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Krishna’s deity form enshrining a sanctum is more often his image in ‘tri-bhanga’. Not merely that three of the four main ‘Pithas’ – seats, of Krishna’s Vaishnavism, namely, Vrindavana, Dwarika, Puri and Nathadwara, enshrine his icons in ‘tri-bhanga’, his seat at Vrindavana, the Banke Bihari temple, is even named after this three-curved form of him. The terms ‘Banke’ and ‘Bihari’ mean one who pervades the cosmos by his curves. By his three curves he pervades all three worlds or cosmic regions. The mystique of this three-curved form is, however, far deeper. What appears to be a three-curved form is actually five-curved, and it is this multiplicity of curves that affords to eye aesthetically far greater rhythm and far greater magic. Krishna’s figure, as represented in this statue, curves at five points : the face with crown tilts to right, the shoulder to left, the hip to right, the knee to left, and finally, the left foot to right. With his five curves he pervades all four directions and the space above. Aesthetically Krishna’s bliss is absolute. His form is divine but still it is subservient to his mind. Hence, when his mind moves to the notes of his flute, along it moves his legs, and the entire figure twists into multi-curves. His believers say that for mending the crooked ways of the world he himself entered into them and thus his form curved. And, hence, it is in his curved form that he restored cosmic order and righteousness and enshrined sanctums.
Thus ‘tri-bhanga’ in this manifestation of Krishna is consequential to his Venugopala form. The highest merit of this statue is its ability to reveal the divine bliss and unique bhava that the melody emitting from his flute effects and vibrates the entire figure with divine fervour and curves it into rhythm. The artist has succeeded in portraying on the figure’s face contentment, rapture, and divine grace, not anything strange to divine Krishna but it certainly is when one has to make them reflect on a piece of wood. Rituals and faith endow a sanctum image with its divinity; in case of an art piece, as is this wood-statue, it is the artist’s skill that breathes into it its entire divinity, spiritual power and aestheticism.
Broadly the statue comprises three sections : the base consisting of an elevated lotus pedestal; the figure of Lord Krishna playing on his flute and the cow behind his figure : the focal point of the statue, its middle part; and, a ‘prabhavali’, consisting of foliage : tree-stumps, stylized leaves, banana flowers and mangos, and parrots, its upper part. In South Indian iconography, Krishna is often conceived as four-armed, as here in this statue, obviously for emphasizing his Vaishnava links as an incarnation of Vishnu. His normal two hands are in a gesture of holding his flute, while in his upper hands he is holding the disc and conch, two of Vishnu’s essential attributes. He is wearing a towering Vaishnava crown and large ‘kundalas’ – ear-ornaments, ornaments all over his figure – bangles, bracelets, armlets, necklaces, anklets and others, well pleated ‘antariya’ – a blend of red and yellow, elaborate waist-band with multiple decorative beaded frills, and the ‘Vaijayanti’ as large as reached the ankles.
Krishna had incarnated for freeing the earth from the atrocities of Kansa, the demon king of Mathura. In Vaishnava iconography cow has been perceived as manifesting the earth. Hence in usual idiom, the saviour of the earth Krishna is more often venerated as Gopala – the protector and keeper of cow, and vice-verse, cow as looking to Krishna as her master, saviour, friend and even her child to feed on her milk. In the statue, though just single, the figure of the cow is in perfect proportion to that of Krishna. Enrapt she is drawn to the melody of his flute by which he redeems from worldly bonds.
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.