Monsoon Man Krishna / सावनाधिराज कृष्ण
Krishna’s life embodies an inseparable connection with the elements
From love, to ecology to discovering the inner song...
Krishna is an intrinsic part of the Monsoon experience, by many virtues: his very birth on a dark Bhaadon night, full of torrential rain sets the tone for his continuing romance with the elements. Repeatedly through his life, whether it be the story of Kaliya Mardan, Govardhan Leela and many others; he foregrounds a love for the earth, the elements; and an abiding connection with ecology, ideas that the Monsoon season in India embodies. Furthermore, if Monsoon is the time of love, and longing: the Ritu-Raaj which is the happy playground of the Ras-Raaj Shringaar: Krishna leaves no stone unturned to explore love in its most expansive forms, not just in the monsoon, but through the seasons. No surprise then, that we accord Shri Krishna the beloved title of Monsoon Man!
Our Krishna curation consecutively focusses on two visual idioms revolving around depicting his life and stories. Firstly, we explore कृष्ण-छाप (Krishna’s Imprint): tales of his divine personage through the medium of prints from Ravi Varma Press, other 19th / 20th century printing presses; and later day Calendar art prints.
Secondly, we delve into श्रीनाथजी दर्शन (Viewing Shrinathji): some unique and intimate darshans from the Nathdwara school. Bypassing the foreground of the more popular large format Pichvais; we look at smaller format paper works, including some that embody the process based idea of artists’ sketches.
कृष्ण-छाप (Krishna’s Imprint)
The print curation starts with मुख चंद्र : Moon Face; presenting two iconic visages of Krishna. We follow up with बाल कृष्ण : Krishna’s Childhood; where we are let into a series of three images, all exploring the same scene, but with very different artistic persuasions. यौवन लीला : Youth Pastimes is a small window into the gentleman’s romantic affairs, and his dalliance with the Gopis and Shrimati Radha. Closing the print curation is विग्रह : Various Forms of Shri Krishna; where we delve into the expansive manner in which he is imaged in different manifestations.
मुख चंद्र : Moon Face
Opening the print curation, we look at two arresting visages of Krishna, designed to create a mesmerising effect. Moon Face 1, attributed to Calendar Manufacturing Co. Bombay, date unknown (estimated to be early 20th c.; signed 1936 on the reverse by an unknown personage, possibly the owner); presents a happy meeting of the two visual worlds of the Occident and the Orient. The subject is of course very Indian, subscribing to traditional iconography; but the rendering is heavily inspired by European painting, as we encounter a very fair Krishna with European facial features, a dainty stylised crown, glowing halo, robed very properly like a gentleman, which he is not wont to be! This amalgam creates a very endearing image: a perfect note to open the Krishna chapter...
Moon Face 2, also bears European influences in imaging his divine presence, but presents a more well-rounded approach to his depiction, which is perhaps closer to the vernacular idiom. Krishna here, bedazzled with glitter added on the print, is encapsulated in the cosmic sound Om: a reminder that the form is meant to take us to the ultimate formless, eternal state. Compare the lavish mukut (crown) here with the restrained one from Moon Face 1; and observe how here he holds his clothing in a carefree manner, unlike the careful drape of the previous image. The source of the image is unknown, but it is stamped with the dealer’s information on the reverse: “K.T. Ramaswamy Iyer and Sons. Handloom Swadeshi Cloth Merchants, Madura”; date unknown: estimated to be early 20th century.
बाल कृष्ण : Krishna’s childhood
Moving on from these emphatic and intimate sightings which set the ground for the Krishna story to unfurl, we now approach images of his childhood. His childhood leelas can extend to infinity, but for this curation, we chose to present three different visual iterations of the same scene from his childhood. The Ravi Varma Press has an abiding impact on how other similar printing presses in early 20th century imaged religious themes; and we get a glimpse of this in this series.
Bal Krishna 1 can be ascertained to be the original predecessor of the series, executed in the masterly style of Ravi Varma Press, but in this case designed to cater to the South Indian audience (published under license from Ravi Varma Press by R. Ethirajah and Sons, Glass Merchants, Chennai). In addition we also find the artist's name inscribed on the image: C.G. Ramanujam; highlighting how printing processes involved several stakeholders, which often portrayed their regional affiliations. The scene: Krishna is seated on a throne in his palace, flanked by Yashodha and Nanda to the left, and an attendant to the right. The figure of Krishna with its very South-Indian jewellery is inspired by the robustness of the Tanjore style; while the other figures are typical of the Ravi Varma coalescence of Indian subjects depicted in the realistic European oil painting style. Krishna conforms to the classical image of Bal Gopal: holding a pot of butter in one hand, and a ball of butter in his other hand. This particular image has a subdued wash-like quality with an amber coloured overcoat (which can be ascribed to the particular impression of the print) that covers the image and subdues the otherwise contrasted colour palette of the work.
