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Krishna in Indian Art- Sursagar Paintings of Awadh School

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Item Code: UAE306
Author: Neeru Misra
Publisher: Shubhi Publications, Gurgaon
Language: English
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788182902114
Pages: 206 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Other Details 11.50 X 8.50 inch
Weight 970 gm
Book Description
About The Book

Sixteenth century in medieval Indian History has been witness to a great social movement called bhakti. The expressions of devotion by the saints, mystics and poets of this movement created scintillating patterns of literary marvels, including everlasting Ramacharitmanas by Tulsidas and Sursagar by Surdas.

Perhaps no other incarnation has aroused so much ardour and devotion in India as Krishna, who being complete in all sixteen phases of life, himself espoused the primacy of formless worship in his own teachings in Bhagvad Gita. The life of Krishna became an ideal for the devotees and has been sung with passion by many great poets like Jayasi, Raskhan, Mira, Chaitanya, and in the modern times by Prabhupada. Surdas, who flourished in the sixteenth century, revived the Krishna devotion by his epical creation Sursagar, which paints the life of his Lord in verses. Inspired by his guru Vallabhacharya, who narrated to him the tenth chapter of Bhagvat Purana, Surdas is said to have composed as many as one hundred and twenty five thousand verses blended with contemporary ragas. More than five thousand of these verses that can be authentically attributed to Surdas have survived to us today.

The popularity of Krishna devotion revived by Surdas simultaneously led to the popularity of Sursagar. The compositions were compiled, illustrated and treasured in large numbers. With the decay of the Mughal Empire and the dispersal of its atelier, the regional schools became the new patrons of art. The principality of Awadh was a great centre of all forms of art, including literature, painting and music in the nineteenth century. The paintings of these two illustrated manuscripts of Sursagar, one prepared under the royal patronage and the other under the popular stream, provide a deep insight into the style and the art of the Awadh School.

About the Author

NEERU MISRA, heritologist and art historian, holds. a Masters and Doctorate in History from Allahabad University; has been the Head of the Department of Museum Studies on ICCR Maulana Azad Chair at the National Museum Institute. Her Books Splendours of Rajasthan Paintings (2008), Indo Thai Cultural Relations (2007), Mapping Connections (2006), Sufis and Sufism: Some Reflections (2005), Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property (2003), Garden Tomb of Humayun: An Abode in Paradise (2003) and Succession and Imperial Leadership Among the Mughals (1994) have been widely acclaimed.

She has been associated with the academic programmes of the Smithsonian Institutions, University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Thammasat University, Bangkok. Widely travelled, she is a visiting faculty to a number of Universities. She has been a Consultant to the United Nations Development Programme and is presently Director with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations under the Ministry of External Affairs.


Desire, being objective cannot be sustained for the lifetime. Quest, though subjective and becomes a part of the life, annihilates with the fulfillment. The beauty however in a subject related in anyway with the Almighty is that it is both, objective and subjective at the same time. Its quest is ever increasing, and its results ever fulfilling simultaneously. Therefore, writing on the paintings of Krishna as depicted in Sursagar manuscripts of the National Museum collection has given me a dual feeling, of never being contented with what I have been able to say, yet fulfilled with every moment I have spent on this project.

That I got the opportunity of seeing the rare manuscripts in the National Museum Collection, the treasure house of our national heritage is by itself an enriching experience. I thank the Director General, Dr. R. D. Chowdhary for his encouraging and quick response to my request to have the selected transparencies of the Sursagar manuscripts I found so enchanting, for research and subsequent publication.

My elemental knowledge of Persian and Urdu received a great deal of encouragement from Dr. Naseem Akhtar, Keeper of the Manuscript Section, who sat with me throughout the process explaining me in great detail the text and context of the paintings. Reading Sursagar and the Sur sahitya brought me back to the good old days of my schooling when I looked forward to the second paper of the Hindi literature comprising of padya or the poems, and particularly the questions on Surdas which, being close to the dialect of my native place, Braj bhumi, in those days also always fetched me high dividends.

This book is a confluence of these three subtle episodes in my life, independent yet integrated. I have found paintings as the most expressive form of art and have always enjoyed sharing my perceptions with the students of the National Museum Institute, as the guest faculty for over a decade and later as the Head of the Department of Museology on ICCR's Maulana Azad Chair. These paintings of the Awadh School have attracted me deeply and but for the admiration I have seen in several pairs of eyes while sharing my random thoughts, I would have never known how charming the world of art is.


Legends of Rama and Krishna are the most popular themes of Indian literature. Krishna, an incarnation of Visnu, was believed to be complete in all sixteen aspects of life. Perhaps this is the reason why Krishna themes from his childhood to all the mature phases of His life have found extensive depiction in literature, painting, sculpture, dance, drama and other art forms. Medieval Indian literature is replete with rich and marvellous compositions on the life of Krishna by Jayadev, Surdas, Meerabai, Raskhan, Keshavdas, Vidyapati, Caitanya, and many others.

Surdas is considered to be the most prolific composer on almost all aspects of the life of Lord Krishna. His Sur Sagar is an epical composition comprising almost one hundred and twenty five thousand verses in different moods and ragas, musical compositions. Variegated compilations and illustrations of Sursagar are found in many regions of the country.

This volume by Dr. Neeru Misra is a pioneering work on Krishna paintings of the Awadh School. Housed in the National Museum Collection, these paintings assume greater importance in the light of the fact that the Awadh region was mostly dominated by the Rama legends and Krishna was more popular in the Braj region. The commissioned paintings of the Awadh Court also give us a unique insight into the nineteenth century regional off shoots of the Mughal Empire. The painstaking research and commendable presentation on the paintings of the Awadh School by Dr. Misra is a major contribution in the field of the history of art.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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