The vertical format of this painting is an uncommon thing in Madhubani art. Verticality was not the requirement of the depicted theme also. Broadly, in Madhubani, a pata-chitra is a paper or canvas substitute for the bhitti-chitra. The bhitti, or wall, usually has a horizontal space. Hence, bhitti-chitra and correspondingly the pata-chitra are rarely vertical. The butterfly border, drawn using four basic colours, blue, yellow, green and red for their wings and the black for outlines and partitioning lines, is also unusual in Madhubani. The Ghanashyam, the clouds' like blue Krishna, has a white face, though he is wearing a blue shirt. He is clad in queer stripped trousers. The conventional Pitambara, or the Krishna clad in yellow, is in motley colours, though he is wearing upon his back a shawl like sash. The hungry child has shifted his flute from his usual right hand to left for by his right hand he is holding out his tiny pot for milk. With her typically tilted figure, as if seated in air, or on an invisible chair, Yashoda is holding the colourfully painted milk pot upon her knees. Clad in brilliant colours and lavish jewelry, she looks like a bride. Cow's udders have been prominently painted. Towards the apex of the canvas, a pair of peacocks perches on the floral creepers.
This pata-chitra depicts one of those several occasions when mother Yashoda had to milk a cow for her son Krishna crying for milk. As the mythological tradition has it, Krishna loved to have fresh milk sometimes direct from the udders of a cow and sometimes instantly drawn from them into a pot. A gwala as he was, Krishna used to take his cows for grazing along with other gwalas. In the forest he stole milk from the udders of cows and in the evening when his mother Yashoda found their udders dry, he would come out with this or that excuse. Mother Yashoda knew her son and all his mischief but the innocence enshrining his face would only make her smile. Milking a cow is one of the most popular themes of the visual arts. Sometimes Krishna is seen himself milking a cow. The cow is, to a great extent, an inseparable feature of Krishna's iconography.
Krishna and cow, just a couple of words, is India's holiest ritual, the apex of her faith and her most celebrated legend. This union of the two has a long mythological tradition and as deep metaphysical and cosmic significance and mysticism. Ordinarily, Krishna, as Gopal, was patron and saviour of cows. The dairy cult of Vedic Aryas always held cow in exceptional reverence. But, despite, cows were never so divine as Krishna made them. Aryan gods distinguished their own cow Kamadhenu as others' superior. Krishna sought to deify all alike and initiated not only the worship of cow but even of cow-dung, which gave good crops and all prosperity. He not only protected the innocent cow from cruel hands but also attempted at eradicating factors that polluted water and forests which were vital for cows. Symbolically, cow stood for the earth and sometimes for Prakriti and the Supreme One, the Purusha, in his incarnation as Krishna, was there to protect her. Metaphysically the cow symbolised this sensual existence, which Krishna, as the Purusha, spiritualized.
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.