The painting presents an imaginative extension of a romantic situation: Krishna appeasing an annoyed Radha by combing her hair, which the poet Jaideva exploited in one of the verses in his timeless poem Gita Govinda for illustrating Krishna’s love for Radha. As the contextual verse in the Gita Govinda has it, knowing from Radha’s Sakhi that Radha, annoyed with him for flirting with other Gopis, has not only given up food and water but also every kind of adornment and has retired to forest, Krishna searches her and to please her begins adorning her by first combing her hair. The artist, in tune with the Kangra art culture which dismissed everything sour or unpleasing, even that which finally led to a pleasant situation as in the Gita-Govinda verse, has transformed the forest-wandering Radha, and a Krishna wandering from grove to grove for love, into palace inmates and timeless perpetual lovers as the tradition has always perceived Radha and Krishna to have been. The artist seems to have given up the Gita-Govinda’s contextual harshness : Radha’s annoyance and Krishna’s persuasions, and has exploited the situation for portraying, unbound to any context, one of the softest gestures expressing his love for her, egoless and beyond barriers. He has portrayed his Radha and Krishna in complete harmony, and in love beyond all questions, broadly in a completely different frame.
The painting represents Radha seated inside a marble jharokha – oriel window, wrought with multi-coloured semi-precious stones on the back side of the palace which the rows of Saptaparnis – a tree of which seven leaves grow as one unit, and the intercepting cypresses affirm. The jharokha is topped by a flattish dome, a characteristic feature of medieval Rajput architecture, and is supported on a large size lotus motif. A loving Krishna, leaning over her figure from behind, is combing her hair with a coloured ivory comb, while Radha, in absolute bliss, is looking into the mirror of her ring her own face, and Krishna’s, and the satisfaction revealing in his eyes and the demeanour of his face when dressing her hair. A ring with a small mirror fixed into it, known as ‘arsi-ring’, was exceptionally popular in medieval India, especially among upper classes. The verse in the Gita Govinda portraying Krishna combing Radha’s hair abounds in rare lyricism but this lyricism multiplies many more times in the miniaturist’s diction of colours and in the strokes of his brush. Apart, the painted version breathes unique sublimity, a touch of softness and a strange mysticism.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.