Krishna the Divine Lover in Indian Art

Article of the Month - Apr 2000

This article by Nitin Kumar Editor http://www.exoticindia.com

(Viewed 2167926 times since Apr 2000)

The major gods in Indian art traditions have all been given consorts. They are rarely described as celibate recluses. In their incarnate form they are explicit in their demonstrative attraction for the opposite sex. The goddesses do not lag behind. Their love for their husbands or lovers is often portrayed in an assertively earthy and sensual manner. Gods and goddesses represent a conscious duality, complementing each other.


Murlimanohar – One who Looks Beautiful with a Flute

Krishna was physically irresistibly appealing. Ancient texts dwell at length on his exceptionally alluring countenance: a blue complexion soft like the monsoon cloud, shining locks of black hair framing a beautifully chiseled face, large lotus like eyes, wild -flower garlands around his neck, a yellow garment (pitambara) draped around his body, a crown of peacock feathers on his head, and a smile playing on his lips, it is in this manner that he is faithfully represented since the ancient times to the modern.

Much as in the Christian art of Medieval Europe, it is woman the Mother, the Madonna suckling a babe who has been painted with reverence, in the Indian Diaspora it is woman the beloved who has been painted with love and passion. The female friends of Krishna with their warm sensuous faces, eyes filled with passion, and delicate sensitive fingers, represent not the beauty of a particular woman, but the beauty of entire womanhood. In fact, she is there as the incarnation of all the beauty of the world and as a representative of the charm of her sex.


Radha Krishna with Gopis (Kishangarh Style)

In the embrace of Krishna, the gopis, maddened with desire, found refuge; in their love dalliance with him who was the master in all the sixty-four arts of love, the gopis felt a thrill indescribable; and in making love with him in that climatic moment of release, in that one binding moment, they felt that joy and fulfillment which could not but be an aspect of the divine. Through their experience, thus, the erotic the carnal and the profane became but an aspect of the sublime, the spiritual and the divine.This cumulative myth sustained one basic point: for women, Krishna was a personal god, always accessible and unfailingly responsive. He was a god specially made for women. In the popular psyche, Krishna and Radha became the universal symbol for the lover and the beloved. Krishna was the ideal hero, and Radha the ideal heroine.

Often the colorful legends surrounding his amorous adventures with female friends prove to be of supreme inspiration to artists. The following tale describing Krishna teasing the gopis by making away with their clothes while they were bathing in the river is one such example :


Desire and Its Fulfillment

According to tradition, unmarried girls from ten to fourteen years of age worship the Goddess Durga in order to fulfil their desire for a suitable husband. But the unmarried girls of Vrindavana were already attracted by the beauty of Krishna. Thus they daily worshipped goddess Durga early in the morning after taking a bath in the river Yamuna, and supplicated the goddess to arrange for their match with Krishna.

Each morning, the gopis would assemble together at the banks of Yamuna and, holding one another's hands, loudly sing of the wonderful pastimes of lord Krishna before entering the river. It is an old system among Indian girls and women that when they take a bath in the river they place their garments on the bank and dip into the water completely naked. The portion of the river where the girls and women bathe was strictly prohibited to any male, and this is still the system in some parts.

One day Krishna appeared on the scene with his friends. Observing the garments left on the bank by the bathing gopis, he immediately collected all the garments, climbed up a nearby tree, and with a smiling face spoke to them thus: "My dear girls, please come here one after another and pray for your garments and then take them away. I'm not joking with you, just telling the plain truth. Please don't come here all at once. Come alone one by one; I want to see each of you in your complete beauty, for you all have thin waists."


Large Size Radha Krishna with Arch Showing Krishna Leela

When the girls in the water heard such joking words from Krishna, they began to look at one another and smile. Though outwardly showing resentment they were joyous to hear such a request because they were already in love with him. They then addressed him : " Do not joke with us in this way, it is unjust to us. You are a very respectable boy and very dear to us, so kindly deliver our garments immediately because we are all shivering from the cold water, and end our suffering."

But all their supplications could not convince Krishna. Seeing that Krishna was strong and determined, they had no alternative but to abide by his command. One after another they came out of the water, but because they were naked, they tried to cover their nakedness with their soft hands. On observing this Krishna chided the gopis, addressing them thus: " My dear girls, you have committed a great offence by going naked in this holy river, because of this the presiding deity of this holy river is displeased with you. Therefore to please this deity touch your forehead with folded palms and ask for his forgiveness." The gopis were all simple souls, and whatever Krishna said they took to be true. They followed his command, but in doing so exposed their nakedness in all its beauty to Krishna's gaze, which was exactly what Krishna desired.


