Rao Ram Singh I of Kota Plays Nanda (recto)
Krishna Enthroned (verso)
Possibly a page from a dispersed series of the Bhagavata Purana (Story of the Lord Vishnu)

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Kota, Rajasthan, India, Asia

c. 1700

Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, mounted on paper board

Image (a): 8 1/4 × 6 1/4 inches (21 × 15.9 cm) Image (b): 7 13/16 × 6 1/4 inches (19.8 × 15.9 cm) Sheet: 11 1/4 × 9 5/16 inches (28.6 × 23.7 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

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

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Indian painters found many clever ways to please their patrons and add layers of meaning to their works. Here several toddlers play in front of a seated man who holds a blue-skinned child on his lap. The child is the young Krishna and the man is Nanda, Krishna's adoptive father and chief of the cowherd community in which Krishna was raised. However, the artist has given Nanda the facial features of his own patron, Rao Ram Singh I of Kota (1696-1707). By "becoming" Nanda, the Kota ruler also becomes the protector of the infant Krishna. In reality, Krishna was often considered the true ruler of Kota, and the kings styled themselves as his deputies.

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

    The infant Krishna, his brother Balarama, and four of their toddler playmates are scampering beneath the watchful eye of Nanda, chief of the cowherding community to which they all belong. Krishna has clambered into Nanda’s lap to claim the cache of sweets that his foster father has tried to conceal. Playing with the golden rattles and golden sticks that are symbols of the cowherds, the other toddlers are only dimly aware of the reward that Krishna has seized. Nanda supervises their general bewilderment from a vantage of padded comfort. Seated on a cushion and supported by a bolster, he is attended by a servant holding a chauri (fly whisk). This royal emblem is a clue to his actual identity, for within the scheme of this picture, he is not only Nanda, the foster father of Krishna, but also Rao Ram Singh I (reigned 1695 - 1707) of Kota, the ruler for whom this painting was made.1 The artist has used Ram Singh’s features as a stand-in for Nanda’s, a flattering Kota convention that was also mined for gold in other periods.

    With its richly colored tiles and picturesquely silhouetted balconies and domes, Nanda’s house is the spitting image of the Kota palace. Yashoda, the foster mother of Krishna, is churning butter in the middle distance, framed by a room open to one side. Yashoda is accompanied by a maid who offers assistance, and by two other women who chatter uselessly on her opposite side. It has been suggested that these women are the aggrieved mothers of the infant gopas (cowherds),2 who have come to complain of the impish pranks by which Krishna has pestered their entire community. These misdeeds--including pilferage, vandalism, intentional incontinence, and the eating of dirt--are catalogued in several well-loved passages from the Bhagavata Purana, the vast Hindu chronicle of the god Vishnu and his numerous incarnations, including Krishna, the eighth incarnation.

    The specific passage Daniel J. Ehnbom believes this painting illustrates is found in Book 10, Chapter 8, Verses 27-31.3 However, although it may indeed depict these lines, it bears no text to confirm this identification. And the folio has been pasted onto a later album page, leaving no clue as to its original purpose or format. Moreover, even if this painting does illustrate the Bhagavata Purana passage cited above, it does so in a remarkably vague and undramatic way. The two women, for example, have not stepped forward to confront Yashoda directly, as described in the text, but merely stand to one side, simpering to one another.

    In any event, narrative pith and textual fidelity were not the artist’s foremost concerns. His picture is really a painted valentine for Ram Singh I. In the guise of Nanda, the rao presides at the center of the picture; its arduously constructed lines and pretty surface patterns only underscore his primal importance. And there he sits, radiant and relaxed: Ram Singh I, the earthly support of his Infant Lord.

    When this painting was mounted as an album page in Jaipur in the late eighteenth century, it was furnished with its present rather coarsely decorated borders in the late Mughal style. A late eighteenth-century Jaipur painting of only very ordinary quality, depicting the adult Krishna seated on a throne, is mounted on the reverse.4 Terence McInerney, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 162-163.

    1. Daniel J. Ehnbom in Spink & Son Ltd., London. Indian Miniature Painting. November 25 - December 18, 1987, p. 42, no. 18. For a painting from a Rukmini Mangala series in which a portrait of Ram Singh I is used as a stand-in for Rukmini’s father, now in the Municipal Museum, Allahabad, see W. G. Archer. Indian Painting in Bundi and Kotah. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1959, p. 53 n. 1, fig. 33. For other portraits of Ram Singh I, see Milo Cleveland Beach, Rajput Painting at Bundi and Kota (Ascona: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 1974), figs. 60, 67 (private collection); and Stuart Cary Welch, ed. Gods, Kings, and Tigers: The Art of Kotah. Exh. cat. Munich: Prestel, 1997, p. 45, fig. 7 (collection of Mr. and Mrs. Clark Blaise).
    2. Ehnbom in Spink & Son Ltd., London. Indian Miniature Painting. November 25 - December 18, 1987, p. 42, no. 18.
    3. Ibid. See also Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, The Srimad-Bhagvatam, trans. J. M. Sanyal, 2nd ed. (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1973), vol. 2, pp. 34-35.
    4. For other Kota paintings from the same Jaipur album, see Spink & Son Ltd., London. Indian Miniature Painting. November 25 - December 18, 1987, pp. 44-51, nos. 19-21.