Krishna in Indian Art, Krishna in Art

Celebrating Krishna in Art

“Indian art would be incomplete without Krishna”.

I first heard this statement and variations of it all through the year-long (2015–2016) course on Indian Aesthetics  at Jnanapravaha Mumbai. I must confess to feeling a little bemused with this statement at that that time, because I didn’t really know much about Indian art, and what little I did was not about Krishna.

But as the course proceeded and I was introduced to different forms and styles of Indian art that perception changed. From the classical to the folk to the contemporary, from sculptures to manuscript and miniature paintings, from wall frescoes and murals to prints to contemporary interpretations, and more — Krishna was the constant all through.

And as it usually happens with any kind of growing awareness, I started noticing Krishna everywhere around me — roadside shrines, people’s homes, museums, posters, book covers, etc. It was no different when I travelled and I saw Krishna in the most unexpected of places. This new-found interest even led me to dig into my photo archives to see if I had captured any images of Krishna. Not surprisingly, I found quite a few. That is when the idea of this post was germinated in my mind.

Krishna in Indian Art, Krishna in Art

But the idea really grew and took shape when I attended an exhibition titled “Visions of Krishna” at the Artisans’ in Mumbai in August last year. I loved the exhibition, particularly the lithographic and oleographic prints on sale. The exhibition also helped me visualise the idea of a blog post on the myriad ways Krishna is  depicted in art.

My initial idea was to write a post around the exhibition and I even got a draft written but for some reason I never published it. This was a year ago. When I looked at the draft again a week or so back, I decided to revive it and broaden the scope by including art, not just from the exhibition, but from all over. And that is how this post took shape.

As the title indicates, this post is a celebration of Krishna in art by exploring Krishna as a sculpture, as a painting, as a terracotta panel, in print; Krishna as a divine being, a mischievous child, a romantic hero, as a destroyer of evil; Krishna represented in the traditional form or in a quirky manner, as a form to be worshipped or as a medium to sell hair oil ! In other words this collection of 22 images is Krishna all the way !

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The Buddhist caves at Kolvi

It is a little after 10 am on a November morning in 2016 when we arrive at the base of the hillock that houses the Kolvi Caves, one of the three Buddhist rock-cut cave sites in Rajasthan. A board displaying some rather sketchy information about the caves reassure us that we are in the right place.

It says that the Kolvi Caves was a monastic complex of about 50 rock-cut caves, most of which have collapsed today and details have disappeared due to natural weathering. The presence of a big rock-cut stupa in the shape of a structural stupa, as we know it today, is considered to be an important and notable feature of the Kolvi Caves. It has been suggested that the absence of Bodhisattva figures at the site indicates that this was a site of Buddhist monks of the Hinayana (or Theravada) sect. The board doesn’t mention an important detail — the age of the Caves.

Apart from my friend Niti, our car driver and me, there is no one else around at the site. I take a minute to appreciate the surroundings and the location. The blackish red Kolvi hillock, which is entirely composed of laterite, rises quite suddenly and dramatically from a flat landscape.

A flight of steps, probably built over a pre-existing path, leads to the top of the hill where the Caves are located. A short climb later, Niti and I are opening the gate that leads into the cave complex.

Kolvi Caves, Buddhist Caves, Indian Art, Indian Aesthetics, Mahayana, Rajasthan. Travel, Hadoti Trip, Hadoti, Laterite
The approach to the Kolvi Caves – steps and a railing have been provided for easier access.

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Museum Treasure: The painted Vedas

When I stepped into the paintings gallery of the Government Museum at the Gadh Mahal in Jhalawar, a depressing sight greeted me — flickering fluorescent lights, dusty glass-fronted cabinets, and a general air of neglect. All this combined to ensure that the visibility of the exhibits was poor. The saving grace was the pops of colour on the walls from where the paintings were mounted.

I must admit that I was tempted to turn back without seeing the paintings, but then decided to do a quick round of the gallery — there was always the chance that there would something interesting lurking in the room somewhere. The first set of paintings I saw was a Baramasa, or a set of 12 paintings that depicted a mood and emotion for each month of the year. They were nice, but not particularly exceptional, and I moved on to the next display, a set of four paintings.

And realised immediately that I was seeing something extraordinary and unusual. So much so that I read and re-read the labels accompanying the paintings to reassure myself that the paintings were indeed a pictorial representation of the VedasRig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva — in (zoo) anthropomorphic forms.

