Himalayan Art Resources item no. 18357.
At center is the blue skinned Lord in his trademark saffron robes and long garland playing his flute. He is flanked by maidens bearing vinas or lutes and dancers holding aloft morchals. The towering shrine set against an imposing mountainous backdrop, is somewhat reminiscent of the Krishna Mandir at Darbar Square, Patan in Nepal. It is composed of receding tiers with receptacles bearing Vaishnava deities and is crowned by an image of Vishnu seated atop his eagle mount Garuda. The shrine is surrounded by eight registers of narrative scenes in alternating bands of red and green. At the very top are the dasavataras (ten avatars) of Vishnu followed by the stories of Krishna’s birth, the miracles of his childhood in Vrindavana, his play with his companions on the banks of the river Yamuna, his challenge to his tyrant uncle Kamsa, the defeat of Kamsa’s henchmen at the hands of Krishna and Balarama, the final overthrow of Kamsa and the anointment of Krishna’s father Vasudeva as the King of Magadha. The two registers at the bottom bear detailed depictions of the donors who commissioned the painting, no doubt to mark the fulfilment of an important ritual. They are shown making lavish offerings.
Also pictured is a retinue or soldiers clad in red coats, parading with bayonets and flags picturing the long sword or khadga, symbolizing sovereignty, with a garland or mala over it. This emblem appears on the coins of the last Malla rulers of the Kathmandu valley and helps corroborate a late seventeenth/ early eighteenth century date for the painting. In 1769 the Kathmandu Valley fell under the control of the Gorkhas led by Prithvi Narayan Shah who established the unified Kingdom of Nepal.
The creation of narrative scrolls, known as vilampo, to commemorate the performance of particular rites was a tradition known in Nepal since the early medieval period. These were usually devised in two or three registers representing Hindu or Buddhist legends depicted in a continuous narrative style, typically set against a background of alternating red and green bands as in the present painting. Natural elements like mountains or trees acted as artful scene separators. This schema was used to create murals such as the stories of Krishna seen on the walls of the Hanumandhoka Palace in Kathmandu, see Pratapaditya Pal, The Arts of Nepal: Painting, vol. II, Leiden, 1978, nos. 133, 134, 160 and 161. The format also appears as a background to paubhas such as the present lot. Certain compositional elements – the denouement of the figures, their style of dress – display a connection with Rajput painting from Central India of the same period. Compare the present lot with another paubha of very similar style depicting a Vishnu shrine in the collection of the Price of Wales Museum, Bombay, see Ibid, no. 115.
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