"Krishna Holds Up Mount Govardhan to Shelter the Villagers of Braj", Folio from a Harivamsa (The Legend of Hari (Krishna))
Folio from an illustrated manuscript
Made in present-day Pakistan, probably Lahore
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 11 3/8 in. x W. 7 7/8 in. (28.9 x 20 cm)
Purchase, Edward C. Moore Jr. Gift, 1928
Not on view
The Hindu epics the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and other texts such as the Harivamsa, a genealogy of Hari (or Krishna), were translated into Persian and illustrated for the first time during Akbar’s reign (1556–1605). Unlike other manuscript projects for which the Mughal court artists inherited a tradition of iconography and style from earlier Iranian manuscripts, they had to invent new compositions for these works. The present folio depicts Krishna holding up Mount Govardhan to protect the villagers of Braj from the rains sent by the god Indra.
The translation of historical and mythological texts from various languages into Persian for Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) was an established practice by 1574 at his capital, Fatehpur Sikri, and involved leading nobles whose contributions reflected the high literary culture of the court. Among the major projects undertaken were the translation and illustration of the Hindu classics the Mahabharata—known in Persian as the Razmnama (Book of Wars)—and the Ramayana. The surviving paintings represent the first known illustrated versions of works of Hindu epic literature on paper, an innovation that was brought about by the Mughal love of the arts of the book. The new translations were virgin territory for the Mughal court artists, who, in most previous painting projects, worked within an inherited tradition of iconography, subject matter, and even style. Remarkably, rather than the tentative first steps that one might have expected, the illustrated Hindu texts are among the most powerful of Mughal works.
The Harivamsa (Legend of Hari) is, in large part, a chronicle of the exploits of Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu; Hari is one of Vishnu’s many names. The translation into Persian was undertaken in 1585 by Maulana Shiri (d. 1586) during Akbar’s last year at Fatehpur Sikri. Thirty-three miniatures survive from the dispersed manuscript. The present folio shows Krishna holding up Mount Govardhan to protect the villagers of Braj from destructive rains sent by the god Indra. Most later versions of the same scene in painting and sculpture depict the deity lifting up the mountain (sometimes reduced in scale to a symbolic hillock) on his little finger, but early Indian sculpture shows the mountain resting on the flat palm of his hand, as in this image.
The anonymous artist has largely drawn on a Persian landscape style to depict the mountain, although here the multicolored crags are filled with wildlife native to the subcontinent. Below, the assembly of villagers evokes the timelessness of rural life, present even to this day in parts of India, with almost as much attention paid to the characterful depiction of the animals as to the human subjects. The central figure of Krishna bears the attributes of the deity, including his peacock crown, floral garland (vanamala), and draped dhoti; the brilliant color of his garment is derived from so-called Indian yellow, an early use in Mughal painting of a traditional Indian pigment. A subtle but distinct reddening of the corners of Krishna’s eyes, which later became common in paintings of the deity, reflects a convention seen in enameled eye inlays in devotional sculpture.
Navina Haidar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Several other pages in the Museum’s collection are associated with this manuscript (acc. nos. 28.63.2–.3; 67.266.5). The group is discussed in Skelton, Robert. "Mughal Painting from Harivamşa Manuscript." Victoria and Albert Museum Yearbook 2 (1970), pp. 41–54.
2. Hawley, John Stratton. "Krishna’s Cosmic Victories." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 47, no. 2 ( June 1979), pp. 206–7, fig. 2, discusses the Govardhan motif in sculpture.
3. Chandra, Moti. The Technique of Mughal Painting. Lucknow, 1949, p. 27.
4. Indian Court Painting: Sixteenth–Nineteenth Century. Exhibition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Catalogue by Steven [M.] Kossak. New York, 1997, p. 85, no. 49, shows a later Pahari-school Krishna image with this feature.
[ Hagop Kevorkian, New York, until 1928; sold to MMA]
New York. Asia Society. "The Art of Mughal India, Painting and Precious Objects," January 1, 1964–March 31, 1964, no. 13.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Indian Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 18, 1973–April 1, 1973, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "INDIA !," September 14, 1985, no. 109.
Canberra. National Gallery of Australia. "The Vision of Kings: Art and Experience in India," November 25, 1995–February 4, 1996, no. 79.
Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria. "The Vision of Kings: Art and Experience in India," February 23, 1996–April 28, 1996, no. 79.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Krishna: Mythology and Worship," February 9, 2004–May 9, 2004.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Krishna: Mythology and Worship," March 1, 2008–July 28, 2008.
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Art of Mughal India : Painting and Precious Objects. An Asia House Gallery publication. New York: Asia Society, 1963. no. 13, pp. 28, 164, ill. pl. 13 (b/w).
Grube, Ernst J. "The Early School of Herat and its Impact on Islamic Painting of the Later 15th, the 16th and 17th Centuries." In The Classical Style in Islamic Painting. Venice: Edizioni Oriens, 1968. ill. pl. 95 (b/w).
Swietochowski, Marie, and Richard Ettinghausen. "Islamic Painting." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 36, no. 2 (Autumn 1978). p. 39, ill. p. 39 (color).
Welch, Stuart Cary. "Art and Culture 1300–1900." In India!. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985. no. 109, pp. 175-177, ill. p. 176 (color).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 134-35, ill. fig.103 (color).
Okada, Amina. Imperial Mughal Painters: Indian Miniatures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Paris: Flammarion, 1992. p. 132, ill. fig. 145 (b/w).
Brand, Michael. "Art and Experience in India." In The Vision of Kings. Canberra, Australia: National Gallery of Australia, 1995. no. 79, p. 118, ill. p. 118 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 245, pp. 339, 350-351, ill. p. 350 (color).