ALL PHOTOS: SRIKRISHNA MUSEUM
Celebrating Lord Krishna: Main entrance to the Srikrishna Museum is adorned with scenes from the Mahabharata and other scriptures; a life-size Yashoda, Krishna’s foster-mother with Krishna in her arms and Krishna’s elder brother, Balarama, by her side; stunning 30-inch high sandalwood carving of Krishna playing the flute
Srikrishna Museum offers a comprehensive and immersive experience through historical artifacts and modern multimedia exhibits
BY THIRTHO BANERJEE, CHANDIGARH
THE MULTIFACETED MYSTIQUE OF KRISHNA—His endearing act of stealing butter, standing with a flute in His hands, His antics with the gopis, vanquishing the demoness Putana and rendering His seminal message to Arjuna on the battlefield of Mahabharata—all comes alive in the spacious Srikrishna Museum in the town of Kurukshetra, the very site of the epic’s great battle in ancient times.
The museum was established in 1987 by the Kurukshetra Development Board, and successive expansions were opened by two presidents of India: R. Venkatarama in 1991 and Pratibha Devisingh Patil in 2012. It consists today of seven galleries: woodcraft, ivory and metal; archeological objects; miniatures and manuscripts; paintings in regional styles; folk art; tableaux of Krishna’s life; and a multimedia exhibit on the Mahabharata. Together these encompass the museum’s attempts to capture Krishna’s exploits in a multitude of formats, from the simplest media to modern video presentation. If the reviews on tripadvisor.com are any indication—and they usually are—this is a place well worth visiting, ranked “excellent” by all twelve reviewers. One remarked, “well maintained, neat and clean; fabulous collection of wood works.” Another called it “a place to relive the Mahabharata.”
The experience starts as you approach the museum and view the huge bas reliefs of key scenes from Krishna’s life that adorn the upper story. Inside, after paying a modest entrance fee (us$0.50 for adults), you are greeted by Lord Ganesha in a dance pose.
The first gallery contains wood and ivory carvings and metal castings, mostly from Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Wooden panels from Orissa belonging to the 18th and 19th centuries include a depiction of the ten avatars of Vishnu, Krishna’s killing of a demon bull, and His curing of a hunchbacked lady. The wood sculptures from Tamil Nadu tend to be massive, while those from Karnataka are delicate renderings in sandalwood. One exceptionally beautiful carving (far right, above) shows Krishna playing the flute in the classic tribhanga pose, with gentle bends at the neck, waist and knee. Another carving portrays Krishna’s encounter with the demoness Putana, who intended to kill Him. Putana is portrayed both alive with the baby Krishna in her arms, and dead on the floor when the attempted poisoning backfired.
All the art in the museum is from the epics or the Puranas, so nearly all the scenes and even specific poses of Krishna will be well known to a devotee. The artistry, then, is found in the sensitive depiction of the traditional concept, and not in new interpretation.
A highlight of the first gallery is a two-sided wood carving from Karnataka. On one side is Krishna as Venugopal; the other side is an exquisitely carved image of Gajendra Moksha (Vishnu rescuing the elephant).
An unusual item is a cradle suspended by an arch of glass. This is a popular form of worship in which on the eleventh day of Bhadrapad, devotees place a statue of baby Krishna in the cradle and rock it.
Among the many metal sculptures on display here is the bronze statue pictured above (above) of Yashoda with Krishna and Balarama, from Ganjam, Orissa.
The collection of ivory carvings evokes mixed feelings: appreciation of their exquisite beauty tempered by concern for the modern-day practice of killing elephants solely for their tusks. Such a practice was unknown in ancient India, where an live elephant was worth a great deal more than his or her tusks. Even upsetting an elephant was a serious offense, let alone killing one.
One such ivory carving, depicts Yashoda scolding the child Krishna. Another shows Krishna’s prowess where he lifts Mount Govardhana with the small finger of his left hand. Perhaps the finest shows Krishna playing the flute in tribhanga pose, wearing a floral garland, sacred thread, earrings and crown.
