Brahma Offers Homage to Krishna
Page from a dispersed series of the Bhagavata Purana (Story of the Lord Vishnu)

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-Agra Region, India, Asia

c. 1570-1575

Opaque watercolor on paper

Image: 5 1/2 × 9 1/2 inches (14 × 24.1 cm) Sheet: 7 1/4 × 10 1/8 inches (18.4 × 25.7 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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In this painting's elaborate composition, the four-headed god Brahma has tested Krishna by kidnapping Krishna's cowherd companions and their cows. Krishna has magically replicated himself to perfectly resemble all the boys and cows and, thanks to his divine nature, the replicas have become even more beloved to the cowherd families than the originals. Brahma capitulates, returns the boys and cows, and honors Krishna as the ultimate divinity. In this work, the essential characters of the story (Krishna, Brahma, and Krishna's brother) appear in a red rectangle, while the cows and cowherds fill the dark landscape to augment the narrative.

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

    Brahma’s spellbinding abduction of cowherd boys and their cattle, and their subsequent mystical reduplication by Krishna, events that preceded the episode depicted in a painting from an earlier series of the Bhagavata Purana (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-6), here form part of a similar illustration. The duplicate youths and cattle have flourished for a year, daily becoming dearer to their families, who intuitively recognize the pervasive presence of their lord. Balarama asks his brother Krishna to explain this phenomenon to him, and Krishna happily obliges. Brahma requires no such explanation, for finding that even he cannot distinguish the real figures he has abducted from Krishna’s replacements, he experiences a vision of each cowherd as Krishna himself. Brahma thereupon prostrates himself before Krishna, arises, and begins to sing his praises.1

    This Isarda Bhagavata Purana painting is less spatially ambitious than Krishna Shares Food with Balarama and the Cowherds During the Rainy Season (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 10). The protagonists—Brahma, Krishna, and Balarama—are sequestered again in the familiar red rectangle, but here the artist does not attempt to disguise the arbitrariness of its shape, which jogs downward to contain Brahma’s standing form, thereby stripping its apparently structural frame of any semblance of logic. Similarly, he places the rectangle without subterfuge, allowing it to float unsupported above the cowherds rather than anchoring it along the common baseline, as is normally done in the Isarda series. He accommodates the many cowherds and cows by reducing the figure scale, and accordingly limits the setting to a lone tree and a rose-tinted band of sky. The figures have the same swelling chest seen throughout the series; because they are seated with their arms lowered, they are not subject to the quirky anatomical problem that plagues some of their counterparts who stand with their arms upraised, namely, the head slipping back to an odd off-center position on the shoulders.2 Only Brahma shows signs of the shortcomings of such a fundamentally segmented conception of the body, as his feet protrude well beyond the axis of his massive trunk and cluster of heads.

    The stylistic consistency among the paintings of the Isarda Bhagavata Purana, which includes facial and figural style, exceeds what we expect from even a tightly knit workshop, and suggests that the series was the work of a single artist. This was certainly a feasible task, for there seem to have been about seventy paintings in all.3 Such a number is dwarfed by the several hundred paintings of the Palam Bhagavata Purana, but is entirely in keeping with the scope of a closely related series, the Ahmedabad Bhagavata Purana, which seems slightly more extensive.4 The Ahmedabad series begins with the same Chaurapanchasika-style base, but exhibits many more Mughal features, most notably the lobed form and scumbled surface of the rocks, the somewhat more volumetric architecture, and the rounded faces and relaxed contours of the figures. Indeed, its women approximate some of the more conservative figures found in such Mughal series as the c. 1580 Chester Beatty Library Tutinama, a benchmark that dates the Ahmedabad Bhagavata Purana to c. 1585.5

    The Isarda Bhagavata Purana was probably painted not far from the orbit of imperial Mughal centers at Delhi and Agra, but its exact provenance remains uncertain. A Rajasthani or Gujarati origin has been proposed on grounds of the language used in the inscriptions above each painting.
    John Seyller, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), p. 54-55.

    1. A partially effaced two-line Sanskrit inscription in the upper margin culminates in the number 32 and the phrase “Brahma performs homage.” An inscription written in a different hand on the reverse reads, “Brahma meets the children,” and ends in number 24. Neither of these numbers corresponds properly with the otherwise reliable sequence of painting numbers found on other folios, but this discrepancy does not supersede the explicit visual and inscriptional evidence in the identification of the scene.
    2. See, for example, the paintings sold at Sotheby’s, London, April 29, 1992, lot 27; and Sotheby’s, New York, September 21, 1995, lot 116.
    3. The highest painting number known is 59, which is on an image depicting Krishna restoring Ugrasena to the throne, an episode described in Chapter 45, Verses 12–14. The painting is now in the Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Calcutta; see Karl Khandalavala and Saryu Doshi, A Collector’s Dream: Indian Art in the Collections of Basant Kumar and Saraladevi Birla and the Birla Academy of Art and Culture (Mumbai: Marg Publications, 1987), p. 79, fig. 5.2. Only twenty-three paintings from this series have come to light.
    4. See Ratan Parimoo, “A New Set of Early Rajasthani Paintings,” Lalit Kala, no. 17 (1974), pp. 9–13. An episode of Kansa’s washerman being slain, which is recounted in Chapter 42 of the Bhagavata Purana, is numbered 49 in the Isarda series and 57 in the Ahmedabad series. 5. The series is partially dispersed, but the bulk of it is published in Linda York Leach. Mughul and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library,vol. 1. London, Scorpion Cavensish, (1995), pp. 21–74, nos. 1.1–1.102.
    6. Toby Falk and Brendan Lynch (Images of India. London: Indar and Pasricha Fine Arts, 1989, pp. 5, 7) maintain that the word chhai indicates this.