhakti movement, and other, some aspects of and episodes from Krishna’s life. Otherwise unmanageable for the representation of Rasa theme, represented, as a rule, in the form of a set of three concentric circles which require a square frame, the artist has manipulated the rectangular space that his canvas afforded by creating a square in its centre for representing the Rasa, and spaces on all four sides, for representing his exploits against demons and his ‘lilas’. The three concentric circles, the symbolic representation of cosmos, conceived as three-tiered, occupy the centre of the paining and are its focal point. Rasa is a cosmic dance which reveals in the act of Radha and Krishna, the Supreme Self and its arch seeker.
In slight variation, in this painting, the inner-most of the three circles – symbolic of the axis of cosmos, has in it Krishna with two Gopi-figures suggestive of the plurality of seeker self. The middle circle comprises twelve lotus-petal-like shaped windows enshrining in six of them icons of Krishna, in other six, alternating him, are six Gopis. The outer-most circle, a wider one, also has twelve arched windows each of which a form of Krishna and a Gopi-figure engaged in dance enshrine. The four corners of the square, beyond the outer circle, a stylised flower with leaf-arabesques unfurling on sides manipulates. The space beyond the square has been arranged into two rectangular frames. The inner one, containing the square in its centre, expands only on the right and left of the square, first into a row of five vertical windows, and then of four rectangular, on either side. The outer frame consists of thirty-four rounded windows framing the inner rectangle on all sides.
The ten windows in two vertical columns on the right and left represent Vishnu’s ten incarnations in characteristic Orissa tradition. It does not include Krishna in Vishnu’s incarnations but rather revere Krishna himself as Vishnu. From right to left and top to bottom these ten windows portray (1) Matsyavatara – Fish incarnation; (2) Kurma – Tortoise incarnation; (3) Varaha – Boar incarnation; (4) Narsimha – Half-man-half-lion incarnation; (5) Vamana –Dwarf incarnation; (6) Parasurama; (7) Rama; (8) Balarama; (9) Veda-Vyasa; and (10) the horse-riding Kalki. All eight rectangular windows, drawn in two rows of four each, flanking the Dashavatara panels on either side, with dancing figures of Radha and Krishna, seem to illustrate the Gita-Govinda.
From right to left the episodes/exploits/theme represented in the top row of the painting are : (1) Vishnu reclining on the coils of Great Serpent Shesh while Lakshmi, is consort, massaging his feet; (2) Devaki and Vasudeva in bridal costumes; (3) Vasudeva and Devaki in prison with folded hands suggestively paying homage to Vishnu, though he is not visible; (4) Vasudeva at Gokul at Nanda’s house where he lays Krishna with Yashoda and comes back with her daughter; (5) Vasudeva transporting newborn Krishna; (6) Vasudeva crossing river Yamuna with Krishna on his head. The Great Serpent Shesh unfurls his hood for protecting Krishna from rain; (7) Kansa killing Yogamaya, born to Yashoda as her daughter, under the impression that she is Devaki’s eighth child; (8) Krishna killing Purana, the female demon sent by Kansa to kill him; (9) Tranavarta, the cyclone demon, snatching away Krishna from the hands of the Gopi who was looking after him; (10) roped with a stone crusher Krishna drags it across two trees which uproot and fall. The trees were two Yakshas, Nalakubara and Manigriva cursed to turned into trees but get redeemed as soon as the trees fall. Paying homage to Krishna for redeeming them: (11) Krishna paying homage to great sage Narada; (12) Nanda and Yashoda persuading disgruntled Krishna.
Those in the bottom row from right to left are : (1) Vishnu appearing in the vision of Akrura when he is bathing in river Yamuna; (2) Krishna, Balarama and one of their Sakhas listening to someone’s payer; (3) Krishna coaxing Radha by massaging her feet; (4) Krishna taking Radha on boating expedition; (5) Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana; (6) Krishna subdues Kaliya. The viper’s wives pray Krishna to have mercy on him; (7) a Shiva-linga enshrined under a canopy and devotee worshipping; (8) Krishna killing Keshi, the horse demon; (9) Krishna killing Aghasura, the python demon; (10) Krishna eliminating Shakatasura, the cart demon; (11) Krishna killing Vatsasura, also named Pralamba, the bull demon; and (12) Krishna as Vishnu granting prayer of a devotee.
The ten panels, five on the right and other five on the left, portray respectively from bottom to top : (1) Krishna pulls a hunchbacked woman’s leg and restores her form, youth and beauty; (2) Krishna chastises Rajakabadha, Kansa’s washer man; (3) Krishna kills Kansa’s elephant demon Kuvalyapitha; (4) Krishna and Balarama kill Kansa’s wrestlers Charuna and Mustaka; (5) Krishna pulls down Kansa from the throne and kills him. (On the left, from bottom to top) : (1) Krishna killing Vakasura, crane demon; (2) Krishna sporting with Radha circumambulating a Kadamba tree; (3) Krishna and Balarama, Krishna holing something like a magic band, and Balarama, a trumpet type musical instrument; (4) Yashoda with a cane in hands scolds for some mischief of Krishna; and, (5) Krishna and his Sakhas stealing butter from a pot hung on a hanger suspending from the ceiling.
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.