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Paintings > Folk Art > Five Episodes from Krishna-Lila: A Phad Painting
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Five Episodes from Krishna-Lila: A Phad Painting

Five Episodes from Krishna-Lila: A Phad Painting

Five Episodes from Krishna-Lila: A Phad Painting

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Phad Painting on Cotton

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Five Episodes from Krishna-Lila: A Phad Painting

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Rendered on a strip of cloth using basic bright colours : red, green, blue, yellow, black, saffron, grey and brown in particular, all without shading and pure, bold forms, irregular iconographic features and anatomy and brilliantly painted bottom and top of each compartment in typical style of Phad-painting, a Rajasthani folk art form, this vertical scroll represents five episodes from the life of Krishna highlighting some significant aspects of his ‘Lila’ – cosmic sport. Two of them relate to his ‘Lila’ of annihilating the forces of evil operating in the form of demons, other two relate to his act of subduing arrogance and vanity, and the last, to one of his many romantic mischievous acts by which he sets right a wrong which an autocratic demonic rule caused to prevail. Multi-meaning Lilas of Krishna, each has more than one dimension. The proper painted area in the scroll is contained within a plain red background which looks like a border in form and dimensions, narrow on left and right and wider on the top and bottom. A thick yellow line separates the background and the painting.

The scroll has been divided into five compartments. The episodes portrayed in bottom cube and in the third from either side, bottom or top, relate to Krishna’s Lilas of subduing vanity and arrogance of venomous serpent Kaliya on one hand and the rain god Indra on the other suggesting that arrogance is not the evil only of those from the netherworld but also of those from heavenly abode and its alike correction is the divine obligation. As the legend has it, a seven-hooded (here it is six-hooded, perhaps one not visible) venomous serpent named Kaliya, a descendant of Pannag clan, driven out by mighty eagles from Ramanaka island in the great sea, its regular abode, came down to river Yamuna and occupied along its wives a large stretch of the river. The stretch was ill-named as Kaliyadah. The venom it breathed poisoned the entire water as also the air-pocket so much so that birds flying across died and fell.

Krishna had heard of the notoriety of Kaliya and intended to punish it. One day when playing around he deliberately let his ball fall in Kaliyadah. Before anyone could react to it, Krishna jumped into Kaliyadah apparently for the ball but otherwise to subdue Kaliya. With its peace disturbed the enraged Kaliya attacked Krishna and caught him in its coils. His playmates and others assembled there, hopeless as they grew, prayed for Krishna’s life. Balarama alone felt that Krishna would subdue the snake. He boosted his morale. Soon Krishna was seen dancing on Kaliya’s hooded head. Trampled under his feet Kaliya prayed for sparing his life. Meanwhile his wives too joined in praying for mercy. Krishna spared his life on the condition that the serpent along its family would leave Kaliyadah and retire to sea and would never pollute water, air or anything in the atmosphere. The painting represents Krishna dancing on Kaliya’s hooded head and his wives in half human and half snake forms entreating for mercy.

The other episode relates to vain Indra. People of Vrindavana had a long tradition of worshipping Indra for good crop and prosperity. Krishna opposed it and convinced them that these were their cows and the mount Govardhana that fed them with fodder that they got their good crops and livelihood and initiated Govardhana-puja in place of Indra’s. This annoyed Indra and with torrential rains he flooded the entire land of Vraja. Krishna knew it was the mischief of Indra. For defeating Indra’s plan to wipe off Vraja he picked the Mount Govardhana on the small finger of his left hand, collected all cows and people under it and saved them. Indra witnessed the phenomenon and did not fail to realise his error and Krishna’s identity who he knew was no other than Lord Vishnu himself. With his vanity shed Indra immediately rushed to Krishna and entreated to be forgiven. The painting portrays Krishna as standing on a lotus in ‘Tri-bhang’ posture holding the mountain on his left hand’s finger. Under the mountain the presence of men, women and cows has been symbolically represented.

The two compartments, one, the second from the bottom, and other, the second from the top, portray Krishna killing respectively demon Vatsa, disguised as a cow, and the python demon Aghasura, both the agents of Kansa sent by him for killing Krishna. As the legend goes, Vatsa, designing to kill Krishna and his cows, reached Vrindavana and disguised as a cow mixed with those of Krishna and his mates. However, before it could inflict any harm, an alert Krishna identified Vatsa. With his mighty hands he immediately picked the demon, flung it into the air, thrashed on the earth and killed it. The painting portrays him as flinging Vatsa into air before thrashing it on the earth. Aghasura, the python demon, positioned itself in the forest where Krishna and others grazed their cows with its wide open mouth looking like a cave anticipating that Krishna’s mates and their cows would walk into it taking it as cave and then Krishna would follow for rescuing them and thus he would have occasion to swallow all. Krishna knew everything by his divine insight and let everything happen as Aghasura wanted but when he himself entered the python’s mouth he so much expanded his form that Aghasura’s figure burst and the demon died.

The compartment on the top illustrates an episode, popularly known in art traditions as ‘Dana-lila’, translated by European scholars as ‘Toll-tax’, that on one hand illustrates one of Krishna’s romantic acts teasing Gopis, and on the other, his commitment to restore justice for the youth of Vrindavana and for calves. Under the dictates of Kansa as also for better price the butter that entire Vrindavana everyday produced was exported to Mathura. Over-milked cows underfed their calves and the butter that Vraja produced fed Kansa’s notorious musclemen depriving the people, especially the youth, of Vrindavana of their share. Krishna was convinced that both, the calves and the youth of Vrindavana must get their due share and the product of Vraja should not feed evil. Hence, perhaps a token move, one day Krishna with his friends posted themselves on midway to Mathura and demanded the Gopis heading towards Mathura with butter and milk their share of it. When refused, they destroyed their pots and the contents in them. Holding the hand of one of the Gopis Krishna is pressing her for given him their due and a Gopa is raising a stick to break the pots.

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.

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