Bal Krishna 2 presents the same scene in a flatter style, with lesser realism and infused with a more drawing-like quality; in bold primary hues of yellow, red and green. The flatness of colour makes this closer to the Tanjore style in some ways; and yet the print harnesses the textures and detailing that the contemporary 20th century printing processes afforded. This vintage print is ascribed to the Ravi-Uday Press, Ghatkopar; printed by A.K Joshi and Company, Mumbai.
In Bal Krishna 3, we see the greater agency of R. Ethirajah and Sons, Chennai who earlier leased the license to print Bal Krishna 1; but now feel confident to commission N. Ramaswamy Raju and Sons, artists from Tirupati to create their own version of the classic theme. The classic combination of realism merged with the Tanjore inspired style, with all the basic visual elements intact, is additionally layered with a garrish rendition of the palace, with a not so subtle arched colonnade dominating over the protagonist.
यौवन लीला : Youth Pastimes
We now see the evolution of Shri Krishna into a handsome young man, and the perfect lover that he is known to be. In Krishna Advertising Image, we see his divine personage used in a vintage 20th c. poster for Srivi’s Amla Hair Oil. Printing presses, inspired by the master Ravi Varma himself, very often reconfigured pre-existing imagery to suit different purposes. This is at play here, and as we are lucky to also have the master artwork from which this figure of Krishna was borrowed, in our collection: Sarv Vyapak Krishna, by Chonker Art Studio, Bombay; we can compare notes. The figure of Krishna is lifted from this work, and colourised differently to fit the visual requirements of creating a new poster for hair oil!
This play of borrowing images, and extending their context continues in Radha Krishna; again by the Ravi Varma press. Muralidhar - also in the Red Earth collection, is a classic and charming and now rare rendition of the fluting Krishna set in a natural landscape. In Radha Krishna, we zoom out and see that Krishna is not alone, his dalliance with the flute is actually to appease Radha, who is shown in the मानिनी भाव : full of anger; upset with Krishna. A girlfriend, taller (and wiser?) than Radha, tries to reconcile Radha, drawing her towards Krishna : both are dressed in immaculate flowing drapes.
The circle extends further, again in a Ravi Varma Press print: Raas Leela, as we witness a larger scene of romantic dalliance where Krishna replicates his persona in the Raas playground to dance with all the Gopis simultaneously. The foreground shows musicians with big drums, and the foliaged background features a temple pavilion.
विग्रह : Various Forms of Shri Krishna
For the devotee, the idea of विग्रह : Various Forms of Krishna is very important, because it is not possible to capture the expansive essence of Krishna in one form. Hence, all across the land, we find various manifestations of Krishna and here, in this closing section of prints celebrating Krishna, we explore three such iconic forms.
We start with Jagannath, the tribal deity from Odisha, who was incorporated into the fold of Hinduism, to be variously read as a manifestation of Vishnu / Krishna. This vintage print (source and period unknown) images the trinity of Jagannath, Subhadra and Balaram in a very basic and simple and yet effective manner.
In western India: Dakor, Gujarat; the temple of Krishna as Ranchod-Rai highlights the worldly wisdom and tact of the Monsoon Man. This print (Ravi Vaibhav F.A.L Press, Mumbai / A.K Joshi and Company, Mumbai) sets up Ranchod-Rai in his glamorous abode: his actual temple which merges many architectural styles is further stylised here, presenting a spectacular setting for enshrining Krishna. Hanuman, Garuda and Vishnu flank him celestially.
The third form takes us deep into the heart of Vrindavan, where Bhakti dances everyday in salutation to the divine force. The print (unknown source, and period) images the deity Radha Vallabh, the icon of Krishna established by Shri Hat Harivansh in the 16th century. As part of the influence of the Caitanyte tradition, for the first time, Radha was placed alongside Krishna in the sanctum sanctorum. In some temples, Radha would be in direct view of the devotee, and in yet others she would be hidden, in service to Krishna, and we would see her but she would be entirely covered in her Saree, not giving a direct darshan to the devotee. The Radha Vallabh temple is also inspired by this Caitanyite ethos: Radha is present at the feet of Krishna, but she is not directly visible, covered in textile finery, jewels and an elaborate crown.
The print curation provides just a glimpse into the extravagant world Krishna built around himself, leaving us so many ideas to reflect upon…We continue this everlasting love affair with the Monsoon Man in the next series of Nathdwara paper-works, highlighting charming stylistic affiliations from this important school of art, and many more stories of Krishna.
जय श्री कृष्णा / Glory to Shri Krishna!