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A painting from a dispersed Harivamsa series
A painting from a dispersed Harivamsa series


A painting from a dispersed Harivamsa series
Attributed to Purkhu
India, Kangra, circa 1800-1820
With Indra astride his white elephant Airavata at center, Jayanta next to him in a horse-drawn chariot and both facing Krishna and Satyaki seated on golden Garuda, with Jayanta shown again above engaged in fierce battle with Pradyumna at upper right, the celestial inhabitants in their cloud-borne palaces at left looking on, all amidst swirling clouds against a blue sky surrounded by red borders, with text and a folio number on the verso
Opaque pigments and gold on paper
14 3/8 x 20 in. (36.5 x 50.8 cm.), image
15½ x 21 1/8 in. (39.5 x 53.8 cm.), folio
Private Collection, London, acquired at Bonham's London, 19 April 2007, lot 340

Lot Essay

This painting describes the moment when Krishna and Indra go to battle for their wives, who both covet the Parijata tree. During a visit to the heavens, Krishna and his wife Satyabhama visit the gardens of Indra and his wife Sachi, where they see the famed Parijata tree. The tree was a favorite of Sachi and was produced when the ocean was churned for ambrosia. As soon as Satyabhama noticed this tree she asks Krishna to steal it for her garden, to demonstrate his love for her. Krishna obeys his favorite wife, puts the tree on Garuda and takes it back to their home in Dwaraka. As they are leaving, Satyabhama taunts Sachi with the superior prowess and love of Krishna, and tells her to send Indra to retrieve it and prove otherwise. Goaded by this challenge, Indra and Jayanta come to attack Krishna; Garuda and Pradyumna join the fray. Soon the two mahadevas reach an impasse. Realizing they cannot beat each other and are therefore equally matched, Indra and Krishna decide to keep the Parijata tree at Dwaraka.

The Harivamsa ("An Account of the Dynasty of Hari [Vishnu]") is a work of three chapters appended to the great epic, the Mahabharata. The first chapter contains an account of the creations and the genealogy of the Yadavas, the family of Krishna and Vasudeva descended from their Aryan ancestor, Yadu. The second chapter describes the life of Krishna and his affairs with the gopis, where many of the stories are similar to those in the Bhagavata Purana. The last chapter deals with prophecies of the present age (Kali Yuga) and other matters unconnected with the title of the work.

This painting has Purkhu's joyful treatment of the clouds, described as "bold, billowing spirals in variegated hues of pink, grey, white and black" (see B.N. Goswamy and E. Fischer, Pahari Masters, 1992, p. 372), which he uses to great effect to describe celestial landscapes. He also enjoys involving the viewer; note the figure at upper left gazing outwards and gesturing to the frenzy at right. This work has an inscription with "31" on the verso, possibly a folio number from the series, which is widely dispersed. Two other paintings are published in op.cit., pp. 378-381, nos. 164 and 165, and a closely related painting, depicting a moment either just before or after the present work, was sold at Sotheby's New York, 24 September 2004, lot 114. The present sale offers this and another painting (lot 19) from this celebrated series.

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