Krishna and Radha celebrating the Holi India, Kishangarh c. 19th century Gouache heightened with gold on paper 15 3/4 x 11 3/4 in. (40 x 30 cm.)
Provenance: From a Private French Collection
This vibrant image depicts Radha and Krishna participating in the Indian festival Holi, a celebration that begins on the evening of the first full moon between late February and mid March and extends into the next day, marking the commencement of spring. The first night is typically known as Holika Dahan, where people gather around bonfires to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The origin of this event begins with the evil demon king Hiranyakshapu, who considered himself supreme above all of the gods and devas. Despite this, his son, Prahlad, chose to worship Vishnu, dishonoring his father. Hiranyakshapu knew that he could not have a disloyal son, and plotted with his demon sister Holika to kill him. Holika say Prahlad on her lap before a bonfire and threw both of them in, believing that she would be protected from the fire with her magic shawl. Upon entering the inferno, the shawl blew onto Prahlad and protected him while Holika was consumed by the flames. Vishnu soon after took the form of Narasimha to vanquish Hiranyakshapu and appoint Prahlad as the rightful king. This narrative emphasises the superiority of good over evil, and the importance of devotion to the true gods.
The day after the full moon is what is commonly known as Holi, when colored pigments are thrown about and water guns and balloons douse participants. It is believed that this tradition began with Radha and Krishna, when Krishna was feeling insecure about his paramore’s fair skin. When the god came to his mother with concerns about his dark blue complexion, she told him to put color on Radha’s face in order to be rid of his insecurities. When he did this, the two were united as a divine couple. Hence, there is a duality to the festival of Holi: it is a celebration of love, and a celebration of good prevailing over evil.
The present work places Krishna and Radha in the center of a terrace, gazing lovingly at each other despite the colors raining down on them. Gopis surround the couple, some spraying them with water and gulal (powdered pigment) while the other cowherdesses serenade the group with musical instruments. The red colored pigment is traditionally one of the most popular colors employed in Holi, symbolizing love and fertility, adding a dimension of meaning to the scene.
The Elephant Meghabaran Goes on a Rampage India, Kishangarh c. 1800 Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
The Elephant Meghabaran Goes on a Rampage India, Kishangarh c. 1800 Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper 8 1/4 x 8 in. (21 x 20.2 cm.)
A large elephant named Meghabaran has broken free of his restraining chains and chases his frightened handlers up into the branches of a tree while his mahouts try to subdue him with a goad and swirling fireworks. In the middle distance tiny figures of riders on swaybacked horses are seen galloping to the hunt accompanied by runners, while on the crest of a nearby hillock, a nobleman holds court beneath a canopy. Behind the hillock emerges a procession led by a tame elephant and in the farthest distance figures are seen climbing up the path of a steep hill toward what appears to be the indomitable Kishangarh fortress built by Maharaja Roop Singh, whose name is inscribed on the verso of the painting.
The painting is remarkable for its panoramic composition incorporating several different scenes within a receding perspective, a convention that had its origins in earlier Mughal prototypes. The elephant, with his elongated body bedecked with bells and his face decorated with henna, is boldly executed in the distinctive, exaggerated Kishangarh style favored throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries. His powerful, robust form is deftly juxtaposed with the miniscule, delicately rendered figures in the background. As Stuart Cary Welch remarks, “… at Kishangarh, the most striking representations tend to be the mysterious and unique ones,” S.C. Welch, Indian Drawings and Painted Sketches, New York, 1976, p. 118.
Krishna shares a drink with Radha India, Kishangarh c. 1800 Gouache Heightened with Gold on Paper
Krishna shares a drink with Radha India, Kishangarh c. 1800 Gouache Heightened with Gold on Paper 12 1/4 x 10 in. (32 x 25.5 cm.)
The couple meets at dusk on a terrace overlooking a canal as a boat passes in the background. This tender scene illustrates the divine love that permeates between Radha and Krishna. Radha is often considered to be Krishna’s favorite gopi who was brought away from the other cowherdesses to be alone with him; here, they stand around the lovers, fanning them with a fly whisk and giving offerings. The gopis are not overcome with jealousy towards Radha, as they are grateful and filled with joy whenever they are privileged to be in Krishna’s presence. Radha does not have her own drink, preferring to share what belongs to Krishna. She tugs sensuously on Krishna’s robe, not only signaling her affection for the god, but also her status as his beloved. Meanwhile, across the river, crowds enjoy a palace garden, oblivious to Krishna’s gathering of cowherdesses nearby. Sawant Singh – poet, patron of the arts, and ruler of Kishangarh during the mid-18th century – encouraged the signature Kishangarh style through his patronage. Some of these paintings depicting his own poems, the present example likely one of these illustrations. This scene is reminiscent of an earlier work in the collection of the National Museum in New Delhi that was inspired by the poetry of Sawant Singh, wherein Krishna presents flowers to Radha in the presence of the Gopis (Illustrated in M.S. Randhawa, Kishangarh Painting, 1980, pl. 4.). For more on Kishangarh painting, see V. Mathur, Marvels of Kishangarh Paintings, 1999.
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Asia Week NY 2019
Arcane Masters: A Curated Exhibition of Indian and Himalayan Art
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