A brilliant painting from Tanjore or Thanjavura, one of the most celebrated seats of Indian art and highly visited temple sites in Karnataka, portrays Lord Krishna and two of his principal consorts Satyabhama and Rukmani offering him sweets. Portraying the likeness of Lord Krishna is one of the most popular themes of Tanjore paintings; however, they rarely illustrate his life’s early phase when as a cowherd boy he sported with Gopis,or herded his cattle. Even Radha or any of the cowherd maidens, independent or along Krishna, has been rarely painted. Lifting Mount Govardhana or one or two similar acts revealing his divinity are the only themes from his life in Vrij that the Tanjore artists have painted. They painted him as child but not as engaged in eliminating demons or indulging in mischiefs like stealing butter, the theme of a huge body of literature and art.
Butter is an essential component of Krishna’s imagery but in Tanjore paintings butter with Krishna comprises a different class of his image widely known as ‘Navaneet’ Krishna; however, in Tanjore paintings he is not portrayed as stealing butter from the pots of cowherd maidens of Vrij but instead the princely Krishna is offered it in gems’ studded golden pots. This plumpish looking golden hued Navaneet Krishna, though without a costume covering his private parts, is always bejewelled and modelled like a prince with every kind of splendour around, and with none other than his two mothers, Devaki and Yashoda, attending upon him. When grown up, now a prince in absolute authority, he is attended upon by his consorts. ‘Krishna with Ashta-bharyas’ – Krishna with his eight consorts, is another popular theme of Tanjore and Mysore paintings. Hence, the two richly bejewelled female figures in the painting, though their exact identity has not been specified, could be none other than his most favourite consorts Satyabhama and Rukmani. Incidentally, the ornaments on the heads of the two damsels are the same as those of his consorts in ‘Ashta-bharyas’ paintings.
This painting represents the grown up Krishna seated in a circular basket-type throne. The painting is a characteristic piece in Tanjore style though not uninfluenced by Mysore painting tradition at least in conceiving and designing such aspects as the floral central band of the Krishna’s sash laid around his neck, or the saris of the two consorts. The throne, raised over four legs modelled like human feet, consists of two parts, a blue velvet cushion and the throne’s frame made of gold and inlaid with rubies, emeralds, diamonds, sapphires ... It has been installed in a gold pavilion with three openings, the central one being larger and consisting of shallow arches. It is this central opening that houses Krishna’s seat. With his right leg suspending downwards, and left, laid horizontally over the right, a sitting position classified in Indian art aesthetics as ‘lalitasana’, a posture endowed with rare beauty, Lord Krishna is seated in absolute ease and fully relaxed. This ease further reflects in the gesture of his left arm lying effortless over his left knee. As spontaneously he has lifted his right hand carrying a piece of sweet half-way to his mouth. The figure of Lord Krishna is stretched in his coach against a huge bolster with rare majesty and grace.
All through the Tanjore art tradition, whether portraying him as child or grown up as in this painting, Krishna’s childhood image : the same plumpish anatomy, well fed cheeks, voluminous neck condensed between his face and torso, flabby figure, padded feet, inflated belly … gold-like lustrous and innocent, is the essential and ultimate image of Krishna. As against well-blown cheeks his flattish nose looks smaller than it actually is, and the eyes, more deeply socketed though quite fascinating and ensnaring. Besides the sash laid over his shoulders he is putting on yellow antariya with golden border and a green sash around the waist with broad gold stripes. His strangely designed peacock crown apart he is putting on resplendent jewellery on his neck, breast, arms, feet, ears and other parts of his figure. Neither too tall nor too short, the figures of Satyabhama and Rukmani are as much brilliantly adorned and costumed. Their head-ornaments consisting of four gold discs inlaid with precious stones – two smaller ones over the forehead, and two larger ones, behind, are the most characteristic articles of jewellery that the Tanjore artists have used for adorning the figures of Krishna’s consorts in various paintings portraying Krishna with his consorts.