for The Times of India on Feb. 7, 2009
What is the relevance of the charming, dark-skinned, flute-playing god, Krishna today - outside the temple altar? Why would any one care to browse through miniature paintings of a cowherd, frolicking amidst bovines and beauties? Or driving a chariot in a mystical battle?
Because Krishna gives us ethics (in the Bhagavad Gita), sweetness and unconditional love (Bhagavat Purana). "And both of these are badly needed today," says Harsha Dehejia, a professor of Indian studies from Canada, who is in town to inaugurate a permanent Krishna art gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, in memory of his parents. His father, V T Dehejia served as finance secretary, chief secretary of Maharashtra, and chairman of the State Bank of India in his time.
The gallery, inaugurated on Monday evening with a beautiful medley of ragas played by sitar maestro Arvind Parikh and his accompanists, is part of the museum's ongoing initiative to involve private participation. That was how the museum started in the first place, says its director Sabyasachi Mukherjee. "In 1905, some prominent citizens got together at the Asiatic Society and decided to do something to commemorate the Prince of Wales' visit to Bombay." (It was named after him until other forces prevailed).
The Krishna gallery curator Bandana Prapanna emphasises that the gallery is not all about god as a religious icon. "It is about art - inspired by the Krishna theme," she says. "Even if you are not a Vaishnavite, it appeals to you." She adds that one of Krishna's endearing qualities is that he is so human - as child, lover, even environmentalist.
The gallery will exhibit mostly miniatures, many of them from the legendary Karl Khandalavala collection. Says Dehejia, "If there is one art form that best captures the many nuances and textures, the beauty and the sensitivity, the depths and the heights of the many moods and meanings of the love of Krishna it must be miniature paintings, for these paintings arise from a bedrock of romantic poetry and...they become visual poetry."
The most stunning exhibit is the centrepiece, a Nathdwara pichhwai (where Krishna is the 16-year-old-cowherd) which will be displayed with all the trappings of the actual temple. Says Dehejia, "To wait under the kadamba tree and celebrate the love of Krishna becomes a beautiful act that affirms that love should be celebrated for its own sake, that the love of Krishna is no ordinary emotion but the doorway to knowledge."