Gopi Gita (The Gopis Song of Separation): A Detailed Commentary Beautifully Illustrated

All the unmarried gopis who prayed to Goddess Durga as their husband were thus satisfied. A woman cannot be naked before any male except her husband. The unmarried gopis desired Krishna as their husband, and he fulfilled their desire in this way.

The India art tradition visualises the love adventures of gods and their female friends because it acknowledges that sex is the supreme fact in life, which provides the urge to procreate and maintain the species. It is concealed like lightning in a cloud, and in its glow is the birth of art, literature and science. Sex union among lovers is the most exalted experience in life, and in mutual ecstasy the liberation of the soul from the narrow 'self' takes place. This is the supreme experience of lovers as well as mystics. That is why in describing the union of God and soul, the extremely beautiful imagery of man and woman is employed by mystic saints and artists. Thus we see that the classification of love into 'carnal' and 'spiritual' is arbitrary and unwarranted for the so called 'spiritual' love has its roots in the so called 'physical' love. This art thus sanctifies human love and places it on a par with divine love. In it we find sacredness wedded to sensuous joy.

   
Mirabai and Krishna

It is not a spiritual art where spirit and body are regarded as two separate entities. It is not gloomy, cold and forbidding, but is an art which is a happy blend of the sensuous and the spiritual. The spirituality is not chilled by an asceticism which is disdainful of female loveliness and the delights of love. In fact, its spirituality very much based on flesh and blood. It is an art which glorifies female beauty and revels in the loveliness of the female form.


The Dancer’s Homage to Krishna

The knitting together of form and color into a coordinated harmony is the hallmark of this art. Form and color are so blended that the effect is musical. To achieve such a harmony, the artist uses both line and color in these paintings. The line which he uses is the musical rhythmical line, which express both movement and mass, representing the flow and ardor of impassioned love. The type of line which Blake admired, and regarded as the golden rule of art is this: " The more distinct, sharp, and wiry the bounding line, the more perfect the work of art, and the less keen and sharp, the greater is evidence of weak imagination." And what a rhythm these dancing lines create, a pure limpid harmony! That is why these pictures are so comforting and so soothing like the concertos of Bach and Mozart. This line is effectively supplemented by colors-the blues, yellows, greens, and reds, the pure colors of earth and minerals, which shine like jewels.

