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This folio, based on an episode of Bhagawat-Purana, depicts Krishna and his elder brother Balarama chastising Mathura's Rajakabadha, or the royal washer-man. After all his attempts at the life of Krishna had been foiled, Kansa, the demon king of Mathura, conspired to kill him by his mighty wrestlers in the wrestling arena. In consultation with his courtiers, Kansa planned to organise a fourteen-day programme of archery. It included amongst other things wrestling competition. A special invitation was sent to Nanda to send his sons Krishna and Balarama to participate in it. Akrura, a common relative, was sent to Vrandavana for delivering the invitation and to bring Krishna and Balarama with him. Nanda always doubted Kansa's intentions and was reluctant to send his sons but could not disobey the royal command. Krishna and Balarama accompanied Akrura on his chariot. Many of their playmates also headed towards Mathura separately on foot. By the time they reached Mathura's outskirts, the sun set and the darkness enshrouded the earth. They decided to camp outside the city and Akrura alone went to inform Kansa of their arrival.
In the morning, with their poorly clad playmates Krishna and Balarama entered the town. Krishna was looking for some respectable costume for his friends. Near river Yamuna he saw a man walking towards the river with a bundle of clothes. Cloth-ends suspending from the bundle revealed that they were royal garments and the person carrying them was Rajakabadha, the washerman of Kansa. Krishna asked him to spare some garments for his friends but the arrogant Rajakabadha only insulted him by his harsh words. Krishna caught his hold and thrashed him on the ground and taking a sash from his own lot tied him with it. He then distributed all the garments, which he was carrying, amongst his friends and passersby. The painting depicts various stages of the episodes, though it has been neither serialised nor compartmentalised. The washerman lay tied with a sash near his washing slab. There lie around it his washing tub and unwashed clothes. Krishna and Balarama are distributing amongst their friends various garments, which some of them are in the process of receiving and others are putting them on.
The painting is superb in its treatment of river, gold-hued yellow-green background and the total impact. The artist has shown great skills in rendering costumes, the transparent white as well as coloured ones embroidered with gold and silver threads in excellent floral designs. Each figure has been cast in absolute proportions and with a sense of distinction wherever required. The body colours of washerman, Krishna, Balarama and their playmates are in perfect adherence to the iconographic convention and to their respective classes. Costumes depict a similar distinction. The washerman is bareheaded, Gopas wear conical caps and Krishna and Balarama are in crowns. Krishna and Balarama have Vaishnava marks on their persons, which denote their Vaishnava links. As compared to others, Krishna is more lavishly bejeweled.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.