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Besides his usual ‘pitambara’ – yellow garment: essentially an ‘antariya’ or lower wear, Krishna is also putting on a beautifully moulded turban with a rich gems-studded crown crested with a peacock feather, his essential attribute, and a striped red sash over his shoulders. Except that Krishna bears the ‘Vaijayanti’ – a garland of never fading Parijata flowers on his chest and on his forehead a Vaishnava ‘tilaka’, an elongated ‘u’-like mark, and Radha, an embedded gold pendant, the figures of both Radha and Krishna have been richly adorned, almost identically, with precious jewels from head to toe. Krishna’s crown and Radha’s feet ornaments have been more elaborately conceived.
With amour in eyes and sensuous grasp of his arm Krishna seems to descend into Radha’s eyes, and Radha, charmed by the magic of his sensuous eyes, while holding a ‘bira’ – betel-leaf expressing her desire to unite in love, is in the mode of complete submission to him. In medieval days, especially in the life of nobility, it was customary for a harem inmate to offer betel-leaves to her spouse when he came to her chamber as token of her desire to unite in love. Besides the Vaishnava analogy that perceives the union of Radha and Krishna, or even Rama and Sita or Shiva and Parvati for that matter, as the union of male and female principles or elements of cosmos, the reflection of the union of the two is seen merging and emerging also in the entire creation : in the twilight – the day meeting the night, or the light, the darkness, that defines the hour that the painting captures; in the spirit of Madhumaliti creeper that sensuously entwines around the Sapta-parni tree, her male; and in the meeting of the earth and the ocean symbolically represented as the water and the earth.
Despite that the love or rather the union in love is its theme, the painting, seeking to reproduce a late eighteenth century miniature from Jaipur in Rajasthan, is an essentially votive artifact meant for a ceremonial gift such as were made on the occasion of a marriage, a tradition highly popular during the eighteenth-nineteenth and even early part of the twentieth century. Such amorously poised divinities were believed not merely to strengthen ties created by the worldly act of marriage but also to spiritualize them. The painting represents Radha and Krishna, one of the world’s most celebrated romantic couples and all alone in a remote uninhabited forest part but the expression of their love is quite contained as was the essence of such representations which on one hand were an expression of love and union and on the other, of restraint – so much the need of social life.
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.