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  • Beautiful article, thank you.
    BKRoss April 13, 2014
  • I always have liked this story: by touching and shivering on their pubes, the Gopis experienced the Joys of "marital" love. Krishna is the indwelling learner and experience of all our skills. He even is the skill of a cheat, a musician , an internet user etc. Thank you
    valvtrom September 27, 2010
  • Hello, Please don';t make mental concoctions about Krishna , Krishna has to be understood through 1. the parampara system, and second if you want to have a description of Krishna , he was not a BLACK man , he was blakish bluish ,exactly like the monsun cloud. That is the description of the Vedas, his eyes are are like lotus flowers etc etc. He was not a black man, please don't make mental speculations, krishna has to be understood through the scriptures and the bonafide parampara system
    Hello February 01, 2010
  • I would agree with Mr. Shurjendu. The idea of Radha and Krishna's love gives us an idea of supreme unselfish erotic feelings, that can be experienced only in the realm of the blissful soul, not in the realm of the temporary body. Kind regards, Yasomati
    Yasomatinandana August 01, 2009
  • What a beautiful affirmative article. Thank you for taking the time to research and write it. It is an antidote to the idea that sexuality and spirituality are incompatible opposites. Our appetite for pleasure is one of God's manifold gifts. I have the utmost respect for nuns, monks and priests as well as laypeople who choose to suppress that appetite in their adoration of God. That choice is freely made does not make them spiritually superior to those of us who express our love via sex. It seems to be a hallmark of most religions that we assign greater value to those who work to suppress or repress their sexuality. Many of those people are indeed more devout and more focused on pleasing God. Many married couples are just as devout and through their lives together, they give glory to God using a different vocabulary. God is far more loving, merciful, playful and joy-filled than we allow Her/Him to be when represented through the prism of our pettiness.
    Dr Jeannette Kavanagh June 25, 2009
  • This is an apology for the error I made in my review. This article was not posted on my birthday in the year of 2008 10/02 however; it was last reviewed on that date. The aritcle itself was 1st posted by in year 2000. Again, i just wanted to clarify my error. India art is so, romantic and captivating, especially when I know that Lord Krisna and so, many other Lords, God and Goddesses in Hinduism were - BLACK Ancestors who were on this planet first, don't take my word for it study His-tory in order to learn Our-story! Might of fact where do you think India, Indians and Asians get there dart, swarthy skin complextion from duh! The Black man and Black Woman are the Mother's and Father's of all races of people, believe it or not! Ase' LedaBee 5/19/09
    LedaBee May 19, 2009
  • This article was beautiful because I do not take every and anything I read literally, I particularly enjoyed reading all the reviews submitted by others readers. I concur with the women’s sexuality and spiritual energy is as one. This has been suppressed by male patriarchy concepts and beliefs through out the his-story of India - Hinduism, Buddahism as well as the JCI religious beliefs about the women’s body and sexuality. What is so amazingly true with a doubt is when a child is born from a, "Spiritual / Sexual Conception between man and woman. The dual aspect of this divine spiritual pro-creation sexual union being conceived from the equal love as that of Krisna parents is just how Krisna was born into a spiritual love child. What caught my attention after reading this article was the fact that it was posted on my birthday 10/02 in the year of 2008. My Zodiac sign is the scales Libra being balanced as in Justice. Chinese symbol Yen and Yang reciprocity etc... male and female. Without the mother there would be no father, without the father there would be no mother. I turned 49 y.o. on the date this article was first posted; at that time I was not aware of the many gods and goddesses in Hinduism literature. There is truly something magical, enlightening and true about the myths, tales, portraits, and ancient documents covering a wide array of his-story amongst the people of the world when it comes to religions, and beliefs. What is even more powerful now that I have become exposed and have done my own research into our-story as a Black woman who ancestors come from Alkebelan, the name of Africa before it Egypt was invaded by Indo-Europeans. I know that India means Black! I only wish that the ancestors be praised for they truly were the ones whom contributed to the worlds, first concept of spirituality by and through their divine sexuality as men and women it was through their procreation that places all men and women around the world on this world stage we stand on day in and day out, from the shores of the sea to every piece of land on this planet earth. The color, "Black is beautiful," I do not believe Krisna was Blue or Purple the way most India Portraits portray him. Every now and then I see him as his true nature being a born as a Black man! I can hardly wait until his birth rite is acknowledged as such, because if not I can only imagine that in the next 100 years Lord Krisna will then be betrayed as being a Red man with an orange tent to his skin. Krisna was a hue-man, and if he were a God then I can't see why he would want to look at young girls naked bodies, this is just my perspective, even though the thought was well intended by the writer. This is story is almost intended to be taken literally as all Nuns saving their bodies for Jesus in heaven. His-tory has been distorted by man and, until the masses of the people start using their common sense when they read information, the distortion, fables and lies will continue to spread like a disease, and smell like a rotten egg on an open fire! Ase' Message from a Black conscience Woman! LedaBee
    LedaBee May 19, 2009
  • This is not a new concept. It is a true concept and you see it very clearly and i applaud you. The concept of spirituality and sexuality woven together goes back to prehistory. It's very division is what has caused such distorted views of men and women in their roles today. Mr. Shurjendu Dutt-Mazumdar is obviously misinformed and perhaps views sexuality as dirty or divided from spirituality. But we must remind the frazzled commentator that he too was born from the sacred union of sexuality. And for your information my dear sir, the reason there has not been a good deal of sexual imagery in Hinduism is because the priests have made certain it is so. Read some Krishnamurti and his views on spirituality. Look at the situation with the devadasis, the ancient dancers/lovers who have been banished from their dances/sexual prostitution in the Indian temples. For shame! What greater beauty is there than spirituality married to sexuality. The beauty and worship of the female form which men continue to do each and every moment as they up to this day chase women! Sexual energy can most certainly be TRANSFORMED into spiritual energy and this can be demonstrated from the rising of Kundalini. Sexuality has far too long been suppressed and equated with shame and guilt. The Crown Chakra once it is opened becomes not only a link to the universal spiritual energy but also a link to LOVE. And Mr. Shurjendu Dutt-Mazumdar, we know that the article is simple, it is only an article not a book. Hinduism is LITTERED with sexual goddesses but you choose to avoid this fact because sexuality makes you feel uncomfortable. To those who are unaware, Radha and Krishna were not only divine lovers but twin souls, which is not usually an understood concept but one i can personally attest to as i sojourn to higher levels of consciousness. Your article is beautiful and well written. Congratulations for your great insight and understanding and for spreading the news. Sexuality and Spirituality are ONE.
    Sylvia February 27, 2009
  • beautiful
    melinda January 20, 2007
  • please send immediately Krishna Review with photographs
    annie garrycooper June 11, 2006