Janmashtami is an important Vaishnava holiday commemorating the birth of Krishna. A two-day celebration takes place this weekend at Austin's Radha Madhav Dham temple and gardens. In San Antonio, Krishna communities host events, Sunday. In all, images of Krishna will be venerated. That's because, according to the ancient texts, Lord Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu. In fact, the name Krishna, means all attractive.
Swami Sivananda, in “Bliss Divine” writes, “Vishnu incarnated with lotus eyes, with four hands armed with conch, disc, mace and lotus, with the mark of Srivatsa adorning the chest. Vasudeva (his birth mother) saw this marvel of a divine child.”
“He was the world-teacher,” says Sivananda of Krishna. “Sri Krishna was a perfect Master. He was a Karma Yogi, Bhakta, Raja Yogi and Jnana Yogi. He preached Karma, Upasana (worship), Yoga and Jnana. The four Yogas are blended in His Gita or the Immortal Song. He was the one Lord of love. His enchanting form, with flute in hand, holds the heart of India captive in chains, even today.”
The Times of India says Lord Krishna was born 5,200 years ago and his birthplace is lit up on Janmashtami. The newspaper refers to the “Bhagavad Gita” to further describe this day. “…whenever there will be a predominance of evil and decline of religion, Lord Vishnu will reincarnate and save the earth from all that is evil. The main purpose behind the celebration of Janmashtami along with Lord Krishna's birthday is the prevalence of goodwill and this is what unites people from different regions together on the auspicious occasion.”
These tales, and more, are depicted in illustrations from a San Diego collection.
Most are based on epics like the Ramayana or Bhagavata Purana.
One area, however, is devoted to Persian-language literature like the Shahnama. Yet another area, is musical illustrations. These are known as Ragamala. Typically, these were sets of 36 paintings, thus, creating a garland (mala) of images pertaining to the music (ragas).
The exhibit is at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art through October 1. Epic Tales from Ancient India features stories and images of Krishna. Traditional Indian music is piped into the gallery space.
There are dozens and dozens of illustrations of Krishna and others from the ancient scriptures in the Blanton exhibit. Images of Krishna, Yashoda, Radha, Balaram are mostly from the 1600s. They tend to be very detailed, tiny stories on paper.
Here are a few examples.
To protect Krishna against a terrible prophesy, his birth parents entrusted him to Yashoda and Nanda. Krishna’s birth, and escape from the jail where he was born, are expressed in a watercolor circa 1560.
The exhibit description explains several of the scenes in this piece.
“When Devaki gives birth to her eight son, Krishna, no ordinary infant, but rather an incarnation of the god Vishnu, a carefully conceived plan ensures the child’s safety. In this image, the blue-skinned Krishna sits on a lotus throne…At the center, the prison door is left unchained. Its two guards and their dogs have fallen fast asleep, enabling Vasudeva and Krishna’s midnight escape to the distant land where Krishna will be raised.”
Kamsa sends demons out to harm baby Krishna. One of those demons is disguised as a crane, Bakasura.
“Bakasura attacked from behind a tree, capturing Krishna in his beak, In the story, the crane swallows Krishna but is forced to expel him when his palate begins to burn…Krishna seizes the two halves of Bakasura’s beak to rip the crane into two pieces as his brother, Balarama, and another cowherd boy wield their sticks to assist in subduing the demon.”
In another tale, Krishna overcomes a forest fire. After defeating a serpent, Krishna and his father return home. Tired, the fall asleep at the Yamuna river.
“At this point, a massive forest fire starts, and Krishna must rescue his people again. In the illustration, the fire that encircles the group looks like a garland of yellow flowers, within which Krishna is depicted twice…On the left, he sleeps alongside his brother Balarama and foster father Nanda…On the right, he drinks up the flames…”
An opaque watercolor, from the mid 1700s shows Krishna explaining worship. There are multiple stories within the painting, representing how worship is passed on, from one to another. The eye is drawn to a colorful flower. At the yellow center of the flower, are Vishnu and Garuda. His attendants and other deities are pictured on each of the eight pink petals.
A gallery text explains one of the pieces from around 1690.
“A telling of the story in the vernacular language of Brajbasha on the verso describes Krishna as sitting among the gopis as they together form a circle and enact the rasalila performance. Krishna multiplies himself and dances between the women. Witnessing this wonderful spectacle, gods gather while heavenly musicians and dancers join in the revelry.”
Krishna was ever popular among the gopis (cow herder girls).
“The love that the Gopis bore towards Krishna was a divine love. It was the union of souls,” says Sivananda. He adds that his flute attracted them. “It produced God-intoxication in all beings and infused life even in insentient objects. The sweetness of the music was unsurpassed."
As part of the Blanton show, there will be a sarod and tabla concert on September 21. Then, on September 22, there will be a lecture. Additionally, each Thursday, Saturday and Sunday will be storytelling and dance. A UT grad student, with then years of Indian classical dance experience, will perform.
The Blanton was founded in 1963 as UT’s Art Museum. Therefore, admission is free to current UT staff and students. Likewise, admission is free for teachers and active military. Typically, the museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays until 5 p.m. However, the third Thursday of every month, the museum is open until 9 p.m.