Radha, clad in a narrow breadth lehanga with cross-check field and floral border, a waistcloth with large size flower-motifs, a tie-die odhani and a vividly painted half blouse, adequately ornamented and with elegantly dressed hair, is seated on the beautifully carpeted wooden plank. Her legs are laid below while with her hands she is holding the swing’s cords. Krishna, while standing behind the swing and Radha, is holding with his both hands the cords of the swing in the course of moving it. In his right hand he is holding also his flute in addition to the swing’s cord. Besides his wrists and arms ornaments and various necklaces, he is also putting on a crown looking like a helmet with a conical red crest and a peacock feather attached to it. Madhubani invariably has its figures in profile, though here the faces of Radha and Krishna seem to have turned to right, not merely technically but responding to someone just reached.
The swing-riding Radha and Krishna have on their right a male figure, and on their left, a female. Besides that they are Krishna’s ‘sakha’ and Radha’s ‘sakhi’ their other identities are not known, nor any significant Krishna-related myth alludes to any such figures. The Vaishnava ‘tilaka’ mark on the forehead of the male figure links him with Vishnu – a devotee or his incarnation, and thus he might be identified as Balarama, Krishna’s elder brother and Vishnu’s incarnation. However, a respectful woman, as Radha was, in his presence Radha would have differently behaved. The twelfth century’s poet Jaideva in his poem Gita-Govinda visualises such situation when one of Radha’s ‘sakhis’ comes to Krishna engrossed in love with a ‘gopi’ other than Radha and narrates to him Radha’s sad plight for instead of her he is making love to someone other than her and she has awaited him the whole night. This equation also little befits. The two women figures represented seated on right and left could not be Radha particular when they are quite inferior to one on the swing in her figural beauty, costume, jewellery and majesty.
More appropriately, the portrayal might be seen also as the representation of Raga Hindol, one of the main six ragas – mode of Indian classical music, personified as Krishna often with Radha in the swing. Hindol is revered as the king of Ragas and is hence often represented as royal personages attending upon the divine couple. Hence, in usual imagery of Raga Hindol a royal couple is sometimes seen as portrayed around the swing with Radha and Krishna on it. Apart, swing is like a social ritual linked with the month of Shravana and the festival of Rakshabandhana, and Krishna is the presiding deity of the festival. Thus also, it might also be the Jhulana-yatra – the swing festival of Krishna, and the two figures might be the devotee-participants.
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.