Krishna and Radha after a night of love

Illustration to the Rasikapriya
Attributed to Sajnu, a Master of the Second Generation after Nainsukh
Guler, Punjab Hills, India, c. 1825
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper
Folio: 35 x 27 cm; Painting: 26 x 18.5 cm

When artists visualised love poems like the Rasikapriya, they saw Krishna and Radha in the role of the nayak and nayika. The venerated relationship between the divine hero and his beloved, seen by many as a creative expression of spiritual devotion, became the theme of many paintings that show the two lovers either ecstatic in their union or pining in separation. Pahari artists, specifically, developed a highly refined visual language that expressed the romance of such lyrics into painting. Here the artist has captured them gazing into each other’s eyes, creating what Archer called the “supreme moment of romance”. Even though they no longer embrace, Radha who sits up to leave is clearly still lost in her lover, and unable to break away. The orange in the sky hints at dawn, the world around them is stirring to life, but Radha and Krishna are still surrounded by remnants of their night together: shattered shards of glass bangles on the bed, and the broken flower garland that still remains loosely wrapped around Krishna’s blue body. Though the folio contains no inscriptions, it is easy to see this verse from the Rasikapriya as having been the artist’s inspiration:

‘After the night of love, my dear,
When the lovers lay awake in bed,
As lovely ocean they appeared,
Their beauty the water in it — the red
That decked her heels a fire which burned
Reflected — betel-juice, nail marks
Upon her breasts as moons did run;
As nectar were sandal-paste spots,
Collyrium in eyelashes, venom;
The garland that had snapped and dropped
Seemed as it were a precious gem,
And sleep sojourning in eyes was
The sweet wine which them drunk did make,
So that with bliss the two did sway.’
(Bahadur, 1972)

The figures represent the ideal of beauty —the dark and handsome Krishna with the fair skinned Radha who is wrapped in the same colour as the light of the rising sun in the horizon. Both faces are as delicate as they are expressive, and Krishna’s gentle, content smile is just one of the many exquisite details of this sumptuous painting. Each of the surfaces—the translucent fabrics on the bodies, the floral borders on the bed sheet, the red carpet, and the architectural features such as the pillars and niches, all have been intricately ornamented to add to the romance of the figures. The floral decoration on the outer borders seems to be more of a Western derivation, which is not surprising given that some of the Pahari patrons also collected prints from Europe (Archer, 1976. pp 152).

This painting is attributed to the artist Sajnu, but it also closely relates to the work of the other artists from the Manaku-Nainsukh family of Guler, providing testament to the fact that though artists moved geographically and absorbed influences, their style remained closely tied to their family.

A painting of a solitary woman in a similar composition has been published by Archer and was part of his personal collection (Archer, 1976. No. 45, pp 82-83).

R. E. Lewis, California, 1970s.
Private West Coast Collection, USA.

Archer, W. G. Visions of Courtly India: The Archer Collection of Pahari Miniatures. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, 1976.
Bahadur, K. P. The Rasikapriya of Keshavadasa. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1972.
Randhawa, M. S. Kangra Paintings on Love. Delhi: National Museum, 1962.

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