Rasa and ‘Lilas’ of Krishna

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Item Code: PL46
Artist: Rabi Behera
Watercolor on PattiArtist: Rabi Behera
Dimensions 38.0 inches X 24.0 inches
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A painting that mesmerizes the eye by its variegating colour effect, lively canvas, vividly conceived and drawn simple geometrical formations, colours split into myriads of miniature zones creating their own rhythm, and lines, their own bewitching courses, dragging this eye from one form to other through their magic channels, and its overall power to assimilate multiple forms and episodes without affecting its structural or thematic unity, this ‘pata-chitra’ is a fresh experiment in the traditional Oriya folk, more so, in its assimilation of the Rasa theme with Krishna’s ‘lilas’ on one canvas. It conceives its centre – axis of the painting, as well as, of the cosmos, with a representation of ‘Rasa’ – the painting’s focal point, but the space that it occupies has been so balanced that it does not outstand other forms, dominate them, or break the unity of the ‘whole’, rather it stands as its integral component on par with other parts.

Delightfully, the painting marks a subtle departure from the usual form. The usual representation of ‘Rasa’ comprises ‘three concentric circles’ but this ‘pata-chitra’ comes out with just two. The ‘third’ seems to have been magnified into a larger rectangular frame around the inner-most rectangle – the expansion of the central square which contains circles manifesting ‘Rasa’. Instead of ‘three concentric circles’, symbolic of three cosmic zones that the ‘Rasa’ – Krishna’s divine dance involves, the artist has conceived his canvas with three rectangular divisions discovering fresh symbolic dimensions of the theme. In Krishna’s legend he makes love – his modus of uniting with the seeker ‘self’, Radha or a Gopi, in simultaneity to his exploits against evil, the obvious idea being that unless weeds are removed, twigs will not bloom with flowers and fragrance. Hence, in this visualization of the theme the artist has incorporated in six oval horizontal panels, three on either side, some of Krishna’s exploits against evil before he is represented uniting with Gopis – seeker selves. In usual representation of Rasa this union of the Supreme Self with the seeker self is the theme of the outer-most of the three concentric circles. In this visualization of the theme this outer-most circle seems to have been magnified into a larger rectangular ring as it has been conceived with the same theme as the outermost concentric circle.

Thus, the painting has been conceived with a square in the centre comprising ‘Rasa’ theme, though with just two circles, the inner, representing Krishna dancing with two Gopis, and the outer, comprising twelve conical windows, six with icons of Krishna and other six, with Gopi-figures, the two sets alternating mutually. With extended right and left arms housing three oval panels on either side the central square transforms into a rectangle duly defined by a frame. Of the three rectangles this is the inner-most. The three panels on the right portray Krishna subduing the venomous viper Kaliya with its wives praying for mercy; Krishna dancing for delighting Gopis, two each on his either side; and, Krishna removing the deformity of Kubja – the hunch-backed woman. The panel on the left represent, Krishna chastising Rajakabadha, the washer man of Kansa; Krishna killing Kuvalyapida, the elephant demon; and, Krishna and Balarama killing the wrestlers of Kansa, Chanura and Mustaka.

The rectangle in the middle comprises primarily the twenty-eight octagonal windows – the magnification of the outer circle manifesting Rasa. This ring of twenty-eight windows represents repeat icons of Krishna, each dancing with a Gopi-figure. As in case of the inner rectangle, the right and left arms of the middle rectangle, too, are extended to house ten arched windows, five on either side, enshrining Vishnu’s ten incarnations, in the usual sequence : Matsyavatara – Fish incarnation; Kurma – Tortoise incarnation; Varaha – Boar incarnation; Narsimha – Half-man-half-lion incarnation; Vamana –Dwarf incarnation; Parasurama; Rama; Balarama; Veda-Vyasa; and the horse-riding Kalki. It is in strict pursuance to Oriya tradition which perceives Krishna to be the Jagannatha – the Supreme Lord of the world, not an incarnation of Vishnu. Hence, he does not appear in Vishnu’s incarnations. This regional tradition does not include Buddha as Vishnu’s ninth incarnation. Instead, it reveres Veda-Vyasa as Vishnu’s ninth incarnation.

The outer-most rectangle consists of thirty-four circular windows. The episodes/exploits/theme that these windows illustrate are (in the twelve windows of the top row) : (1) Vishnu reclining on the coils of Great Serpent Shesh while Lakshmi, is consort, massaging his feet; (2) Devaki and Vasudeva in bridal costumes; (3) Vasudeva and Devaki in prison with folded hands suggestively paying homage to Vishnu, though he is not visible; (4) Vasudeva with folded hands paying homage to newborn Krishna lying beside Devaki; (5) Vasudeva transporting newborn Krishna; (6) Vasudeva crossing river Yamuna with Krishna on his head. The Great Serpent Shesh unfurls his hood for protecting Krishna from rain; (7) Vasudeva at Gokul at Nanda’s house where he lays Krishna with Yashoda and comes back with her daughter; (8) Kansa killing Yogamaya, born to Yashoda as her daughter, under the impression that she is Devaki’s eighth child; (9) Krishna killing Purana, the female demon sent by Kansa to kill him; (10) Tranavarta, the cyclone demon, snatching away Krishna from the hands of the Gopi who was looking after him; (11) roped with a stone crusher Krishna drags it across two trees which uproot and fall. The trees were two Yakshas, Nalakubara and Manigriva cursed to turned into trees but get redeemed as soon as the trees fall. Paying homage to Krishna for redeeming them: (12) Krishna paying homage to great sage Narada.

