Loved Krishna Radha

Krishna, give in! Love games in Indian

What happens between Radha and Krishna, we too understand directly today. It is the old game of love, jealousy and fulfillment that also moved Indian poets and painters.

It always struck me as a bit strange that the Indian god Krishna is depicted with blue skin. Not just simply dark, but with a deep shade that contrasts with its golden yellow robe. He has this coloring in all the pictures, and even when he appears in the dance theater, the actor has make-up in blue. Why this color? The explanation is in the name: the blue is a poetic attribute that is assigned to its shape and stands for dark. Krishna is the dark one - dark-skinned like the country folk among whom he grew up. At the same time, the blue color is a kind of heightening of his appearance, luminous and divine. The painters knew how to show: The god of the shepherds and cows is never more beautiful than when they paint him in a dance of bodies on the green meadow.

But none of the heroic and demonic figures in the gods of India is as earthly as Krishna. That comes from its history. He is a king's son of Mathura, whose life was sought because of a prophecy. In order to save the child, foster parents came to the village and grew up among cow herders. Krishna lived there with the country folk, shared the joys of the shepherds, such as song and dance, was one of them. However, he always remains the god, adorned with jewelry and a peacock crown.

The blue-skinned one likes to move among the shepherd girls. Always ready for adventure, he flatters them with dancing and playing the flute and quickly has his hands on the breasts of the beautiful. But it's always mutual: the girls hold on to his robe and show their delight completely openly.

Deceit and jealousy

Govinda - "best of the cowherd", is called Krishna in one of the most famous epics of India. The 12th century Gitagovinda is a song in verse form. The music of words has inspired many painters, including, of course, the famous family of painters from Guler in the Pahari region in northern India. Over a hundred sheets of verse translate the epic into pictures, a treasure created in the most elaborate fine painting and bright colors. Since they were intended for princely clients and were carefully kept in chests, many of the paintings have been well preserved since they were made in the 18th century.

The pictures were taken out at the royal courts in order to edify oneself and to show their preciousness. The Gitagovinda is not a mere illustration of the verses, even if the lines belonging to the picture are sometimes written on the back of the sheet. Painting takes every liberty to transform what one sees into an experience that is as spiritual as it is sensual. In doing so, she interweaves reality and imagination so seamlessly that the viewer often does not know what actually happened. Has Krishna really cheated on his beloved Radha, or is the scene in the forest just a fantasy of her jealousy? In the corner of a picture you can see her sharing her feelings with a friend, while Krishna is having fun with another on the bed of leaves in the foreground.

What is Krishna doing there?

As in poetry, in painting the spatial and temporal perspective alternate within a sheet. The gaze can rest on two or more locations and jump back and forth between the scenes. The characters' dreams and fantasies are composed in such a way that they are always reflections of the fears and longings. In this way, what is imagined takes on a tangible shape. What is Krishna doing there? Isn't the suspicion of infidelity absolutely correct? How can the shepherdess Radha think differently? God has always lived out his lust in all directions. It takes a lot of persuasion to reconcile the beloved. Not her, but he has to come and ask for forgiveness, the friend said: Krishna, give in!

It is the old game of love, jealousy and fulfillment that is told in Gitagovinda, as banal as it is divine. What is happening between Radha and Krishna could also be understood by those who could not even read. The elaborate arts of poetry and painting are here an expression of popular piety. Because although Krishna and Radha are in human form, they are embodiments of spiritual ideals. The Hindus saw their story as a symbol of longing love for God and union with God. And so the fulfillment is also at the end of the story, on the bed of leaves. The morning after, the pearl necklace lies torn on the bed and the hair is disheveled. Just the way it is.

Museum Rietberg, until February 16, 2020. Publication for the exhibition Fr. 39.–.