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The Wedding of Satyabhama and Krishna
Page from a dispersed series of the Bhagavata Purana (Story of the Lord Vishnu)

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Rajasthan, India, Asia
Probably made in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, Asia

c. 1590-1600

Opaque watercolor and gold on paper

Image: 6 5/8 × 9 3/4 inches (16.8 × 24.8 cm) Sheet: 8 3/4 × 11 3/4 inches (22.2 × 29.8 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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Satyabhama was so esteemed for her beauty and virtuous demeanor that she was regarded as a jewel among women. Due to a nasty struggle over a particularly bedazzling gem, she was given in marriage to Krishna by her father. In this scene, a Brahmin priest performs the simple ceremony under a red canopy. This painting demonstrates some of the ways in which artists at a regional court in Rajasthan first introduced features of Mughal painting into the indigenous local tradition. For example, the contours of the figures have been softened and Krishna wears a Mughal-style garment. Further, the conventional red square that indicates the focus of the scene is replaced by a Mughal-like three-dimensional red canopy. The poles are cleverly used to frame the main figures.

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

    Jewels, miraculously petrified bits of light, have long bedazzled humans, often to the point of provoking imprudent, even irrational behavior. Chapter 56 of Book 10 of the Bhagavata Purana recounts a sequence of events precipitated by the blinding effect of a particularly magnificent gem, the syamantaka jewel given by the sun god to his friend Satrajita. So pleased is Satrajita with the lustrous object and the auspicious occurrences that accompany it that he refuses to part with the jewel even when Krishna himself requests it. Satrajita’s greedy attachment to the bauble has ruinous consequences. When his brother, Prasena, borrows the jewel one day to wear while hunting, it quickly attracts the attention of a lion, who kills him for it; the lion in turn is slain in his lair by the equally covetous king of the bears, Jambavan. Alarmed by his brother’s disappearance, Satrajita begins to spread rumors that Krishna must be involved in foul play. Krishna follows Prasena’s trail to Jambavan’s cave, where Krishna and Jambavan battle over the jewel for twenty-eight days. The bear finally concedes defeat, acknowledges the divine nature of his opponent, and offers Krishna his daughter in marriage. The long duration of their struggle causes great concern among the populace, who worry about Krishna’s safety and lament their own deprivation of his benevolent presence. They rejoice when Krishna emerges with the jewel about his neck and a bride at his side, but they also rebuke Satrajita for having caused so much sorrow. Satrajita realizes that his terrible greed has led him to malign so perfect a being as Krishna, and is duly contrite. Having once rashly denied Krishna the syamantaka jewel, he decides to make amends by offering him a still more precious one: his daughter Satyabhama, so esteemed for her beauty and virtuous demeanor that she is regarded as a jewel among women. Krishna graciously accepts the offer of Satyabhama’s hand in marriage, but insists that Satrajita keep the syamantaka jewel. Satrajita’s joy is short-lived, for Satyabhama’s jilted fiancé, jealous at the loss of his potential bride and Satrajita’s repossession of the jewel, murders him in his sleep.

    This painting depicts the wedding of Satyabhama and Krishna as a humble affair, with little of the turmoil of the preceding events. Wearing special headdresses adorned by a modest floral spray, the seated newlyweds look on as the Brahmin priest propitiates the gods by pouring clarified butter into the sacrificial fire. A wedding canopy, festooned with auspicious leaves and supported precariously by five poles, joins the three figures together in the center of the painting. The remainder of the composition is filled sparsely by another Brahmin seated among ritual vessels, and two attendants bringing platters of flowers and fruit.

    The painting demonstrates one of the many ways in which artists employed at one of the regional courts of Rajasthan introduced a few features of Mughal painting into an existing indigenous tradition. The painter attempts to impart a three-dimensional quality to the wedding canopy and the steps of the chamber at left; recognizing perhaps the limited success of his efforts, he is content to allow his figures to float before or above the spaces that in other hands might have been defined more convincingly by these architectural forms. Krishna wears Mughal-style garments, and all the priest and attendants have the relaxed contours of the Mughal style, but most of the figures retain the squarish heads and schematic faces of the indigenous tradition. The rectangular block of red featured consistently in many contemporary series is disguised here as the pavilion interior.

    This Bhagavata Purana series also represents the process by which popular Mughal painting slowly germinated distinctive regional idioms. This series has long been associated with painting at Bikaner, primarily because some of its paintings bear a stamp indicating that they were part of the Bikaner royal collection.1 Although that now-dispersed collection once contained works from many different schools of Indian painting, the spare compositions, cool palette, and pronounced linear quality of this Bhagavata Purana series are akin to those of paintings produced at Bikaner in the last third of the seventeenth century. It is reasonable therefore to see this series as a forerunner of the later Bikaner style. Nonetheless, the Bikaner style seems to have developed in a relatively fitful manner, as is suggested by the thoroughly Mughalized style of a painting inscribed as having been made at Bikaner by the painter Nur Muhammad about 1610.2 The simpler base style and more superficial borrowing of Mughal elements of this Bhagavata Purana series support an earlier date of c. 1590–1600, or not long after that of the Isarda Bhagavata Purana (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-10,11). John Seyller, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 66-67.

    1. For other images from this series, see Daniel J. Ehnbom, with Robert Skelton and Pramod Chandra. Indian Miniatures: The Ehrenfeld Collection. Exh. cat. New York: Hudson Hills Press in association with the American Federation of Arts, 1985., pp. 52–53, nos. 17-18; another folio was offered for sale at Sotheby’s, New York, March 25, 1999, lot 205.
    2. B. N. Goswamy with Usha Bhatia. Painted Visions: The Goenka Collection of Indian Paintings. New Delhi: Lalit Kala Akademi and Rabindra Bhavan, 1999., p. 45, no. 35. The discovery of the signature of Nur Muhammad on one painting from the dispersed 1594 Ramayana (Christie’s, London, October 10, 2000, lot 59) and the many similarities between the two paintings in facial type and decorative patterns allow us to associate both works with a single artist, and to begin to trace his path from the Mughal workshop to Bikaner about 1600.