Those in the bottom row from right to left are : (1) Krishna coaxing Radha by massaging her feet; (2) Krishna taking Radha on boating expedition; (3) Krishna steals garments of Gopis polluting the river water by bathing nude in it; (4) a Shiva-linga enshrined under a canopy and a devotee worshipping; (5) Krishna killing Keshi, the horse demon; (6) Krishna killing Aghasura, the python demon; (7) Krishna eliminating Shakatasura, the cart demon; (8) Krishna with two Gopis under a tree in the posture of dance; (9) Krishna killing Vatsasura, also named Pralamba, the bull demon; (10) Krishna as Vishnu granting ‘abhaya’ to a devotee doing penance; (11) Krishna killing Vakasura, crane demon; and (12) an unusual episode portraying skull-headed horrible figure looking like Krishna frightening a person.

The ten panels, five on the right and other five on the left, portray respectively from bottom to top : (1) Krishna pulls down Kansa from the throne and kills him; (2) Vishnu appearing in the vision of Akrura when he is bathing in river Yamuna; (3) Krishna, Balarama and one of their Sakhas listening to someone’s payer; (4) Krishna with a ‘kamandala’ and arm-rest in hands on the door of a household, obviously as Yogi; and, (5) Krishna as Vishnu blessing a female devotee. (On the left, from bottom to top) : (1) Krishna seated on the ground while a female and male costumed like a Yogi stand close-by; (2) Krishna and his Sakhas stealing butter from a pot hung on a hanger suspending from the ceiling; (3) Filled with guilt Krishna and Balarama face Yashoda holding a cane to punish them; (4) Krishna and Balarama, Krishna holing something like a magic band, and Balarama, a trumpet type musical instrument; and, (5) Krishna sporting with Radha circumambulating a Kadamba tree.

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.

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Mastering the Ancient Technique: Exploring the Meticulous Creation of Pattachitra Paintings

The traditional Pattachitra is a scroll painting that is done on cloth. This is revealed in the name; Pattachitra is a Sanskrit term made from two words i.e. Patta meaning cloth and Chitra meaning picture. The main subject of this painting is portraying Hindu mythological narratives, scenes from religious texts, and folktales. Pattachitra paintings are especially practiced in eastern Indian states such as West Bengal and Odisha, and also in some parts of Bangladesh. This art form is closely related to Shri Jagannath and the tradition of the Vaishnava sect. It is believed that Pattachitra art originated in the 11th century and the people of Odisha practice it even today without any discrepancy. Bengalis use these scroll paintings for ritual purposes (as a visual device) during the performance of a song or Aarti.
Pattachitra paintings are characterized by creative and traditional motifs/designs, decorative borders, and bright colorful applications. The outline of the figure and motifs are bold and sharp. Some common shapes and motifs seen in these paintings are trees, flowers, leaves, elephants, and other creatures. The artists of Odisha and Bengal still use the traditional method of painting which gives a unique look to it altogether.

1. Canvas is prepared

The process of painting a Pattachitra begins by preparing the canvas (patta). Generally, cotton cloth is used for making the canvas. The local artists dip the cotton cloth in a mixture of tamarind seeds and water for a few days. The cloth is then taken out and dried in the sun. Now natural gum is applied over it to stick another layer of cotton cloth on it. Thus a thick layer of cotton cloth is formed. This layered cotton is sun-dried and a paste of chalk powder, tamarind, and gum is applied on both sides. The surface of the cloth is then rubbed with two different stones for smoothening and it is again dried. This process gives the cloth a leathery finish and it is now ready to be painted.

2. Natural colors are made using traditional method

The painters prepare and use vegetable and mineral colors for application in the painting. White color is made from conch shells, black is made by burning coconut shells, Hingula is used for red color, Ramaraja for blue, and Haritala for yellow.

3. Colors are filled in

The artist now makes a double-lined border on all four sides of the canvas. The local artists are so expert in painting that they do not draw figures and motifs with pencil but directly draw them with a brush. The paint brushes that the painters use are made of the hair of domestic animals, a bunch of which is tied to the end of a bamboo stick. The figures are now painted with natural colors using the indigenous brushes. The outline is thickened with black color.

4. Painting is given a finishing

Finally, the painting is varnished/glazed to protect it from any damage and to get a glossy shine on the surface.

The making of a Pattachitra is laborious work and therefore, one painting may sometimes take over a month to complete. Due to their classical look, these paintings are admired by people from all over the world. The artistic skills used in Pattachitra are passed down from one generation to another and thus are preserved to date.
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