Calcutta Woodcuts, Part 10

BY: SUN STAFF - 23.8 2019

Radha and Krsna on a Swing

Re-presenting a 2005 Sun Feature series on transcendental art: the rare woodcut prints of nineteenth century Calcutta.

Today's woodcut is yet another rendition of Sri Krsna's Vrindavan lila pastimes. Engraved in Bengali, the title of the piece is "Naranarir Dola" -- Radha and Krsna (men and women) on a swing.

As with the 'mystic elephant' engraving, we have a rasa lila pastime featured in the center of the picture, with two Krsna lila pastimes depicted in the upper corners. In the upper left, Krsna is taking milk from the demoness Putana, whose large breasts and long, clawed fingers are typical in paintings of this scene.

At upper right, we see Krsna fighting the Baka demon. Holding his flute in one hand, Sri Krsna opens the asura's great beak using one hand and one foot.

Below, we have the main scene of Radha and Krsna's swinging pastimes. As with other Calcutta woodblock prints, the artist has skillfully engraved a delightful range of fabrics for the gopi's saris, each one of which is uniquely different.

Rather than depicting the universally familiar swinging scene, the artist has combined elements in a style much like the 'mystic elephant', using the bodies of Radha and the gopis to form the swing, itself. Four entwined gopis serve as the swing's frame while Radha herself lies reclined as the swing seat, her arms and legs gracefully dangling down. Sri Krsna sits atop her in lotus position, playing his flute.

While most swinging pastime pictures are depicted as stationery scenes, the artist has created a moving tableau in this case. Two pairs of sakhis lead and follow in the procession, each holding a chamar, peacock fan, or vessel.

In a delightful element, four more sakhis bear the swing like a palanquin, using the legs and feet of the gopis in the swing to carry Radha and Krsna forward during their lila play.

Another interesting element of this piece are the three unique faces of Sri Krsna. Without question, the artist was skilled enough to duplicate quite identical faces, he had chosen to do so. Instead, the two forward views of Krsna's face are strikingly different, perhaps meant to indicate different times, places and ages.

A delicate and ornate flower border frames the piece. At bottom center is the title, which includes the artist's name in Bengali: Iswardas Karmakar of Ahiritola.

This black and white woodcut measures 24.9 x 35.5 cm.