Amy Lin of Saffronart explores the significance of Krishna in the Mewar miniature painting tradition
New York: One of the most fascinating types of ancient painting is the Mewar school of Indian miniatures that continues to baffle viewers today with its brash display of love and sexuality. Unlike princely portraits from the Mughal courts, paintings from the Rajasthani courts depict heroes and heroines in various stages of vigorous romance and passionate love. The most celebrated couple is undeniably the Hindu god Krishna and his beloved Radha. For centuries, poets and artists across India have recreated their passion in both painting and literature. Just like poetry that’s laden with symbolic meaning, paintings also include symbolic objects such as lotus flowers and swirling clouds.
Collectibles Antiques India’s Auction of Indian Antiquities, powered by Saffronart, features a set of beautiful Mewar paintings of Krishna and Radha from the poems of the Raskpriya series. These stunning paintings depict the heavenly lovers in various engagements of courtly love. A distinct simplistic and robust style contrasts with elaborate details in the fashionable dresses and vegetation. The figures with their bright eyes and bold colors command attention from the viewer to closely decipher the scenes.
The Krishna and Radha stories were made popular by the poet Kesava Das of Orchha in his Raskpriya of 1591. Krishna is believed to be the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He is the protector of love and divine joy, usually depicted as a mischievous boy, a flute playing shepherd or a princely youth. His divine love is his childhood friend Radha, who is the incarnate of the goddess Lakshmi. Together, they represent the essence of love, devotion and aesthetics. The fables of Krishna appear across different Hindu philosophies but it is the playful anecdotes of Raskpriya that became inspirations for generations of artists to come.
Artistic creativity in the Mewar Kingdom (present day Rajasthan) flourished during the 17th and 18th centuries. It came at a time when the Mughal invasion was sweeping across Northern India and the Mewar Kingdom was striving for its sovereignty. Under the patronage of Maharana Jagat Singh I, a new style of bold colors, simplified outlines and primitive renderings of the backgrounds developed. This vigorous and expressive style harks back to the native land of Mewar, devoid of Mughal influence.
Jagat Singh I was a devotee of Krishna and the themes of passion and devotion lend themselves well at court which can easily translate to loyalty for the Rajput land. Krishna in the eyes of the artists became a Mewar noble, pursuing his Radha and freely engaging in passionate lovemaking. He is every bit a Rajput prince with his fashionable Mewar clothing and a robust figure that appear in stark contrast to his delicate depictions in Mughal miniatures. Through prose, poetry and painting, the Mewars bestowed their hopes and aspirations in Krishna, the symbol of divine joy and devotion.