Intimate Worlds: Mother Bhumi Pays Homage to Krsna
BY: JAHNAVA DEVI
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Jul 20, CANADA (SUN) "The Earth Goddess Returns the Stolen Goods to Krishna and Pays Homage to Him".
Following our previous segments of Intimate Worlds, we are today considering another of the super-excellent paintings from the Bellak Collection. This illustration from a dispersed series of Bhagavata-Purana is somewhat more complicated, both thematically and compositionally, than similar paintings in the series.
The painting is entitled "The Earth Goddess Returns the Stolen Goods to Krishna and Pays Homage to Him". It appears near the middle of chapter 59 of Bhagavata-Purana, a chapter which happens to include an unusual number of illustrations - sixteen, in total. This manuscript came from Northern India, probably the Delhi-Agra region, c. 1525-40. Painted in opaque watercolor on paper, the piece measures 7 x 9 1/8 inches.
The painting depicts Lord Krishna's pastime of killing the demon Naraka, who had stolen a sacred bowl and earrings from the goddess Aditi along with paraphernalia from the demigods, as a show of boldness and power over them.
As described by the authors of Intimate Worlds, the curatorial book showcasing the Bellak collection, the pastime and painting are described as follows:
"Krishna begins to right matters by devastating Naraka's seemingly impregnable fortress at Pragiyotisha, decimating his troops, and finally dispatching the demon himself. With the challenge squelched, Naraka's mother, the earth goddess Bhumi, sues for reconciliation by presenting to Krishna the stolen vessel and its contents, a garland of flowers, Varuna's royal umbrella, and a magnificent jewel.
After lauding Krishna's matchless powers and acknowledging him as the supreme deity, the earth goddess begs Krishna to have mercy on her grandson, Bhagadatta, who has been sullied by his father's perfidy. Krishna grants her request, and installs Bhagadatta on the throne at Pragjyotisha.
But Krishna's bounty does not end here, for he removes to his own capital of Dvaraka both the celestial Parijata tree and the 16,000 princesses Naraka had abducted into his harem. The former sweetens the garden of his wife, Satyabhama, with heavenly fragrances; the latter implore Krishna to marry them, a feat that, in a manner typical of devotional texts, he carries out by miraculously multiplying himself so that each woman can become his wife and devotee."
While the author doesn't differentiate between this pastime of Krsna in Dvaraka and His many other pastimes in Vrindavan, several of which are featured in Bellak collection paintings, there is a significant difference between them. In his purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.14.8, Srila Prabhupada writes:
"There is no difference between the Lord's Self and the Lord's transcendental body. The expansions execute differential activities. When the Lord, however, appears in His person as Lord Sri Krsna, His other plenary portions also join in Him by His inconceivable potency called yogamaya, and thus the Lord Krsna of Vrndavana is different from the Lord Krsna of Mathura or the Lord Krsna of Dvaraka."
While Sri Krsna is supreme in Mathura, He is even more supreme in Dvaraka -- and He is the most supreme in Vrndavana. Krsna's pastimes at Vrndavana were finished by the end of His fifteenth year, after which he traveled to Mathura and Dvaraka, where many other pastimes took place. When Krsna left the gopis and headed for Mathura and Dvaraka, the gopis cried for Him for the rest of their lives, feeling intense separation. Krsna went on to perform many pastimes away from the loving association of his Vrindavana cowherd friends and gopis and He continued fighting demons like Narakasura.
Not only was Naraka's mother the earth goddess, Bhumi devi, he was also the son of Dharitri, the earth personified. He was therefore also known as "Bhaumasura". But regardless of his good parentage, Naraka became a demon due to the bad association of another demon, Bana.