The second gallery is devoted to archeological finds reaching back thousands of years. Prized items in this collection include pottery, conch shells and Indus seals recovered from the now submerged site of Krishna’s Dwarka home. These have been dated to 1500bce. Also in this collection is a replica of an Indo-Greek copper coin issued by the Greek king Agathocles in the 2nd century bce, the earliest representation of Krishna in Indian art and iconography. The king’s name is inscribed in Brahmi script. One side of the coin shows Balarama carrying a club and a plough; the other side shows Krishna carrying a chakra wheel and a conch shell. The coin was found at Ai-khanum in Afghanistan—far from Mathura, where the worship of Krishna is believed to have begun. This indicates the widespread popularity of Krishna at this time, plus the respect shown to Him by the Indo-Greek kings.
Krishna through the centuries: One of several tableaux, life-size scenes from Krishna’s life. A narration explaining the scene starts when the visitor steps in front of the exhibit. Yashoda chastises Krishna in this 7-inch tall ivory carving from Tamil Nadu. This 2nd-century-bce coin depicts Krishna with His chakra wheel and conch. Krishna plays the flute in this 18-inch sandalwood carving from Karnataka.
The third gallery features palm-leaf etchings and miniature paintings focusing on Krishna’s exploits. It includes old manuscripts, such as the rare Yoga Vashishtha in Gurmukhi. A set of 26 paintings develops the theme of Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata. On the octagonal parapet wall of this gallery, crucial episodes from the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata, mostly on religious themes, are exhibited on eight pattachitras. In this artistic technique, the scenes are painted on cloth coated with soft stone powder. Making use of various plants and mineral colors, the artists combine classical art with folk themes. The centerpiece of the third gallery is a set of Thanjavur paintings of Krishna’s childhood. These are made on wood with cloth pasted over them and decorated with gold leaf and precious stones.
The fourth gallery features life-size tableaux from the Mahabharata, executed in various regional art styles. A Manipuri-style work depicts the Raslila, the cosmic dance of Krishna and the gopis. Other works are executed in the Madhubani folk style.
The fifth gallery presents a collection of murals created by artists of different schools. The artists had been invited from all over India for the museum’s annual Gita Jayanti festival in 2002.
The sixth gallery incorporates more modern technology in nine tableaux depicting the episodes of the life and exploits of Krishna are accompanied by narration, music and even sound effects.
The seventh and final gallery—actually three separate exhibition areas—extends over three floors. Called the “Multimedia Mahabharata and Gita Gallery,” it presents the story of the Mahabharata in a chronological fashion. Included are murals, mannequins, paintings and huge scenes, such as the one at top of page depicting a contest between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Another shows Bhisma’s abduction of Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, the three daughters of the king of Kashi. Still others display the Kaurava and Pandava princes under the tutelage of their guru, Drona.
No modern technique is left out in this gallery. The curved hallways are lined with interactive computer displays, videos and animations. The last area of this section comprises a huge circular battle formation called Chakravyuha. Murals show Drishtadhymna’s assassination of Dronacharya, the commander in chief of Pandavas; the tragic end of Karna; the duel between Bhima and Duryodhana; the humiliation of Ashwathama; and Gandhari cursing Krishna. It is a spectacularly immersive end to an marvelous exhibit.
PHOTO: SRIKRISHNA MUSEUM
This 15-foot wide, eight-foot high this relief work on the museum wall depicts an archery contest between the Kauravas and the Pandavas in which the warriors must hit targets on a spinning wheel above them.
ALL PHOTOS: SRIKRISHNA MUSEUM
Krishna holds Mount Govardhana in this 4- by 6-inch miniature Mughal painting on an ivory sheet from the 18th century. Krishna kills Kamsa in a four foot wide 20th-century Madhubani-style painting from Bihar.