”Not by bread alone – Kusum making chapattis”, by Mumbiram, Charcoal, Pune 1990

”Not by bread alone – Kusum making chapattis”, by Mumbiram, Charcoal, Pune 1990

This extraordinary charcoal rendering by Mumbiram is one of the prime examples of Rasa Renaissance Art. The artist and his muses have a real life friendship that is reflected in the art. Kusum is making chapattis -Indian flat bread. Her mate is keeping her company by reading to her from a book -most likely his own composition. The expression on Kusum’s face shows she is listening, even amused. The Hibiscuses, the Moon, the revered Tulasi plant and the peacock are ‘alambana’ objects that create the atmosphere conducive to the emotions (rasa) being expressed. Making the chapattis is one of the humdrum chores in every Indian woman’s daily routine. The magical touch of a rasik artist has given it the spin to make it a juicy memorable loving experience. The consummate skill of the artist is so mature that it has taken a back seat and let the drama of the situation take center-stage. This charcoal rendering has been included in an anthology of Mumbiram’s other charcoal renderings depicting loving couples sharing their book reading experience. This anthology is titled ‘Book Readers, Love on the Gutenberg Galaxy’.

“Radha Svadheenbhartrika (Radha has Krishna to herself in a favourable mood)” by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1995, Pune

“Radha Svadheenbhartrika (Radha has Krishna to herself in a favourable mood)” by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1995, Pune

The tenth canto of the Shrimad Bhagavatam is considered to be the authoritative account of Krishna’s appearance on our planet 5000 years ago. It makes no explicit mention of Radha. Yet she is considered to be the fortunate gopi whom Krishna took alone into seclusion after disappearing from the Raasa Dance leaving all other gopis. Other scriptures and Vraja traditions make it quite clear that Radha is the presiding deity of Goloka – the eternal abode of Krishna in the spiritual world. When they appeared on our planet Krishna was the adorable son of Nanda and Yashoda in Nandagaon and Radha was the darling daughter of Vrishabhanu and Kirtida of Barsana. They used to meet secretly at a place called Sanket. Krishna literature composed by authorities such as Jayadev, Rupa Gosvami and Vishvanath Chakravarty give juicy accounts of meeting, cheating, misunderstandings, sulkings and reunions between the divine couple. Mumbiram has translated some of these from original Sanskrit. These are supreme examples of evocation of rasas in a work of literature. It is no wonder. Krishna is Rasaraj- the master of all rasas. Rasas are the primal source of the well-being of all living entities. We are all hankering after rasas.
Here the Divine Couple Radha and Krishna are appearing in their most relaxed ‘natural’ mood. Dark Blue Krishna is doing what He likes to do the most, playing His flute and regaling his associates and devotees. His Beloved Radha is sitting next to Him, alone together, shoulder to shoulder, happy just to be with Him. Krishna’s favourite peacock ‘Tandavik’ is snuggling against Krishna’s raised right thigh, his head bending backwards till his crown is brushing against Krishna’s chest. Radha’s left arm is resting on the back of her pet white calf who is peering at Krishna from under Radha’s raised left arm. The calf’s ears are cocked, her tail is raised. Radha is wearing a short-sleeved white blouse that enhances the beauty of her shoulders. A short necklace of white beads adorns her neckline. It has emeralds in the center. Krishna is wearing cadmium yellow pants. Radha of golden complexion is wearing a soft sheer saree that is of the color of faded blue jeans. It is comfortable and looks beautiful on her. Radha’s head is slightly turned towards Krishna. The expression on her face is one of contentment and admiration. It will take a divine poet to describe the beauty of her forehead, her hairline, her eyebrows, her eyes, her nose and her smile. Krishna’s pouting lips and his fingers show that he is engrossed in resounding his flute. His calm lotus-petal eyes say it is entirely effortless. Much gold leaf is used in this painting. Most of it is on the ground that the Divine Couple is sitting on. But it also adorns their matching bracelets, armbands, hairclips, ear studs and ankle belts. That brings us to the punch line of this portrait. Radha is pressing her right foot on Krishna’s left foot. She is the ultimate ‘svadheenbhartrika’ (Radha has Krishna to herself in a favourable mood). Radha and Krishna would give such a confidential vision only to a confidential servitor.

 

“Red haired amateur palmist girl reading Krishna’s fortune near Govardhan”, by Mumbiram, Gouache Watercolor, Seattle 1976

 

 

“Red haired amateur palmist girl reading Krishna’s fortune near Govardhan”, by Mumbiram, Gouache Watercolor, Seattle 1976

The good-hearted girl wants to read Krishna’s fortune. It is clearly a ruse and an excuse to hold Beloved Krishna’s hand. Krishna is clearly amused. In Mumbiram’s imagination Krishna devotees came from all colours and creeds. They did not have to be gopis (cowherd girls of Vrindavan) or even Indian village girls. They were mostly exotic ‘Pulindya’ women of the forest near Govardhan Mountain in Krishna‘s land. Their relationship with Krishna was often marked by overfamiliarity and audacity. In esoteric Krishna theology this is considered ‘raganuga bhakti’ or spontaneous loving devotional service. Mumbiram sees his position in Goloka as that of a go-between who brought the Pulindya people to associate with Krishna.

“Alice Cooper washing Mumbiram’s Hair”, by Mumbiram, Ink-and-brush, Seattle 1975

“Alice Cooper washing Mumbiram’s Hair”, by Mumbiram, Ink-and-brush, Seattle 1975

In 1975, Seattle’s Capitol Hill was a mixed neighborhood of young and poor. Mumbiram was a welcome guest in many homes. Some of the fondest memories of America that Mumbiram cherishes are connected with people that had enjoyed simple loving friendship with him in Seattle. Aline Beck, Judith Lundberg, Gina Johnson, Alice Cooper, Vatsara Das, Candace Kleeb, Rikki Sara (Mukund) are some names that meant a lot to the young artist. They all came from different ethnic and social backgrounds. Alice Cooper was an Afro-American woman passionate about athletics. This ink-and-brush work is typical of Mumbiram’s style in that period. Unfortunately much of these works were destroyed by an overzealous devotee in the Portland Oregon Krishna Temple a year later.

 

 

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