Illustration to the Bhagavata Purana:
The Liberation of Nalakuvara and Manigriva
Attributed to Manaku
Basohli, circa 1760-1765
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on prepared paper
Image: 13 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches (35 x 23.5 cm.)
The Collection of the late Brendan Garry (d. 16th September 2011).
Siva Swaminathan (d. 26th March 2014).
Inscribed in Gurumukhi:
Leaf 35 on top of verso
Inscribed in Sanskrit: 10th Chapter, 10th book, leaf 32 in center of verso;
Bhagavata, 10th chapter, 10th book, skand on bottom of verso.
The narrative that this painting illustrates comes from the 10th book of the Bhagavata Purana, with Krishna’s habit for mischief contributing itself to the scene. After being caught repeatedly trying to steal butter by his foster mother Yasodha, she tied him to a wooden mortar to keep him from trouble. Many years prior to this, two yakshas Nalakuvara and Manigriva, sons of Kubera, were cursed for their pride to be bound in the form of two arjuna trees. Through his omniscience, Krishna is aware that the arjuna trees contain the souls of these yakshas, so he carries the mortar on his back and wedges it between the trees, using his great strength to uproot them, the two brothers emerging from the fallen timber. These figures are shown crowned in the center of the painting, offering praise to Krishna to express their gratitude.
The Bhagavata Purana that this work hails from dates to 1760 – 1765, and is commonly known as the “Large Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana,” or the “Fifth Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana.” This series is known for its use of broad landscape with few figures, exemplary of a transitional Basohli style, and each painting in the series has an identifying inscription on the reverse in gurmukhi and nagari scripts. The leafs have since been dispersed throughout the world, some of which can now be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Archer Collection (see W.G. Archer, Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills, London, 1973; Visions of Courtly India, London and New York, 1976, no. 8, p. 15; and W.G. Archer and Edwin Binney 3rd, Rajput Miniatures from the Collection of Edwin Binney 3rd, Portland 1968, nos. 55a and 55b, pp.74-5 for other paintings).
Although debated, this painting was likely executed by Manaku, older brother of Nainsukh, even if he was not responsible for completing the entire series. Manaku has been named as the illustrating artist for a Gita Govinda series completed in the 1730s, as well as the Small Guler Bhagavata Purana completed between 1740 and 1750. Similarities between works in both of these earlier series to the 1760’s Bhagavata Purana indicate that Manaku had a part in completing multiple pieces from the later series.
Compare the yakshas in the present work to “The Sage Kardama Renounces the World,” from the Small Guler Bhagavata Purana in the collection of the Lahore Museum (see B. N. Goswamy, Manaku of Guler, New Delhi, 2017, p. 405, no. B35); the same rendering of facial hair and ornate jewelry nod toward the claim that Manaku was the author of both. In addition, realistic detail is ascribed to the trees across Manaku’s known oeuvre, replicated in the arjuna trees shown here. Some scholars argue that this later Bhagavata Purana was illustrated by Fattu, son of Manaku, but it is likely that he only completed some of the works in the series. One last thing to note is that these series are typically completed in chronological order, following the progression of the text, meaning that the present example would have been executed earlier than others within the series, making it more plausible that the hand of Manaku was responsible for this painting.