In theological or textual tradition allusions to Krishna, with a certain amount of divinity vested in him, begin appearing in the Rig-Veda itself. In the Mahabharata, he emerges not only as the champion of the Great War and a great philosopher who propounds the doctrine of ‘Karma-yoga’ but also as one who incarnated Vishnu. His votive or commemorative icons begin appearing by around the first or second century of the Common Era. In these early texts and sculptures and subsequent deification by Puranas Krishna’s was a sublime image abounding in great serenity, divinity and majesty suited to Vishnu. The Bhagavata Purana not only alternated the ritual worship by devotional love discovering a new path of ‘bkakti’ – devotion of realizing him but also humanised his image.
Adding sensuous aspects in his poem Gita-Govinda Jaideva completely revolutionized Krishna’s image. Now a cowherd boy he longed to meet Radha and Radha, at times jealous of other cowherd maidens in Krishna’s company and sometimes angry with Krishna, mad in his love awaited him. Krishna played on his flute and dragged cowherd maidens who rushed to him and danced around. Radha, the ‘Manini’, a woman who felt offended if ignored by her lover, was different. The strength of her love dragged Krishna to her. Hence, in usual iconographic perception a flute-playing Krishna and Radha were often together and sensuous indulgence defined their beings but Radha, the ‘Manini’, is not known to have danced for him. Obviously, this vision of a Radha dancing to the notes of Krishna’s flute is exceptional, perhaps influenced by the ‘apsara’-cult of the subsequent temple-art.
This highly accomplished example of woodcraft represents Krishna in ‘tri-bhanga’ – three-curved posture, playing on his flute. As if the overwhelming melody is bursting not from the flute but from his being, Krishna’s entire image appears to have curved to its notes – their rise and fall. There bursts from his figure, and Radha’s, a divine rapture. The inner bliss that reveals on the faces of Radha and Krishna is, perhaps, the most outstanding feature of these twin images. The artist has captured the divine couple when they reach the peak of divine ecstasy and are in complete trance. Round faces, emotionally charged eyes, artistically curving eye-brows, elegantly carved chins and well defined necks, besides the Radha’s sensuously modeled anatomy and beautifully dressed hair and Krishna’s excited demeanour, all reveal exceptional beauty possessed of the strange power to sublimate the mind and effect transcendence. It is outstanding in plasticity, modeling, artistic merit and a symmetrically conceived anatomy, particularly the recessed bellies and shoulders of the two figures. Alike astonishing are their costumes designed with patterns as fine as embroidered or painted.
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.