Manifesting the Supreme apart, the Indian tradition perceives Krishna as the common man’s model of worldly life – social, cultural and individual, doing petty things with absolute attachment and remaining at the same time completely detached from everything guiding him to discover in the most common aspects of life means of sublimation and salvation. Accordingly, the tradition has perceived Krishna as involved in all things, petty or magnanimous, wherein a worldly man often involves, perhaps with the only difference that while in the case of the common man it is a mere act – a day-routine, in Krishna’s case the tradition endows it having mystic dimensions. In the painting he has been conceived as milking a cow, something commonly required of a cowherd, but the lady with the pot, and another, churning the milk, give Krishna’s act allegorical dimensions. The empty pot is symbolic of worldly desires which Krishna, the Supreme Being, accomplishes using the cow, the symbol of the earth and thus of the entire material world. When churned, the milk, or the produce of the material world that the Supreme Being affords, yields its truer essence – what the self strives to attain.
Besides portraying the main theme – Krishna’s lila and engagements of Gopis adding to it mystic dimensions, the painting effectively visualises Brij in its wholeness. It portrays a low-height hill-range with blue clouds hung over it on its upper side. The hills are covered with patches of grass and shrubs and trees strewn all-over. Around its foot stretches the river Yamuna with lotuses scattered over its waters. Dairy being the main occupation of Brij, the painting portrays not merely a pair of cows, a calf tied to a peg, milking a cow or churning the milk, or curd, but also a cow-mother’s gesture of love for its offspring, and the other cow’s enthusiasm for yielding to Krishna optimum milk that it can. Close-by stands a tall Kadamba tree, so inseparably associated with Krishna’s life in Brij. The cottage represents man’s abode. Richly carpeted floor of the hut is covered with a red carpet with green border. Its richness suggests that it is the Nand’s house. Similarly, the rich costume and precious jewels of the lady churning the curd indicate that she is none other than mother Yashoda, and the other lady with the pitcher, one of her aides.
The use of orange for defining the lower half of the cow and its calf gives dramatic effect to the painting.
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.