In evoking Krishna, we revere divine playfulness and spiritual revelry in a world marked by materialistic excesses and untamed desires.
Say the name Krishna and the word that flashes across your mind is Gopala. Janmashtami brings back Lord Krishna into our lives and minds. It speaks of the power and importance of Bhakti in a world of materialism and excessive wants and desires. It reminds us that Krishna is divinity and it is the decoration of the soul that matters and not decorating ourselves. A beautiful shloka in Sanskrit gives us the must-lived values of ornaments:
Hastasya bhushnam danam
Satyam kantasya bhushnam
Shrotasya bhushnam shastram
Bhushnayi kim prayojnam
(The ornament of the hand is charity
The ornament of the throat is truth
The ornament of the ear is to listen and gain knowledge of the shastras Of what use are worldly ornaments?)
The foundation of this shloka rests on the phenomenon and perception of the true nature of divinity and true spirituality without materialistic pursuits, and that is when we think of Krishna Lila. The term lila denotes ''divine sporting'' in Hindu tradition. The range of its connotations include: the activity of a divine descent during his or her time on Earth, the working of the Universe as divine play and also the divine will as it works in an individual's life. A closer look at his life reflects Lord Krishna's love for cows and the Gopas (cowherds) who were his friends. Two years ago, a brilliant show at the Metmuseum in New York had miniatures from a distinguished Kronos Collection called "Divine Pleasures".
Krishna: Cows and Gopas
Some of the miniatures dealt with the subject of Krishna and the Gopas. To look at any work of Krishna and Gopas is to glimpse the spirit of camaraderie and playfulness in Krishna's youth. And, how beautiful and youthful is the timeless and universal game of hide and seek. But we cannot think of the Gopas without the cows.
They recall the words from the Bhagavad Gita. Lord Krishna states in Chapter 10, Verse 28:
Dhenunam asmi kamadhuk
(Among cows, I am the wish-fulfilling cow)
In most miniatures dealing with Krishna and the Gopas, there are a host of beautiful cows created as creatures of love and adoration, and painted in the mood of the sublime connection between Lord and creatures. In Hide and Seek, Krishna playing a game with the Gopas, the scene is set on a full moon night. Lord Krishna is seated in the centre, one Gopa covers his eyes while the others are running to hide. The cows that sit in the foreground seem to be in absolute reverie, comfortable to be a part of this paradisal duet in which the mood is one of love and sharing. The colours of the cows and their poise is what draws our attention even as the entire scene is bedecked with flowering trees and we catch one Gopa hiding atop in the branches.
One famous work from the Rajput school is Krishna and the Gopas entering the Forest – it is considered to be one of the moments of Krishna playing hide and seek with the cowherds, the Gopas. The typically dense foliage of trees and the lotus pond with water birds at the foreground is a symbol of the paradisal haunts that often accompanied the stories and compositions that the artists depicted. Intriguing too is the rich costume of the Gopas, suggesting they belonged to princely kingdoms while they were actually humble cowherds.
Krishna and Radha
Historical annotations suggest that everything that occurs in Krishna Lila is a part of the divine sporting and has as its end bliss, ananda. In relation to Vishnu's avatara Krishna, the term lila becomes all the more meaningful because of his joyous life as a naughty child and as an amorous adolescent among the cowherds of Braj.
The beauty of these works is how Krishna is the cynosure of all eyes, even of some of the cattle who are wide awake while some are asleep. In images of Krishna and Radha, we must note the overall tone with its dark-green background and overall black-grey foreground and sombre tones, while the little daubs of red and yellow only belong to Krishna's clothes. Krishna and Radha are either pictured in the night with clouds gathering or in broad daylight.
The colours and the contours of the Gopas and the cows who sit close to Krishna are always a testimony to devotion and faith of the Creator. Also of deep devotion is how the cows gaze at Krishna with faith and love. The colours used in these works are heady and haunting. The handling of the subjects, their intricate detailing and vertical strokes also add to the beauty. The Curator and collector Kosak of the Metropolitan Museum said, a work of art must enliven and inspire, and that is what any miniature of Krishna works does. It also heralds the birth of Lord Krishna on the auspicious occasion of Janmashtami.
While Krishna and Radha in the forest is a work of romantic divinity, the works of Krishna and the Gopis spell a magical narrative. In artistic terms, these paintings present a rare degree of perfection mixed with a moody tranquillity, like a lyrical poem told through colours. The lines, the free-hand movements, the sketches, the colours, the shades are a representation of deep emotions and bhakti. Krishna Embraces Gopis 1760 is a panoramic miniature with 35 Gopis that is engaging.
Ultimately, in the charm of Mughal miniature techniques and the paradisal scenery of the mountains, skies and vegetation, there is also a deeply ecological echo that underlines kindness to animals and living in harmony that makes these miniatures come alive and blissful even today. If Lord Krishna loved cows, so must we. In the love for cows, we must remember as a nation that they need to be looked after, loved and fed. There is so much to the name Gopala!