Painted Vedas, Government Museum, Jhalawar, Travel, Museum Treasure, Rajasthan
RIG VEDA: The information card accompanying this painting says “Donkey faced God seated in padmasana, he holds veda and rosary in a hand and shown in meaningful posture”. [sic]
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Mahabalipuram, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Arjuna's Penance, Descent Of Ganga, Relief Panel, Narrative Networks

Stories in Stone: Arjuna’s penance or descent of the Ganga?

Stories in Stone is all about sculptures — either standalone or entire narrative panels. Each post in this series will showcase one such sculpture, look beyond its iconography and deconstruct the details in an attempt to understand the idea and/or the story it conveys.


The UNESCO world heritage site of Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is extraordinary for the sheer number and variety of monuments, as well as their scale and design. Rock-cut temples, structural temples, relief panels and more vie for attention, each one more captivating than the rest. Though a fair number of the monuments are incomplete or unfinished and weathered, their beauty is not diminished.

The monuments at Mahabalipuram have been the subject of many a study, but none more so than a large relief panel carved on a granite cliff. It is a panel that has led to debates and divisions among art historians over what it depicts or denotes or refers to — Arjuna’s Penance or the Descent of Ganga [1]

Before I narrate their stories and discuss why the panel could be one or both or maybe neither, let us take a close look at the various elements that make up this panel. A real close look beginning with photograph below (please click on the picture to see a full size version).

Mahabalipuram, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Arjuna's Penance, Descent Of Ganga, Relief Panel, Narrative Networks Continue reading “Stories in Stone: Arjuna’s penance or descent of the Ganga?”

On the trail of Jain heritage in Tamil Nadu

It all began with a Twitter DM (or direct message) I received from my friend and fellow blogger, Anuradha Shankar.

It was the summer of 2014 and Anu was travelling, or doing a temple run as she preferred to call it, in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. She would send me an occasional update about the temples she was visiting — delight over seeing exquisite murals in one or despair on coming across bathroom tiles in another.

When I received a DM from her that May evening, with a “See this !”, I wondered what was it she had sent me this time and whether it would be a rave or rant ! As it happened, it didn’t matter for the photograph that Anu had messaged me simply took my breath away.

Jain Temples of Tamil Nadu, In search of Jain heritage in Tamil Nadu, Travel, Jainism, Kazhugumalai
Photo: Anuradha Shankar

I messaged back. Jain Art? In Tamil Nadu? Where? What? How? When? Anu replied, Yes. Yes. This is Kazhugumalai, 8th-9th century CE. Rest when I get back. I was stunned for till then I had no idea about the existence of Jain culture — past or present —in Tamil Nadu. I had wrongly assumed that Karnataka was the furthest South that Jainism had spread to.

That one photograph sparked off an interest in Jainism in Tamil Nadu, an interest that continues to grow by the day. From researching about the fascinating history of Jainism in Tamil Nadu to visiting heritage Jain sites in Madurai and Kanchipuram to writing an assignment on reclaiming Jain heritage in Tamil Nadu (as part of the Indian Aesthetics programme at Jnanapravaha Mumbai earlier this year)… the quest into Jain heritage has been an ongoing journey.

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The temples of Kiradu

About 180 km south-west of Jaisalmer, where the Thar Desert meets some isolated outcrops of the Aravalli mountain ranges, lie the ruins of the temples of Kiradu. It is believed that there were around 108 temples on this site, but today only 5 temples remain — 4 of those are dedicated to Shiva and 1 temple is believed to have been dedicated to to Vishnu.

I first heard about the temples at Kiradu when I received an invitation from Suryagarh. The itinerary attached with the mail included a visit to these temples. I was intrigued enough to look up for more information on the internet immediately — even before I accepted the invitation. To my surprise, I found little substantive information online. This only made the temples more intriguing and mysterious for me and I couldn’t wait to see them for myself when I visited Suryagarh in July 2016.

And after lunch on my last day at Suryagarh, we set off to see the Kiradu temples. It was a beautiful, but long, drive through the Thar, through dramatic changes in the landscape from desert to hilly.

It was around 6 pm when we arrived at the Kiradu temples, which meant I had an hour or so before sunset and before the light faded. The next hour saw me racing from temple to temple, pumped with adrenaline, trying to take in as much of the details as I could and photographing whatever I thought was interesting or significant.

Temples of Kiradu, Kiradu Temples, Cursed Temples, Barmer, Heritage, Rajasthan, History,
A nritya (?) mandapa with elaborately carved toranas and pillars. One of the pillars has been reconstructed as part of the restoration work undertaken by the ASI at Kiradu

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