Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

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Krishna holding up the Govardhana mountain


    • currently in research collection

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  • Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum by J. C. Harle and Andrew Topsfield

    Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum

    Kṛṣṇa, the cow-herd god, and a form of Viṣṇu/Vāsudeva [see EAOS.38.a and EA1961.168] was originally a folk-hero famous for his exploits both as a child and a young man. These are extensively portrayed in friezes, in miniature painting and, in South India, in bronze [see EA1958.175]. Only one of these themes, however, figures in large sculptural panels or free-standing sculpture; it portrays Kṛṣṇa holding up the mountain Govardhana (“increaser of kine”) near Mathura so that the cowherds and their flocks can shelter from a seven-day storm sent by Indra, anciently the warrior chief of the gods, whose worship was being neglected by Kṛṣṇa and his companions.

    This unusual sculpture is from Rajasthan, a region particularly devoted to the cult of Kṛṣṇa and where a late flowering in sculpture and architecture took place, particularly in Mewar (Udaipur) in the 15th and 16th centuries.

    The peculiar shape of the mountain is no doubt an echo of the simile used in the Bhāgavata-Purāṇa, the principal source of the Kṛṣṇa legend, when “Kṛṣṇa plucked the Govardhana mountain with one hand and held it playfully as a child might a mushroom”. Instead of the rustication usually employed by Indian sculptors to depict a mountain or mountainous terrain, the “stem” is decorated in a plant-like manner. The base and the “head” of the mushroom-mountain are etched with outline figures of devotees, cattle, birds including peacocks, and vegetation. Little more than graffiti, these may have been added later.

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