In the Intimate Worlds narrative, the author describes how Krsna devastated Naraka's seemingly secure fortress at Pragiyotisha and decimated his troops. In chapter 46 of Nectar of Devotion we read that Narakasura had been fighting Krsna with eleven aksauhini divisions of soldiers, each division of soldiers containing several thousand elephants, several thousand horses and chariots and several hundreds of thousands of infantry soldiers. But Krsna killed all eleven divisions of Naraka's army simply by throwing three arrows from His side. In chapter 59 of Krsna Book, Srila Prabhupada describes the rest of the battle:
"When he saw that all his soldiers, commanders and fighters were killed on the battlefield by the strokes of the weapons of the Personality of Godhead, he became exceedingly angry at the Lord. He then came out of the city with a great number of elephants who had all been born and brought up on the seashore. All of them were highly intoxicated. When they came out, they saw that Lord Krsna and His wife were beautifully situated high in outer space just like a blackish cloud about the sun, glittering with the light of electricity. The demon Bhaumasura immediately released a weapon called Sataghni, by which he could kill hundreds of warriors with one stroke, and simultaneously all his assistants also threw their respective weapons at the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Krsna began to counteract all these weapons by releasing His feathered arrows. The result of this fight was that all the soldiers and commanders of Bhaumasura fell to the ground, their arms, legs and heads separated from their trunks, and all their horses and elephants also fell with them. In this way, all the weapons released by Bhaumasura were cut to pieces by the reaction of the Lord's arrows."
With the battle over and Narakasura and his demon army destroyed, we come to the pastime sequence that is the subject of this painting. Having gotten return of the stolen paraphernalia and upon hearing the worshipful prayers offered by Mother Bhumi, Krsna bestowed fearlessness upon her grandson Bhagadatta, the son of Narakasura whose reputation had come to ruin as a result of his father's bad acts. And just as Krsna always kills the demons and saves the devotees, He also saved the sixteen thousand princesses who had been kidnapped by the Naraka demon, a fate which had ruined their chances for marriage. To save them, Sri Krsna Himself married each one of them.
In Intimate Worlds, the author describes the sixteen thousand princess, saying that they "implore Krishna to marry them, a feat that, in a manner typical of devotional texts, he carries out by miraculously multiplying himself so that each woman can become his wife and devotee."
This statement exemplifies an academic mood often expressed in mundane art criticism, which lacks an understanding of the Lord's inconceivable, absolute potency. The writer subtly infers that Krsna's marriage to the sixteen thousand princesses is but an allegorical story of the kind often found in "devotional texts". Unfortunately, that conclusion is bereft of spiritual knowledge. In fact, Krsna very factually married each of these sixteen thousand girls, displaying his amazing opulences and setting the ultimate standard for personalism amongst husbands and wives. In chapter 12 of Teachings of Queen Kunti, Srila Prabhupada writes:
"When sixteen thousand girls were kidnapped by the demon Bhaumasura, they prayed to Krsna, and therefore Krsna went to the demon's palace, killed the demon, and delivered all the girls. But according to the strict Vedic system, if an unmarried girl leaves her home even for one night, no one will marry her. Therefore when Krsna told the girls, "Now you can safely return to your fathers' homes," they replied, "Sir, if we return to the homes of our fathers, what will be our fate? No one will marry us, because this man kidnapped us."
"Then what do you want?" Krsna asked. The girls replied, "We want You to become our husband." And Krsna is so kind that He immediately said yes and accepted them. Now, when Krsna brought the girls back home to His capital city, it is not that each of the sixteen thousand wives had to wait sixteen thousand nights to meet Krsna. Rather, Krsna expanded Himself into sixteen thousand forms, constructed sixteen thousand palaces, and lived in each palace with each wife."
In chapter 83 of Krsna Book, Srila Prabhupada tells the story of Krsna traveling with His sixteen thousand wives to Hastinapura, where Draupadi met with them. Addressing many of the principal queens, she asked them questions about the personal circumstances of their marriage to Krsna. First, Draupadi asked the nine most principal queens how they came to be married to Krsna. One by one, each gave a very detailed answer about their lives, their family histories and their sentiments for their husband. Rohini then acted as the representative of the remaining sixteen thousand queens, there being too many for Draupadi to address one-by-one. Rohini related the general story of their becoming Krsna's wives. So it is clearly explained in sastra that Krsna's marriages with each one of the kidnapped princesses of Narakasura did take place, and in the event of each marriage, there were particular personal circumstances in the lives of the princesses.
