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"Blindman’s Buff: the Demon Pralambha Carries Balarama on His Shoulder," Folio from the dispersed "Isarda" Bhagavata Purana (The Ancient Story of God)
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Title:"Blindman’s Buff: the Demon Pralambha Carries Balarama on His Shoulder," Folio from the dispersed "Isarda" Bhagavata Purana (The Ancient Story of God)
Medium:Opaque watercolor and mica on paper
Dimensions:H. 7 5/8 in. (19.4 cm) W. 10 3/8 in. (26.4 cm)
Credit Line:Promised Gift of the Kronos Collections, 2015
The youthful Balarama (white), Krishna’s older brother, is playing with the gopas, or the cow herders, in the forests of Brindaban. One of the games he plays is a version of “blindman’s bluff” in which the loser is required to carry the winner on his back. (1) In this picture the various gopas have been joined by the demon Pralambha, who has disguised himself in the garb of a cow herder, although he can do little to conceal his pink, spotted skin or ungainly size. Having lost the game to Balarama, Pralambha is carrying Balarama away. Initially Krishna’s older brother is afraid. Yet he will shortly remember his divine nature and crush the demon’s head, reenforcing the message that evil has no purchase on Krishna, or on those close to him. The great Series to which this painting once belonged the ‘Isarda Bhagavata Purana’ marks a stylistic advance on the earlier ‘Palam Bhagavata Purana ‘ Series of ca. 152030. (See cat. no. 1.) While the earlier figures often look stunted, the later figures are more elegant and elongated. Also in the Isarda Series there are more decorative accoutrements, and in addition the Isarda paintings indulge in many delightful compositional effects. The air is altogether fresher in the Isarda Series. (It) “is more mature in its finishing, its refined colors and expressive and vigorous drawing. Besides (the Series) has marked lyrical charm, poetic imagery and carefree rhythmic vitality.” (2) Also examples from the later set are larger in size, and much harder to acquire, as less than thirty appear to have survived the tribulations of time. In the ‘Isarda Bhagavata Purana’ the men do not wear the kulahdar turban or the chakdar jama (a fourpointed coat) as in cat, no. 1, but rather a small turban tied closely to the head (the atpati turban), and dhotis or loin cloths. Otherwise their ornaments follow the designs commonly seen in the Early Rajput Style. And the background colors, following preMughal Hindu tradition, are similarly restricted: only red, yellow, blue, or green, as here, are generally used. Yet the Series represents a stylistic advance nevertheless. In this picture, for example, modelling through color can be seen on Pralambha’s legs and on the leaves of the last tree on the right. (4) And with respect to earlier pictures, there is greater clarity in the grouping of the figures and greater sophistication in the use of space. The Series is called the ‘Isarda Bhagavata Purana’ for the thikana, or barony, of Isarda, south of Jaipur, where the Series was originally found. The Series is not thought to have been painted at Isarda; only deposited there. For another depiction of the same subject from the so- called ‘Mody Bhagavata Purana’, thought to have been painted in the kingdom of Kangra in ca. 1790, see W.G. Archer, The Loves of Krishna (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1957), pl. 5. (1) Lerner, op. cit., pg. 148 (2) Karl Khandalavala and Jagdish Mittal, “The Bhagavata Mss from Palam and Isarda A Consideration in Style” in Lalit Kala No. 16 (1974), pg. 30 (3) For the ‘Isarda Bhagavata Purana’, see also Guy and Britschgi 2011, pp. 4041. (4) Lerner, op. cit., pg. 150
Inscription: Inscribed on the front in Sanskrit in black ink written in devanagari script: “The destruction of Pralamba, the demon /27”; also inscribed on the front in black ink in Sanskrit written in devanagari script (missing a few characters on left side): verse 30 from the 18th chapter of book 10 of the Bhagavata Purana, “On finding the demon Pralamba slain by the powerful Balarama, all the cow-herds were astonished and they exclaimed ‘well-done,’ ‘well-done’ ”
ex collection Douglas Barrett. Sold through Spink & Son.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Divine Pleasures: Painting from India's Rajput Courts—The Kronos Collections," June 13–September 11, 2016.
Martin Lerner. The Flame and the Lotus: Indian and Southeast Asian Art from the Kronos Collections. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984, pp. 148–51, cat. no. 58.