Krishna Lifts Mount Govardhana
Page from a dispersed series of the Bhagavata Purana (Story of the Lord Vishnu)

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Geography:
Made in Mankot, Jammu and Kashmir, India, Asia

Date:
c. 1700-1725

Medium:
Opaque watercolor, gold, and silver-colored paint on paper

Dimensions:
Image: 9 × 6 1/8 inches (22.9 × 15.6 cm) Sheet: 11 3/8 × 8 3/8 inches (28.9 × 21.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
2004-149-31

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Alvin O. Bellak Collection, 2004

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Label:
Krishna's cowherd friends were preparing to worship the god Indra, Lord of Storms, who gives life-supporting water. Krishna asked them instead to worship Mount Govardhana, and he became the spirit of the mountain to receive their offerings. Indra became angry at this usurpation and sent down a dreadful storm. Krishna lifted Mount Govardhana like an umbrella over his friends and their cattle, supporting it for seven days. Blue-skinned and saffron-clad, Krishna dominates this scene in his familiar pose as the cowherd lord. His white-skinned brother Balarama stands to his left, his graying stepfather Nanda to his right. They hold up flimsy cowherders' staffs which, thanks to Krishna's divine power, support the mountain's bulk.

Additional information:
  • PublicationIntimate Worlds: Indian Paintings from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection

    Krishna dominates the center of this scene that depicts his youthful feat of lifting Mount Govardhana to shelter his cowherd village of Vrindavan from a devastating rainstorm invoked by the god Indra, Lord of Storms (see also Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-66).1 Blue-skinned and saffron-clad, wearing an elaborate court sash, blithely whistling on his flute, one sandaled foot crossed at the front--Krishna appears here in his typical iconic posture as Venugopala, the Cowherd Lord, worshiped in shrines and homes across India. His white-skinned brother Balarama and another cowherd stand to his left, his graying stepfather, Nanda, to his right. They hold up thin poles with handles, the flimsy cowherds’ staffs that, thanks to Krishna’s power, can support the page-spanning bulk of Govardhana.

    The mountain itself appears as a dish of flesh-pink rocks spotted with trees and shrubs. A host of surprised animals--cobras, antelope, tigers, a leopard, and various birds--inhabit its crags, underscoring both the suddenness and the gentleness of the god’s action. Above the mountain, the rain pounds down in unbroken lines, and dark storm clouds rage across the indigo sky punctuated by bright gold snakes of lightning. The land to the horizon is black, but below the mountain it is dark green, shadowed but peaceful in its haven. The colors are intensely saturated but not limited to the primary; an impressive array of pinks, ranging from lavender to flesh-orange, is used.

    On either side of the composition two village women gaze upward at the mountain as they raise their hennaed fingers to their mouths in amazement. Two cowherd boys kneel, each holding a hand above his head as if to ward off the lowering mass. Overlaying the figures are four cows, smiling in their worship of the Cowherd God. To the far right appears Indra, identifiable by the many eyes spotting his body. He presses his hands together in a gesture of adoration toward Krishna: Indra has called down the torrent, but he yields to defeat and, with the others, recognizes the paramount power of the Lord incarnate.

    The Bhagavata Purana series of which this page was a part2 is believed to have been painted by a workshop located in the tiny kingdom of Mankot (now called Ramkot), in northeasterly Jammu district. Although no records of painters living in Mankot have as yet been discovered,3 the connection is made for this series by several factors. First, pages from this manuscript, together with pages of an earlier, closely related illustrated copy of the text along with many portraits of the Mankot rulers, were in the collection of a descendant of the royal house of Mankot until the late 1950s.4 Unlike the vertical format of this Bhagavata Purana, the slightly earlier series displays larger, horizontal compositions. The artist of this “vertical” series took the compositions designed for the horizontal pages almost directly, only minimizing them to fit into the new orientation, excluding in the process all elements not immediately pertinent to the narrative. The Mankot attribution is made firmer by a second bit of evidence: the vasli (layered paper) on which one of the “horizontal” Bhagavata Purana pages was painted includes as its back layer a letter written to the Mankot raja Mahipat Dev (reigned 1650/60 - 1680/90),5 whose own portraits are so close in style as to be arguably from the same hand.6 Darielle Mason, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 94-95.

    1. The painting is inscribed in the lower left border: “33”; in the top border: “govardhara dhar[i]ya [the lifting of Govardhana].”
    2. The pages, of which at least seventeen are known (and another nine if the Dashavatara pages are taken as part of the set; see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-32), are fairly widely dispersed, although a number remain in collections in India.
    3. B. N. Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Supplement 38 of Artibus Asiae. Exh. cat. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1992., p. 96 and especially p. 99 n. 4.
    4. Tikka Indra Vijay Singh, then living in a village in Kangra district. See M. S. Randhawa, “Paintings from Mankot,” Lalit Kala, no. 6 (October 1956), pp. 72-75; and W. B. Archer. Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills: A Survey and History of Pahari Miniature Painting. 2 vols. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet; Dehli: Oxford University Press, 1973, vol. 1, p. 370. This page, however, was not part of Singh’s collection; it is known to have come from the collection of Raja Dhrub Dev Chand of Lambagraon, descendant of the Kangra rulers.
    5. B. N. Goswamy first discovered this information and published it in The Bhägavata Paintings from Mankot, Lalit Kala Series, Portfolio No. 17 (New Delhi: Lalit Kala Akademi, 1978); he reproduces the letter itself in B. N. Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Supplement 38 of Artibus Asiae. Exh. cat. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1992, p. 97, fig. 30. The date of the raja’s reign is from W. G. Archer. Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills: A Survey and History of Pahari Miniature Painting. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet; Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1973., vol. 1, p. 369.
    6. B. N. Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer. (Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Supplement 38 of Artibus Asiae. Exh. cat. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1992, pp. 96-125) call this artist the “Master at the Court of Mankot.” A very closely related second image of Krishna lifting Govardhana in vertical format, now in the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh, was published by W. G. Archer. (Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills: A Survey and History of Pahari Miniature Painting. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet; Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1973, vol. 2, p. 292, Mankot no. 26). It differs very slightly from the Bellak painting, with, for example, slightly thinner faces and rain shown as lines of white dots. Archer (ibid., vol. 1, p. 377, Mankot no. 26) called it more “sensitive and delicate in treatment” than the other “vertical” pages, leading him to speculate that there were two “vertical” Bhagavata Purana series from the same workshop, and that the Chandigarh page was from the earlier. What is more likely, however, is that the Chandigarh page comes from the same series but shows the Krishna incarnation as part of the Dashavatara section (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-32), while the Bellak page was part of the story of Krishna itself. Unfortunately Archer does not include the upper border, so the inscription, or lack thereof, is obscured.