As Passion Took Over
Page from a dispersed series of the Gita Govinda (Song of the Dark Lord) of Jayadeva

Artist/maker unknown, India

Geography:
Made in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia
or Guler, Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia

Date:
c. 1775-80

Medium:
Opaque watercolor with gold on paper

Dimensions:
6 3/4 x 6 1/16 inches (17.1 x 15.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Indian and Himalayan Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
2004-149-75

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Alvin O. Bellak Collection, 2004

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Label:
From the final chapter of the Gita Govinda series, this painting depicts Radha and Krishna in their forest love nest. The verse on the back of the page describes them at the threshold between foreplay and intercourse. Radha grabs Krishna's hand, both delaying and encouraging his fondling; she shyly bends her head, but meets his eyes with an upward glance. Such visual ambiguity escalates the mood of passionate anticipation. Their playful courtship battle heightens their eventual union, a union symbolizing the merging of the human soul with God. At some point in its history, about half of this painting was cut away and the stretch of river and hills that would have emphasized the lovers' isolation was lost. Although probably made in Nainsukh's family workshop, this series does not show that master painter's love of individualization; instead this artist prefers to move entirely into the dream world of earthly perfection characteristic of late-eighteenth-century painting from the Panjab Hills.

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

    From the final chapter of the same Gita Govinda series as Radha, Enter Madhava’s Intimate World (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-74), this page illustrates the first stage in the culmination of Radha and Krishna’s springtime encounter in the Vrindavan woods. After he has wooed and abandoned her, after she has withdrawn in jealousy and been tormented with longing, after her friend has convinced her to overcome her anger and fear, Radha goes to Krishna, and their lovemaking is ecstatic.

    The verse that is partially preserved on the back of this painting describes the lovers at the threshold between foreplay and intercourse: their bristling hair impedes a close embrace, their blinking impedes their loving gaze, their playful talk impedes their kisses, the battle that is courtship impedes the attainment of bliss.1

    In the painting the couple are entirely nude but for their jewelry; Krishna has even taken off his necklaces. Radha’s legs wrap up and around him, yet she pulls back slightly and braces herself on the ground behind with one hand. Her unbound hair cascades down her back, and her young nipples, pink anderect, are stimulated with desire. Krishna crouches between her legs, leaning forward. With one hand he holds her foot, with the other he reaches beneath her knee to fondle her breast. Radha places her hand over his, both playfully delaying and fervidly encouraging. Her head is bent, but she glances upward to meet eyes that are intent and tender. Charged with a visual ambiguity that mirrors the words of the verse,2 the scene crackles with passionate anticipation, and is infinitely gentle.

    The landscape is in deep night; stars peek out above the shadowy treetops at the top right. Radha and Krishna embrace on a bed of leaves within a bower of trees. It is the same setting in which Krishna earlier sat alone (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-74), but here the topography is seen from a lower and closer angle. The River Yamuna winds behind the trees, so that the lovers appear as if alone on an island. Unfortunately at some point in its history this page and others from this series depicting explicit sex were rebordered and the “excess” landscape cropped.3 In this painting, a large section of landscape seems to have been cut from the left half. The original composition would most likely have shown the river continuing toward the lower left, winding between barren hills to create a stark, dark expanse that would have emphasized Radha and Krishna’s isolation.

    Over 35 paintings from this Gita Govinda series have been published,4 but, according to W. G. Archer,5 who linked it with a numbered set of drawings in the National Museum, New Delhi, the original likely contained over 150 images. Archer himself speculated that the set may have been the work of Khushala (Manaku’s younger son; see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-77) and Gaudhu (Nainsukh’s second son). While this is difficult to substantiate, the paintings do clearly relate to the workshop-lineage of Pandit Seu, Nainsukh, and Manaku.6 Goswamy believes that the planning and preliminary sketches for this set, or at least many of them, were actually done by the master Nainsukh himself in the last decade of his life (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-71).7 He does not, however, attempt to designate an individual hand for the completed paintings, attributing them generally to the workshop and a “master of the first generation after Nainsukh,” active about 1775–80.8 Vishwa Chander Ohri also attributes the set to painters working in Guler but dates it slightly earlier, to c. 1760–65.9

    Whichever hand was responsible, however, the combination of style and subject in this Gita Govinda makes it arguably the apotheosis of the idealized vision for which Pahari painting is known, an unblemished world of exquisite people and delightful landscape. While retaining the delicate detailing of Nainsukh himself, it is no longer anchored in a love of individualization, but creates and depicts a self-contained dream of earthly perfection. Darielle Mason, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 194-195.