Describing the technical elements of the painting, the author of Intimate Worlds writes:
"Having rendered the decapitation of Naraka in the preceding illustrations, the painter now focuses on the aftermath of the demon's demise. At left, raised aloft by his ornithoid vehicle, Garuda, Krishna sits with Satyabhama on a radiant lotus as he receives the homage of the earth goddess and her grandson. The four-armed Krishna holds the traditional attributes of Vishnu: a conch and club in his right hands, and a discus and lotus in his upper left hand."
It's interesting to consider the artist's depiction of Krsna in his four-armed Form, holding the paraphernalia of Visnu. In fact, the general iconography of the illustration speaks to the painter's conclusion in this regard. While we know that it was Krsna of Vrndavana fame who killed Naraka during his Dwarka pastimes, here the four-armed Krsna sits on a lotus pedestal with Satyabhama, quite indistinguishable from Laksmi-Narayana. Mother Bhumi, of course, knows Sri Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although it is not clear to this writer if she differentiates between Krsna and his plenary form Narayana, an expansion from Shankarsana, either in the prayers offered during this pastime or at any other time.
It is also possible that the artist chose to depict the four-armed Krsna because He was joined in this pastime battle by Garuda, who is most often depicted as Lord Visnu's vahana. The Bellak critic describes Garuda as Krsna's "ornithoid vehicle", a rather clinical descriptor for this great personality and devotee of the Lord. In chapter 59 of Krsna Book, Srila Prabhupada gives a wonderful description of Krsna and Garuda in their battle against Narakasura:
"The Lord was fighting on the back of Garuda, and Garuda was also helping the Lord by striking the horses and the elephants with his wings and scratching their heads with his nails and sharp beak. The elephants were feeling much pain by Garuda's attack on them, all were all dispersing from the battlefield. Bhaumasura alone remained on the battlefield, and he engaged himself in fighting with Krsna. He saw that Krsna's carrier, Garuda, was causing great disturbance to his soldiers and elephants, and in great anger he struck Garuda with all his strength, which defied the strength of the thunderbolt. Fortunately, Garuda was not an ordinary bird, and he felt the strokes given by Bhaumasura just as a great elephant feels the impact of a garland of flowers."
Our critic describes four-armed Krsna as holding the traditional attributes of Visnu: the conch, club, discus and lotus. But interestingly, we see here that the Lord holds a rather unusually shaped club. This one, although somewhat washed out in the painting, is shaped more like a trident than the usual rounded mace. In the description from Krsna Book, we read that as a last resort, Bhaumasura (Naraka) tried to kill Krsna with his trident, but before he could take it up, Krsna severed his head with the Sudarsana cakra, also pictured here.
Another unusual aspect of the iconography is that Krsna holds both a lotus and cakra in his upper left hand, while his free hand is extended downwards to Bhagadatta. Amongst thousands of such images in our personal collection, I don't recall ever having seen a form of Krsna, Visnu or Narayana holding multiple pieces of paraphernalia in a single hand, regardless of the setting or pastime the Personality is being depicted in.
For all the similarities between this depiction of Krsna-Satyabhama and Laksmi-Narayana, there are subtle elements in the painting that might be said to distinguish Satyabhama. For example, she is not holding a lotus, as Laksmi Devi typically does, nor are her hands in the mudra of benediction typical of Laksmi. Rather, she is diminuative, prettily ornamented and smiling, with a single finger pointed upwards on both hands. Similarly, Krsna does not have His single telltale peacock feather, but rather sports a crown with three round feathery ornaments in front. Aside from that, Krsna's clothing and jewelry are typical of this school of painting.
