This episode, though it is the part of the legend in Bhagavata Purana also and the ritual tradition has attributed to it an ethical dimension, is a sheer imaginative expansion of 'Krishna-lila' theme. It is said Varuna, the sea-god, had forbidden nude bath in rivers, ponds and other public places, but 'gopis' often resorted it. One day to teach them a lesson Krishna reached the bank of the pond where they were taking bath and before any one of them noticed him he took away their garments and spread them on the branches of nearby 'Kadamba' tree. He himself climbed the tree and hid there behind a branch.
After the 'gopis' had bathed, they looked for their garments but found them missing from where they had put them. The eyes of the astonished 'gopis' searched each and every corner of the bank but their garments were nowhere to be found. Suddenly their attention was drawn to the nearby Kadamba tree by the stirring its branches. When they looked up, they saw Krishna hiding there and their garments scattered all over the branches of the tree. They beseeched him to return them their clothes but Krishna would do so only when they came out of the pond saluting him with both hands folded. The reluctant 'gopis' did what Krishna asked them do for they could not remain in water for so long as Krishna could be tree ridden.
In folk visualisation of the theme the nudity has often been evaded, as here in this Madhubani painting, by this or that device. Rendered on a door-jam or on the wall of a house a legend or theme could not be allowed to be obscene or sensuous. The illiterate folk, mostly the women-folk, looked to legends and mythology for a moral of life or ethics of conduct. Hence, compelled by the immense popularity folk artists sometimes rendered such episodes also but evaded simultaneously their obscene parts. In this Madhubani masterpiece legend's sensuous aspect has been symbolised by gopis' tight costumes which conceal their bodies but not so much their sensuous appeal.
In typical Madhubani folk style the entire canvas has been so well packed by various symbols, designing patterns and motifs and elements of Krishna legends. The tree Krishna is riding has covered almost two-third of canvas. Its green leave, orange hued flowers and deep brown branches spread from ground to sky. Artist's fascination for colours is so strong that he has stripped with yellow and red even the simple trunk of the tree. Krishna is playing on his flute and are drawn to its melody cow, dog and peacock. Whatever small space was left empty he covered by a large flower. The pond has in its belt conch fish, frog and other aquatic creatures but no snake this time. Almost two inch broad border is alike decorated. Vertical right and left arms of the frame have elongated figures of 'gopis' with a huge row of sacred pots on their heads. The sacred symbol pot has been consecrated in the centre of upper and lower frame. There prostrate a 'gopi' figure on both sides, right and left, of the central pots.
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.
Of Related Interest:
Chir - Harana (The Stealing of the Garments of the Gopis) (Painting by Kailash Raj)
Vastraharan Lila (Miniature Painting On Paper)
Krishna Stealing Clothes (Orissa's Paata Painting Water Color on Patti)
Krishna stealing clothes (Paata Painting on Tussar Silk from Orissa)
Krishna Stealing Clothes (Scroll Painting) (Orissa's Paata Painting Water Color on Tussar Silk)
Krishna the Divine Lover in Indian Art (Article)