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Krishna with Radha and Gopis
on a Terrace

India (Jaipur), 1800-1820

Folio:
Height: 39.8 cm
Width: 29.4 cm

Miniature:
Height: 26.5 cm
Width: 18.5 cm

Opaque watercolour heightened with gold on paper.

Possibly Madhumadhavi ragini from a Ragamala series.

Dark clouds gather as a thunderstorm approaches. Krishna and Radha embrace in front of a pavilion on the carpeted terrace of a palace. They look up at the sky and point to the lightning that ominously streaks the edges of the clouds with wavy lines of gold. The rain drops have not yet begun to fall but it is only a matter of time before the clouds roll swiftly towards them, so they have begun to retreat into the safety of the palace through the cusped arches on the left.

Two attendants standing in conversation beneath the rolled pavilion awnings hold morchals (peacock feather fans). A third attendant is about to offer Krishna some pan (betel) from a gold and gem-set pandan and dish, but her attention has evidently been seized by a sudden clap of thunder and a brilliant flash of lightning. She twists around excitedly, in a dancing contrapposto, to gesture towards the sky. A pair of peacocks perched calmly on the blue and gold balustrade decorated in the striking palette of Jaipur enamels, and two pairs of birds nestling in the trees beyond, echo Krishna and Radha’s warm embrace as symbols of love. Unlike the gopis, the birds remain unperturbed by the approaching storm. For them, there is still plenty of time to find shelter to sit out the coming rain.

Robert Del Bonta has suggested that this un-inscribed album leaf may represent Madhumadhavi ragini from a Ragamala series. The way the figures point to the lightning is essential to the usual depictions of this ragini. Peacocks are also a normal feature of Madhumadhavi, though they are often shown fluttering or crying in excitement as the storm gathers while flocks of other birds such as Sarus cranes take flight into the darkening sky.(1) In the present picture, the peacocks simultaneously function as symbols of Krishna, reinforcing the iconography of his peacock feather crown and the morchals held by the gopis.

The painting is organized with an elaborate basement storey. The artist suggests real depth as we can see well inside the entrance at its centre and into the corner of the angled pavilion on the upper terrace. The edge of the terrace projects over the lower storey, cantilevered by means of a row of supporting brackets. The painting is mounted on an album page with two inner margins of floral cartouches surrounded by a wide yellow border of delicate floral sprays in the Mughal style.

In a Hindi verse by the poet Paida found on a Ragamala series dated 1709 from Amber, the earlier capital of the rulers of Jaipur, Madhumadhavi ragini is described thus:

“The woman is like Rati (Cupid’s wife), her eyes are (of the colour of) red lotus. The lower lips are (?) beautiful and she has peerless speech. She has pure gold-like complexion and yellow dress. The sakhis (female companions) adore her ways (?). The woman smiling kisses. She coils her arms around the neck of the lover.(2)

Acknowledgement:

We would like to thank Robert J Del Bonta for his expert advice.

References:

1. See Klaus Ebeling, Ragamala Painting, 1972, p. 69 for a Madhumadhavi ragini dated 1756 from the small principality of Malpura, south of Jaipur, in which a lady rushes into the palace to escape the onset of the thunderstorm; and p. 71 for an eighteenth century Jaipur depiction with excited, squawking peacocks that need feeding before the storm erupts.
2. Quoted by Ebeling, 1972, p. 138.

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