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Image of The birth of Krishna

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The birth of Krishna

Creation date: before 1560
Creation place: India

Other Information

Type: Manuscript Painting
Medium and Support: Opaque watercolor and ink on paper
Credit Line: Edwin Binney 3rd Collection
Accession Number: 1990.585
State/Province: Rajasthan
Dimensions: 7 17/32 in. x 10 7/16 in. (19.1 cm x 26.5 cm)


Gopi Krishna Kanoria, Kolkata, West Bengal, India ( - November 13, 1968)

Edwin Binney 3rd, San Diego, California (November 13, 1968 - August 27, 1990)

San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California (August 27, 1990 - )

Label Copy

The Child Krishna: Love and Play (2002)

A wonderful child is born, of lotus-like eyes, endowed with four arms, bearing a conch and wielding aloft a mace, a discus, and a lotus, with a great gem beautifying his neck. He is clad in yellow silken garments and possesses the charming complexion of a rain-bearing cloud. He is bathed in the luster of his crown and earrings studded with gems.

Father and mother praise the god with folded arms. He speaks to them gently telling them that he must be saved from the hands of Kamsa. They are to exchange him for a child just born to Yashoda and her husband Nanda in neighboring Gokul. Then, they are to take the child of Yashoda and Nanda as their own and leave him in Gokul free from harm. After speaking, the god turns himself into an ordinary (albeit Blue-complexioned) child.

It was foretold that a son of Devaki and Vasudeva would destroy the King Kamsa. To prevent his doom, Kamsa kept the couple confined in a prison in his palace and put to death the first six children Devaki bore. When she conceived her seventh, it was miraculously transferred from her womb to that of Rohini, who was Vasudeva's second wife. This child was Balarama, later to be Krishna's constant companion.

Devaki's eighth child was Krishna. At his birth on a dark and stormy night, the palace prison was filled with a radiance. The prison guards and their dogs fell into a profound slumber. Krishna appeared as Vishnu himself, seated in splendor, holding his attributes: a conch, a lotus, a chakra, and a mace. Devaki and Vasudeva worshipped him. Devaki said, Oh God, thou art verily Lord Vishnu, who art described in the Vedas as the primordial cause and hence inscrutable, omnific, omniscient. Being of such a nature thou art the abode of security. Do thou save us, who are greatly frightened, from Kamsa, for thou dost always dispel the terror of thy devotees. Then Vishnu took the form of an ordinary new-born babe, before the very eyes of his parents.

In the painting lightning flashes and rain falls from dark clouds in sheets. The guards snooze outside the locked door of the palace, which is adorned with cupolas. Inside, in the radiant room, Devaki and Vasudeva worship Vishnu. The anonymous 16th century artist depicts the palace with a floorline, two walls, an elaborate roof and a door, although which side of the door is shown is ambiguous. The text at the top is a caption for the painting and tells that it was the first painting in the manuscript.

When Devaki gives birth to her eighth son, Krishna—no ordinary infant but rather an incarnation of the god Vishnu, a carefully conceived plan ensures the child’s safety. In this image, the blue-skinned Krishna sits on a lotus throne, holding in his hands Vishnu’s conch shell, mace, discus, and lotus, each a signifier of his divine nature. His father, Vasudeva, and mother, Devaki, stand to either side, offering obeisance to their son. At the center, the prison door is left unchained. Its two guards and their dogs have fallen fast asleep, enabling Vasudeva and Krishna’s midnight escape to the distant land where Krishna will be raised. This painting comes from one of the greatest surviving early Indian manuscripts, the “Isarda” Bhagavata. Named after the feudal state in eastern Rajasthan in whose collection it was preserved, the book is esteemed for its exciting and sophisticated illustrations. Its folios include vernacular notes in addition to the Sanskrit text.
Last Updated: 9/5/2017


This object was included in the following exhibitions:

Krishnamandala, A Devotional Theme in Indian Art The University of Michigan , 8/1/1970 - 9/30/1970

Myths, Monsters, Maharajas: Introducing the Binney Collection San Diego Museum of Art , 11/23/1991 - 1/26/1992

The Child Krishna , 6/21/2002 - 8/18/2003

Epic Tales from India: Paintings from The San Diego Museum of Art The San Diego Museum of Art , 11/19/2016 - 6/12/2018


This object has the following bibliographic references:

Walter M Spink. Krishnamandala, A Devotional Theme in Indian Art The University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1970
Page Number: 4-5, Figure Number: 11

Walter M Spink. Krishnamandala, A Devotional Theme in Indian Art The University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1970
Page Number: 117 no. 11

Andrew Topsfield. Court Painting at Udaipur, Art Under the Patronage of the Maharanas of Mewar Artibus Asiae Publishers. Zürich, Switzerland, 2001
Page Number: 43, 51 note 187

Indian and Southeast Asian Art, Christie's. New York, New York, September 23, 2004
Page Number: 116 lot no. 164

Indian & Southeast Asian Art, Sotheby's. New York, New York, September 24, 2004
Page Number: 98 Lot no. 105

Ms. Marika Sardar and Ms Neeraja Poddar. Epic Tales from Ancient India San Diego Museum of Art. San Diego, California, 2016
Page Number: 42,43, Figure Number: cat. 15

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