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Radha Enters Krishna's Intimate World
Page separated from a manuscript of the Gita Govinda (Song of the Dark Lord)

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia
Made in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia

c. 1775-1780

Opaque watercolor and gold on paper

Image: 6 × 10 1/8 inches (15.2 × 25.7 cm) Sheet: 6 3/4 × 10 13/16 inches (17.1 × 27.5 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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The Gita Govinda, an exquisite devotional lyric written by the twelfth-century Indian poet Jayadeva, tells of the love play between Krishna and Radha. Krishna abandoned Radha to frolic with the other village women; she withdrew in jealousy but is tormented by longing, a longing he soon shares. In this painting, Krishna awaits her in his forest love nest, his divine radiance illuminating the night shadows around him. Radha's friend urges her to overcome her pride. "Revel in wild luxury on the sweet thicket floor!" she says, wrapping a comforting arm around Radha's shoulders, "Your laughing face begs ardently for his love. Radha, enter Krishna's intimate world!"

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

    The Gita Govinda (Song of the Dark Lord) is an evocative rendition of the love play of Krishna and his inamorata, Radha, by the twelfth-century poet Jayadeva (see also Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-75). Devotional in intention, it begins with an homage to Lord Krishna, incarnation of Vishnu, the supreme deity. It then conjures images of obsessive passion— the anguish of separation from the object of desire, the bliss of climactic union—as a way to understand the soul’s craving to merge with God. Yet the writing is also clearly intended to stimulate the senses not only by its tactile eroticism but by its delicious poetry.

    Other texts on love, such as the Rasikapriya (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-19, 20, 21) and Rasamanjari (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-25), use the Krishna-Radha theme occasionally to help classify types of lovers and the moods and variations of relationships. Like them, the Gita Govinda elucidates the nuances of the love, but it treats these nuances as parts of a continuous devotional narrative that takes the reader through the tempestuous process of emotional—and spiritual—struggle for grace. Not surprisingly, it became a cornerstone for the religious movement advocating passionate and direct devotion to Krishna (bhakti). Bhakti spread across northern India from the thirteenth century onward, reaching the Panjab Hills in force in about the sixteenth, when many of the local rulers became ardent devotees.

    The Krishna of the poem is the youthful resident of the village of Vrindavan, where he is being raised by his foster parents, Nanda and Yashoda. Radha is a young village woman, and the days of the two are spent herding cows in the gentle hills and forests of the region. The plot is set off when Nanda requests that Radha walk the timid, slightly younger Krishna home through the forest. Krishna’s timidity, however, lasts only until they are alone in the woods, where he begins to seduce her. The remainder of the poem treats of their relationship—the anxiety and distrust that separate them, their longing for one another, the attempts of Radha’s female friend (sakhi) to reunite them, and their passionate union.

    The scene depicted here comes from close to the end of the poem, in the eleventh and penultimate chapter. Krishna has been careless with Radha’s affections; he has allowed the other gopis (cowherdesses) to tempt him into joining their springtime loveplay. Radha withdraws in jealousy and refuses to rejoin Krishna, even when her sakhi brings her Krishna’s impassioned plea. Yet Radha, in her forest retreat, suffers agonizingly with her unfulfilled longing for Krishna. Finally, at the urging of her sakhi, she overcomes her jealousy and pride to join Krishna, who is here called by his epithet Madhava, or the Honey-Sweet One.1 The two verses inscribed on the back of this painting are rendered in full in Barbara Stoler Miller’s exquisite translation:

    Seeing Hari [Krishna] light the deep thicket
    With brilliant jewel necklaces, a pendant,
    A golden rope belt, armlets, and wrist bands,
    Radha modestly stopped at the entrance,
    But her friend urged her on.

    Revel in wild luxury on the sweet thicket floor!
    Your laughing face begs ardently for his love.
    Radha, enter Madhava’s intimate world!2

    Although the first of these verses comes as the end of the previous song and the second begins the next song, the artist has chosen not only to depict them together in a single image, but to invert the literary sequence in the visual. The first verse is illustrated at the right third of the painting. The intertwined trunks of a grove of trees form a bower for Krishna, who sits cross-legged on a bed of leaves. A thick, dark vine entwines the lower part of the nearest tree. Krishna’s body is brightly lit, and the leaves around him—both of the bed and the undersides of the tree boughs—glow chartreuse, as if lit by his body to give reality to the poetic conception that he “lights the deep thicket.”

    Krishna wears his usual saffron garment and crown plus all the jewelry specified in the text: jeweled necklaces and pendant, a golden rope belt, armlets, and wristbands (they also appear in almost every other depiction of him in this series, even when not described in the verse). He is also adorned with the long white garland that appears only occasionally in other scenes. He holds his left hand up to his right shoulder and turns his head to the right, tilting it upward as if listening intently for some sound of Radha’s approach. The pose combines with his slight smile to express both eagerness and anticipation.

    The remainder of the page, on the left, illustrates the second verse, where Radha’s friend urges her to “enter Madhava’s intimate world.” Orange-clad Radha stands huddled in her golden shawl, face lowered, shoulder tense. Her friend, in a green shawl over her pink-striped skirt, holds Radha with one arm and inclines her head sympathetically. Her other hand is held with fingers together to indicate that she is speaking the gently coaxing words of the poem. The night is moonless. Barren hills flank one side of the winding River Yamuna, the forest appears on the other side. The river is a primary player in this painting series, depicted in its varying moods on every page. Here it meanders quietly and darkly around the disparate protagonists, soon to be united in their luminous, intimate world. Darielle Mason, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 192-193.

    1. Barbara Stoler Miller (Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva’s “Gïtagovinda.” New York: Columbia University Press, 1977, p. 19) gives a fuller etymology for this word, which may also mean “springtime,” as well as referring to Madhu, the forefather of Krishna’s clan, and to Krishna as killer of the demon Madhu (Madhusudana).
    2. Ibid., p. 118 (Sarga 11, Verses 13–14).

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