The Pandavas and Krishna Bathe in the Jamuna
From a dispersed Bhagavata Purana series, scene from Book X chapter 75
Ascribed to Kayam (Qayam)
Bikaner, circa 1750
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
Folio: 11 1/2 x 14 3/4 in. (29.2 x 37.4 cm.)
Image: 9 x 12 in. (22.8 x 30.4 cm.)
Among India’s rich historic and religious texts, the Bhagavata Purana evolved to be one of the most influential pieces of literature in the Hindu library, serving as the basis for subsequent worship, performance, and debate. Written to inspire devotion to Krishna between the 8th and 10th centuries, the text includes narratives of the deity’s birth and childhood, time among the cowherds, his affinity for the gopis and their unfaltering devotion to him, and the attempts by his uncle Kamsa to end his life.
One of the most important moments in the Krishna legend is when he kills Shushupala at a religious ceremony conducted by Yudhisthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers. After the ceremony they all bathe in the Jamuna River. We see a series of events in this painting. In the foreground Krishna and the Pandavas with their single joint-wife Draupadi and other women cavort in the river. The artist includes some charming touches with figures disrobing at the water’s edge. Musicians play, adding a festival atmosphere to the vignette in the foreground. Later in the story, the Kauravas with their army arrive at the palace to the left. Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, jealous of the splendor of his cousin’s palace is tricked by magic. He first thinks the floor is water and lifts his garment. Then what he takes for a door turns into water and he falls in. This scene is depicted on the terrace of the palace while Krishna and Yudhisthira sit in court within.
This rare leaf was painted by an artist working in Bikaner, a major center of painting within Rajasthan in the 17th and 18th centuries. The cinched waists of the figures is characteristic of Bikaner painting, as are the different levels that add depth to the composition. Naval Krishna has pointed out that there were at least five Qayams in the genealogical tree of the Umrani Usta painters of Bikaner. He refers to this group of folios as from the fourth Bikaneri Bhagavata Purana.
A thank you to Daniel Ehnbom for identifying the scene and Naval Krishna for his thoughts on the artist. For a genealogy of the artists see: Naval Krishna, “The Umarani Usta Master Painters of Bikaner and Their Genealogy,” In: Andrew Topsfield (ed.), Court Painting in Rajasthan, Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2000, pp. 57-64.