INDIA | BIKANER

Krishna as Murli Manohar
Signed by artist Mohhamad Gulab 
India, Bikaner 
Dated 1804
Opaque watercolors with gold on paper

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Krishna as Murli Manohar
Signed by artist Mohhamad Gulab 
India, Bikaner 
Dated 1804
Maharaja stamp on back, 1963  
Opaque watercolors with gold on paper
Folio: 10 x 6 in. (25.4 x 15.2 cm.)
Image: 5 3/4 x 3 in. (14.6 x 7.62 cm.)

Shown here as Murli Manohar, or the flute playing god, Krishna fulfills his role in serenading creation to bring them closer to transcendence of earthly longings. The melody of Krishna’s flute is said to hold all of creation captive and is “the voice of eternity heard by the dwellers in time,” (M. S. Randhawa, Basohli Painting, Delhi, 1959).  There is great symbolism associated with Krishna and his flute – a person should try and emulate the hollow reed flute, letting go of all ego so that the lord will come and breathe divine inspiration through them. Conversely, the lord will grow distant from those who are prideful. Krishna preaches love through the instrument, there is a belief that the world was conceived from the music that spouts from the flute. He stands on a lotus, a symbolic representation of the universe that denotes his all encompassing presence. Artistic renderings of Krishna as Murli Manohar show that poetry and piety, religion and art, are never separate but form a harmonious relationship in the celebration of Krishna.

The Pandavas and Krishna Bathe in the Jamuna
From a dispersed Bhagavata Purana series, scene from Book X chapter 75
Ascribed to Kayam (Qayam)
India, Bikaner
c. 1750
Gouache heightened with gold on prepared paper

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The Pandavas and Krishna Bathe in the Jamuna
From a dispersed Bhagavata Purana series, scene from Book X chapter 75
Ascribed to Kayam (Qayam)
India, Bikaner
c. 1750
Gouache heightened with gold on prepared paper
Folio: 11 1/2 x 14 3/4 in.  (29.2 x 37.4 cm.)
Image: 9 x 12 in. (22.8 x 30.4 cm.)

Among India’s rich historic and religious texts, the Bhagavata Purana evolved to be one of the most influential pieces of literature in the Hindu library, serving as the basis for subsequent worship, performance, and debate. Written to inspire devotion to Krishna between the 8th and 10th centuries, the text includes narratives of the deity’s birth and childhood, time among the cowherds, his affinity for the gopis and their unfaltering devotion to him, and the attempts by his uncle Kamsa to end his life.

One of the most important moments in the Krishna legend is when he kills Shushupala at a religious ceremony conducted by Yudhisthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers. After the ceremony they all bathe in the Jamuna River. We see a series of events in this painting. In the foreground Krishna and the Pandavas with their single joint-wife Draupadi and other women cavort in the river. The artist includes some charming touches with figures disrobing at the water’s edge. Musicians play, adding a festival atmosphere to the vignette in the foreground. Later in the story, the Kauravas with their army arrive at the palace to the left. Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, jealous of the splendor of his cousin’s palace is tricked by magic. He first thinks the floor is water and lifts his garment. Then what he takes for a door turns into water and he falls in. This scene is depicted on the terrace of the palace while Krishna and Yudhisthira sit in court within.

This rare leaf was painted by an artist working in Bikaner, a major center of painting within Rajasthan in the 17th and 18th centuries. The cinched waists of the figures is characteristic of Bikaner painting, as are the different levels that add depth to the composition. Naval Krishna has pointed out that there were at least five Qayams in the genealogical tree of the Umrani Usta painters of Bikaner. He refers to this group of folios as from the fourth Bikaneri Bhagavata Purana.

A thank you to Daniel Ehnbom for identifying the scene and Naval Krishna for his thoughts on the artist. For a genealogy of the artists see: Naval Krishna, “The Umarani Usta Master­ Painters of Bikaner and Their Genealogy,” In: Andrew Topsfield (ed.), Court Painting in Rajasthan, Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2000, pp. 57-64.

Sage Vyasa Approached
India, Bikaner
c. 18th century
Opaque watercolors with gold on paper

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Sage Vyasa Approached
India, Bikaner
c. 18th century
Opaque watercolors with gold on paper
Folio: 12 x 9 1/4 in. (30.5 x 23.5 cm.)
Image: 10 x 7 1/4 in. (25.4 x 18.4 cm.)

When Sage Vyasa meditated for a great length of time with no respite, the gods began to worry that he would become even more powerful than them. In an attempt to break the Sage’s concentration, Indra sent Menaka, an Apsara, to tempt Vyasa into abandoning his meditation. Menaka is seen wading in a sheer garment through the water towards Vyasa, hoping to break his concentration. The Sage, however, rejected her advances and cursed her instead.

All sought Vyasa’s advice because of his wealth of knowledge and wisdom. He grew up in forests near the river Saraswati, eventually becoming a teacher and priest. He is credited with compiling the Vedas, writing 18 major Puranas, and executing the Mahabharata, collection of epic poetry revered as moral law and historical cannon. When creating the Mahabharata, he dictated the story to Ganesh, who served as a scribe to complete the text.

This work is reminiscent of Bikaner painting towards the end of the 18th century, as the Mughal influence is not as strong as it is in works dating towards the beginning of the century.