Krishna Battles the Armies of the Demon Naraka: Page from a Bhagavata Purana Manuscript

Date: ca. 1540

Culture: Northern India, Delhi or Agra region

Medium: Opaque watercolor and ink on paper

Dimensions: Page: 8 x 9 1/16 in. (20.3 x 23 cm)
Image: 5 7/8 x 8 7/8 in. (14.9 x 22.5 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust Gift, 1985

Accession Number: 1985.34


In this battle scene, a single event fills the page. To the right, the demon king and his wife sit securely in their two-story palace; to the left, Krishna and his consort arrive, borne by Garuda, the god's bird vehicle. At the center, the great demon army is arrayed on elephants. Despite the beasts' individual massiveness, the shallow space of the picture transforms them into overlapping planes that seem stacked up, rather than solid forms that seem to recede. The rhythmic frieze of hooves, with its energetic draftsmanship, typifies the dynamism of the style. Because of the limited range of colors, ultimately no single element distinguishes itself from the whole; the entire picture can be perceived as pattern.

This work in the Chaurapanchasika style is from the oldest surviving Bhagavata Purana manuscript. It illustrates the tenth chapter, which details the life of Krishna, one of Vishnu's most popular avatars. The other Chaurapanchasika-style manuscripts are short, and this one, originally composed of as many as 300 pages, of which about 200 survive, is by far the largest extant early manuscript. Both it and the much smaller Bhagavata Purana found at Isarda are thought to have been produced in the Delhi-Agra area; it is probably not coincidental that Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna and an important pilgrimage site for his devotees, lies between these two cities.