Krishna, Lord Vishnu’s absolute incarnation, is the most popularly worshipped Vaishnava deity. His images as child Krishna – mostly metal cast, one holding in one of his hands a ‘laddu’, and another, holding a pot of butter, named respectively as ‘Laddu-Gopala’ and ‘Navaneeta Krishna’, are his most loved icons for domestic shrines. This wood-carving represents the theme of Navaneeta Krishna in a different medium and with a larger size, as also with a different frame of mind. Unlike his sanctum images, this wood-statue, conceived with an aesthetic vision, has neither mystified nor mythicised its subject nor has loaded it with much of divinity; rather he has let a secular spirit pervade it. As if cast of a metallic alloy : gold for lustre and splendour and copper for strength and retaining details, this form of child Krishna : somewhat plumpish and full of innocence, is far more lovable and even veneration-inspiring than are even his divine images.
Tanjore artists have created a large range of Navaneeta Krishna icons. In most of them the child Krishna is represented as mischievously blinking his eyes and bewitching by his innocent smile after he has grabbed the pot of butter and has taken out from it a handful of its contents to swallow it unnoticed. However, this wood-statue does not have in its eyes that mischievous blink, nor on its lips the Tanjore paintings’ like bewitching smile. Far from those Tanjore elements of the child Krishna’s iconography the figure of Navaneeta Krishna in this statue has deep meditative eyes and a thoughtful demeanour of face. He has condensed the butter that he has in his right hand as a ‘laddu’ but his face hardly reveals any hurry, or even the desire, to swallow it. Rather, he seems to be pondering what he should do of it.
The image of Navaneeta Krishna has been installed on a high lotus-pitha – base or plinth. There are on this lotus-pitha a number of cows that hold on their heads a simple hexagonal wooden plaque which the figure of Navaneeta Krishna enshrines. The cows, representing the earth, are looking at the blissful child Krishna, their saviour, with hope and gratitude. The lavishly bejewelled figure of Krishna has been carved against a large beautifully incised medallion, which serves as both, a large halo as also a gorgeous backdrop. The child has over his head a splendid canopy which none other that the Great Serpent Shesh affords by extending over it its five-hooded head. The pot-like large and rounded turban, not merely with a peacock feather tucked on it but also a live peacock perching around, is perhaps the most quaint element of this Navaneeta Krishna’s iconography.
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.