The Intimate Worlds author goes on to write:
"He [Krsna] extends his lower left hand toward Bhagadatta, who bows in a gesture of supplication. The earth goddess, occupying the very center of the composition, proffers the golden bowl that contains the magical earrings. Behind her is the fortress of Pragjyotisha, its battlements restored, albeit only to the upper section of its walls that renders no possible resistance to Krishna."
One of the finest technical aspects of this painting is Bhumi Devi herself, who is purposefully placed at the center since she is the star character in the pastime being depicted here. Her brightly striped blue sari anchors the painting, complimented by the blues of Krsna's body and Bhagadatta's throne, at right, along with the more subtle blues of Garuda's dhoti.
The bowl held forth by Bhumi is somewhat like a sailing ship, returning home with its passengers intact. The earring rounds and other wedge-like shapes, which are indistinguishable items of paraphernalia, add a sense of richness to the returned booty. And given that it is the earth mother herself proffering this golden bowl, one can't help but notice the similarity to a banana, with wedges of melon and fruits.
The Intimate Worlds author describes Bhagadatta sitting at center right, where Krishna has installed him as the new king. Beside him, she writes, sits the earth goddess and an attendant, who may be one of the abducted princesses. She goes on to say:
"The architecture that locates the secondary scene in a palace is absolutely rectilinear in construction and simply ornamented in detail, a treatment typical of this Bhagavata-Purana series and other works in its general style. The architecture also begins to compartmentalize the painting, a favorite compositional device in this style of painting.
In some sections, such as the black area above the roofline and in the garden below, color-coded compartments follow logical divisions; in others, the compartments are obviously arbitrary, and exist primarily to create interesting coloristic and compositional rhythms across the painting. Thus behind the lone tree rising up from the battlements of Pragjyotisha, which is probably the much desired Parijata tree, is a zone of black springing upward in an arc that simultaneously complements the curve of city's ramparts and initiates a rough circular field around Krishna.
The stepped green shape below the earth goddess might be a lotus-filled pool or an outlying garden, but it functions more visually than iconographically, at once elevating the earth goddess to her position of prominence and relieving the stark background of the many compartments with one of unexpectedly dense vegetal interlace."
With respect to the compartmentalization of the panel, we find spatial structures exquisitely crafted by this painter. The curvature of Mother Bhumi's offered bowl is offset by the convex shape of the battlement wall. The red-framed space holding Krsna and Satyabhama, held aloft by faithful Garuda, dominates the painting. A sense of movement is instilled, both by the steps below and by the domed ramparts.
I would disagree with the critic's conclusion that some of the compartmental backgrounds were painted arbitrarily, just for the sake of colorization. As is always the case in such paintings, the red background denotes areas of most important action. The green room in which the princess sits is clearly marked off as adjacent and less important than the King's chambers. The other green space is the heavily ornamented platform, and the red of the lotus and golden vines predetermines a green background. The remaining spaces are black.
Personally, I don't see the ornamented green space as either a lotus pool or a garden, as the critic suggests, but rather as an interior platform upon which Bhumi alights to give her offering to the Lord. What the writer refers to as "dense vegetal interlace" is actually a very symmetrical ornamental design typical of interiors art, and far less tangled than the actual vegetation in the black forest panel, at right.
I also find it interesting that the author doesn't address the artist's use of the black spaces. Typically such black backgrounds denote a nighttime scene. Because this scene is not particularly focused on an evening pastime, we might also conclude that the black symbolizes the aftermath of a great battle. Interestingly, only the trees, plants and battlement rooftops are in black, not the areas where personalities are interacting. In Chapter 59 of Krsna Book we read a passage about Bhaumasura, in the midst of the battle, looking upwards to see Krsna and Satyabhama situated high above, like a blackish cloud. The black skies of the painting are certainly reminiscent of that element of the pastime drama.