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Two events in Mumbai will pay homage to Lord Krishna

Lord Krishna is on Mumbai's mind  as two events pay tribute: a book launch and an art exhibition

Bhagvata Goshti will celebrate the deity in a special exhibition that features artworks based on the 10th book of Srimad Bhagavatam

From miniature paintings to bronze and woodworks, Krishna has always entranced artists across generations with his leelas or tales.

An 18th century Kota miniature is part of the Bhagvat Goshti exhibition at Krishna Gallery at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. The painting depicts the scene when Krishna, in his playfulness, steals the clothes of bathing gopis (milkmaids) of Vrindavan
An 18th century Kota miniature is part of the Bhagvat Goshti exhibition at Krishna Gallery at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. The painting depicts the scene when Krishna, in his playfulness, steals the clothes of bathing gopis (milkmaids) of Vrindavan

"Srimad Bhagavatam or the Bhagvata Purana is a 9th century Vaishnava (followers of Vishnu) text that brought the Vaishnava theology and aesthetic into a text form. The tenth chapter, called the Dashama Skanda is the story of the life of Krishna, from his birth to when he leaves Vrindavan. The text is characterised by the leelas with the gopis (milkmaids) of Vrindavan. It includes his childish pranks such as stealing butter, romantic interludes with dancing with the gopis and being the destroyer of various demons. The central issue of the 10th book is Shringar Bhakti. For the first time, a religious text presented ecstatic adoration of god through amorous playing and gives justification for it," says Dr Harsha Dehejia, the curator of the exhibition, Bhagvat Goshti.

17th century bronze Venugopal
17th century bronze Venugopal

Dehejia adds that the book talks about Krishna worship not through dry, arid rituals but through song and dance. "Krishna says don’t waste time on religious rites and rituals but show devotion through mellifluous, honey-like love and companionship. The book showcases how throughout his stay at Vrindavan, the gopis see him in his human form, as a handsome, young person who plays the flute and has a playful attitude. "It ends with raas leela or the circular dance on the day of Sharad Poonam when he shows his divinity and is present in multiple forms with each gopi, and then he disappears," says the Krishna scholar. Through this, he adds, Krishna indicated that he is available to everyone and one has to find him in their heart and the serenity of the mind. It is this essence and his leelas in Vrindavan that have been brought out in various art forms of India. The exhibition will feature paintings, bronzes, wood and stone works, fabrics and scrolls, all highlighting Krishna’s life from Dashma Skanda.

A miniature from Rajasthan depicting raas leela where Krishna shows his divine self
A miniature from Rajasthan depicting raas leela where Krishna shows his divine self

Dehejia says that Krishna first appeared in art in 16th century in Gujarat. The use then spread to Malwa, Rajasthan, the Pahari school of art, Bengal, Odisha and even in Assam because of saint Sankardev. In south, Krishna is seen through bronze sculptures. Krishna is not just a muse in fine arts but performing arts, too, as Krishna leelas are presented in various dance forms such as Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam. "All of this is because the devotion was not supposed to be inward, secret contemplative but a public celebration," says Dehejia. The opening of the exhibition will see an Odissi performance to live music by Prachi Mehta Jariwala, titled, Rasas of Krishna. "In the sattras or monasteries of Assam, there are no images of Krishna, but the book is richly celebrated and worshipped like the Sikhs do," says Dehejia.

Exhibition opens to public on January 21, 10.15 am to 6 pm Dance performance
On: Today, 6.30 pm
At: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Fort.
Call: 22844484

The book Gates of the Lord: A Tradition of Krishna Paintings, edited by Madhuvanti Ghose discusses the traditional artists from the town of Nathdwara, and focuses on their glorious past as well as their present

In 2012, when Madhuvanti Ghose, Alsdorf associate curator of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan and Islamic Art at the Art Institute of Chicago visited Nathdwara, she was disappointed with the kind of art she saw being sold at the bazaar.

Gval Darshan, First quarter of the 19th century, Nathdwara, Rajasthan, from Amit Ambalal Collection. Photo: Anuj Ambalal
Gval Darshan, First quarter of the 19th century, Nathdwara, Rajasthan, from Amit Ambalal Collection. Photo: Anuj Ambalal

"I had been going to Nathdwara for many years; my mother would drag me there. Later, I studied the Pushtimarg community and their art. This time, I saw cheap replicas in the markets of the temple town. When I spent more time with the artists, I realised that their next generation wasn’t too keen on continuing the art form. As someone who has researched the subject, I asked myself ‘what am I doing about this situation?’. That’s when I decided to have an exhibition of their artworks," says Ghose

Pichvai for Gopashtami, Gujarat, from the TAPI Collection.  Pics courtesy/Art Institute of Chicago
Pichvai for Gopashtami, Gujarat, from the TAPI Collection. Pics courtesy/Art Institute of Chicago

In 2015, the Art Institute of Chicago brought together over 100 artworks from private and public collections in India and the United States, in an exhibition called, Gates of the Lord: The Tradition of Krishna Paintings that explored the unique visual culture of the Pushtimarg, a community based in Nathdwara, Rajasthan. Founded in the 16th century by the saint and philosopher Shri Vallabhacharya (1479–1531), the religious community is dedicated to the devotion of Shrinathji, a divine image of Krishna as a seven-year-old child, by the legacy of miniature paintings created as a record of such worship. The exhibition showcased centuries of pichvais (textile hangings) and miniature paintings created by the community in devotion of Srinathji. "The idea of the book came about as it has a much longer life than the exhibition. These artists feel that their works are not rewarded and recognised. The book and the exhibition are an attempt to motivate the younger generation to preserve the art that has been passed on by generations for centuries," shares Ghose.

Pratham Milan, Shrinathji Revealing Himself to Vallabhacharya on Mount Govardhan, early 19th century, Nathdwara, Rajasthan
Pratham Milan, Shrinathji Revealing Himself to Vallabhacharya on Mount Govardhan, early 19th century, Nathdwara, Rajasthan

The book comprises drawings, pichvais, paintings, and historic photographs borrowed chiefly from two major private collections in India, the renowned TAPI Collection of Praful and Shilpa Shah (Surat) and the Amit Ambalal Collection (Ahmedabad) along with contributions from Kalyan Krishna, Tryna Lyons, Anita B Shah and Emilia Bachrach.

Gates of the Lord: A Tradition of Krishna Paintings, edited by Madhuvanti Ghose,  Mapin, in conjunction with the Art Institute of Chicago, R2,950. Available at Artisans’ (Kala Ghoda) and all leading online and offline stores.
Gates of the Lord: A Tradition of Krishna Paintings, edited by Madhuvanti Ghose, Mapin, in conjunction with the Art Institute of Chicago, Rs 2,950. Available at Artisans’ (Kala Ghoda) and all leading online and offline stores.

"Today after so many years, the artists have formed their own association which hosts events, workshops and are starting their own website. This initiative that they are at the forefront of is something that we have hoped for. We also want to educate people about the authenticity of the art produced by them as part of their seva for Srinathji as opposed to the shiny memorabilia available in the market. Their art takes longer to make and people don’t have the patience to commission these artistes, while the fake paintings made with faux jewels, sunmica and Fevicol are cheaper," concludes Ghose.

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