In the Srimad Bhagavata, Krishna inaugurated a festival of love, a tradition which has continued for thousands of years in poetry and painting, writes HARSHA V DEHEJIA

The Srimad Bhagavata is a landmark in our religious, philosophic and aesthetic traditions. For it is there that Krishna inaugurates a festival of love which then continues for a thousand years in poetry and painting. The Bhagavata emphasises sensual affirmation, for how can there be shringara without sensuality? In this festival of love in the Bhagavata, sensual beauty is not limited just to the gopi or cowherd girl or the nayika, for Krishna is also a repository of beauty and sensual charm. While his flute and the mellifluous melody that arises from it is the main vehicle of his sweet love,Krishna also possesses a distinct physical and visual presence in the Bhagavata. The gopis who are in an amorous relation with Krishna find his looks irresistible, for they were attracted to him as a human and not as a god.The Bhagavata describes him as a natavaravapuh, one who is charming as an accomplished actor, in the following lines: ‘Possessed of a charming personality like an accomplished actor, graced with a crown of peacock feathers, his ears decorated with karnikara flowers, clad in brilliant garments, yellow like molten gold, wearing the Vaijayanti garland made of five different flowers.’ X.21.5 In a celebrated invocatory verse by the 15th century poet Bilvamangala, Krishna is described as one who has a tilak of kasturi on his forehead, the kasutabha ornament on his nose, the navamouktikam on his nose, his body bedecked with fragrant sandalwood. This leaves little doubt that Krishna has a strong sensual and charming presence in Vrindavana and it was this that was to inform the kalam, pen, of the artists in depicting Krishna in miniature paintings that followed. The artist of the Rajput royal ateliers did not have to rely on his imagination to depict Krishna in the paintings, for he followed the set descriptions of Krishna’s image in the various texts and transformed it into paintings in many royal ateliers in Rajasthan and the Pahari kingdoms for five hundred years. He is the same whether he is dallying with the gopis in Vrindavana as a cowherd or engaged in elegant pursuits of love in a courtly ambience as a nayaka in Ritikavya like the Rasikapriya.The yellow pitamber, the vanamala, a peacock feather on his head, his flute in his hands, and above all, ghanashyam or his blue-black colour are the visual hallmarks of Krishna. These are his adornments, and even more, these evoke Krishna’s presence and persona. It is important to note while the gopis and the nayikas change and are seen in different costumes and moods in poetry and painting, Krishna is unchanging, for after all he is the purusha and the Brahmn, the immutable ground of all being, the ever present, Paramatman. The various adornments of Krishna are a paradigm of the joys of mellifluous spring, the yellow of mango blossoms and the swarm of honey bees, the festive beauty of the earth that is in bloom, of verdant nature in love with everything around, of perfumed winds that intoxicate lovers and of peacocks dancing at the sight of the blueblack rain clouds of Ashadha and the notes of his flute are a whisper of his prana, his life breath, and the essence of his very being.

Streams Of Honey

And the call of that flute is his invitation and evocation to discover and realise our own atman and the indwelling madhura dhara, the streams of honey within ourselves. Krishna’s adornments are thus not just decorations, they are an atmadarshan, visual knowledge of our own atman, our true and ultimate selves.

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