    1. According to Barbara Stoler Miller (Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva’s “Gïtagovinda.” New York: Columbia University Press, 1977, p. 203), this is a variant verse of the longer recension of the Gita Govinda; it follows Verse 10 of Sarga 12. For a translation see ibid.
    2. Although W. G. Archer (Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills: A Survey and History of Pahari Miniature Painting. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet; Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1973, vol. 1, p. 291, Kangra nos. 33 [i–viii]) says that the verses on the back of each painting refer to the next painting in the set, not to the one on which they are inscribed, the verses on this and Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-74 certainly correspond with the scenes depicted, as is the case in other instances.
    3. A similarly cut and rebordered page is in the Museum Rietberg, Zurich (RVI 952; see B. N. Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Supplement 38 of Artibus Asiae. Exh. cat. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1992, p. 330, no. 137), while another page, in the Robbins Collection of the Indian Princely States (Annapurna Garimella. “A Handmaids’ Tale: Sakhis, Love, Devotion, and Poetry in Rajput Painting.” In Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Love in Asian Art and Culture (Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1998), p. 74, fig. 3), has been cut down to different dimensions and not rebordered, indicating more than one campaign of desecration.
    4. Pages are widely scattered in numerous public and private collections in the United States, Europe, and India. Many are known to have come from the collection of Maharaja Manvindra Shah of Tehri-Garhwal (W. G. Archer. Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills: A Survey and History of Pahari Miniature Painting. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet; Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1973, vol. 1, p. 291).
    5. Ibid., p. 292.
    6. The colophon page of this Gita Govinda (National Museum, New Delhi) is almost an exact copy of the colophon page of an important earlier version of the text bearing a date (1730), a place (Basohli), and an artist’s name (Manaku). B. N. Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer (Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Supplement 38 of Artibus Asiae. Exh. cat. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1992, pp. 240–49) believe this work was indeed done by Manaku of Guler, son of Pandit Seu. Roy Craven, Jr. (“Manaku: A Guler Painter,” in Vishwa Chander Ohri and Roy C. Craven, Jr., eds. Painters of the Pahari Schools. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 1998, pp. 46–67), on the other hand, argues that it should be attributed to another artist of the same name, living in Basohli at the same time, whereas F. S. Aijazuddin (“The Basohli Gita Govinda Set of 1730 A.D.— A Reconstruction,” Roopa-Lekha, vol. 41, nos. 1–2 [1973], pp. 7–34) sees four different painters at work on this series, one of whom was patronized by a Mankot ruler. However, the fact that the colophon pages are near duplicates indicates at least a consciousness of the first by the painter of the second, and certain similarities of composition and conception between the two versions have led Goswamy and Fischer (Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Supplement 38 of Artibus Asiae. Exh. cat. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1992, pp. 247, 312) to speculate that those responsible for the later Gita Govinda worked in part from drawings made for the older version.
    7. B. N. Goswamy. Nainsukh of Guler: A Great Indian Painter from a Small Hill-State. Supplement 41 of Artibus Asiae. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1997, pp. 244–47, no. 97, pp. 250–51, no. 99; Eberhard Fischer and B. N. Goswamy. Paintings by Nainsukh of Guler: Indian Miniatures—Works from the Pahari Region of the Eighteenth Century in the Collection of the Museum Rietberg Zürich Ascribed to the Master, His Workshop, and His Successors. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1999, pp. 34–43, nos. 12–17.
    8. Eberhard Fischer and B. N. Goswamy. Paintings by Nainsukh of Guler: Indian Miniatures—Works from the Pahari Region of the Eighteenth Century in the Collection of the Museum Rietberg Zürich Ascribed to the Master, His Workshop, and His Successors. Zurich: Museum Rietberg, 1999, p. 41, nos. 16–17.
    9. Vishwa Chander Ohri, “Introduction,” in Vishwa Chander Ohri and Roy C. Craven, Jr., eds. Painters of the Pahari Schools. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 1998, pp. 7–9.