“Forest Women Visit Krishna and the Gopis – A Legendary Painting”, Mumbiram, Oil on Canvas, Pune 1985

“Forest Women Visit Krishna and the Gopis – A Legendary Painting”, Mumbiram, Oil on Canvas, Pune 1985

A verse from the Shrimad Bhagavatam describes how the Pulindya forest women approached the adolescent Krishna surrounded by the Gopis, his cowherd paramours, on the bank of the Yamuna. This verse and this painting appear prominently in Five Songs of Rasa, Mumbiram’s English translation of the Sanskrit verses.

That vision of the all-attractive Personality of Krishna aroused amorous passions in the Pulindya forest women. The forest women could not get close to Krishna but watched the gopis gingerly placing Krishna’s delicate feet on their kumkum-smeared breasts. Krishna’s feet got smeared by that red kumkum powder. When Krishna later walked away treading upon the grass, the grass got tainted with some of that kumkum powder from Krishna’s feet. The forest women had to satisfy their amorous desires by smearing their faces and bodies with the kumkum-smeared grass Krishna trod upon. The verse had fascinated Mumbiram ever since he first read the Shrimad Bhagavatam years ago in America. Mumbiram made this oil painting on that theme circa 1985. In Mumbiram’s painting the gopis surrounding the central figure of Krishna are clearly Bollywood heroines of the 1980s.


The Pulindya forest women are all anonymous international beauties of different colours and creeds that are either trying to attract Krishna’s attention or swooning.


The painting is full of amazing details for the discerning eye. The adolescent Krishna jealously guarded by the gopis is adorned not with gold-studded jewellery but by a garland strung with forest flowers, feathers and leaves such as the forest women would adorn themselves with. The painting is unique for its subject matter as well as artistic virtuosity, treatment and perspective. It is loaded with theological and social nuances. It is attractive even to a layman. It was the central attraction of Mumbiram’s Mandai Studio for over a decade. It changed hands several times before being acquired by an executive of Mercedes Motor Company and taken to Stuttgart in Germany.

“Meeting by the Stream”, by Mumbiram, Watercolor, Pune, 1990

“Meeting by the Stream”, by Mumbiram, Watercolor, Pune, 1990

Foto of the original watercolor painting by Artist Mumbiram of India. It displays Radha
and Krishna meeting at a beautiful spot at a stream. The Gopi named Radha from the
Indian ancient scriptures is here shown as an ordinary girl that could be anybody. That is
so unique about this painting, because traditionally Indian paintings would show stylised
Gopis.

 

“I let him persuade me”, by Mumbiram, Charcoal on paper, 1985, Pune

“I let him persuade me”, by Mumbiram, Charcoal on paper, 1985, Pune

The remote hills of India are inhabited by tribals that subsist on wild grains, fruit, berries, herbs, honey as well as fodder and firewood that is gathered from the forest. At the end of the day men and women come home with heavy loads much to the happiness of those waiting for them all day. Mumbiram is immensely attracted to that life close to nature. He experiences echoes of the pastoral scenes of Krishna’s boyhood leelas in the forests of Vrindavan. Of course young boys and girls meet in the forest and there are all sorts of loving exchanges that take place. It is unfortunate that the civilized world of city people misses out on the very beautiful and touching human side of the tribals that live a life that is closer to the life of adolescent Krishna that is considered to be the ultimate object of meditation by the revered scriptures of India. These renderings are examples of how enlightenment and aesthetic are intimately intertwined in the Rasa masterpieces of Mumbiram.
In private collection in Luebeck Germany

“Encounter on the way back from the forest” by Mumbiram, Charcoal on paper, 1987, Pune

“Encounter on the way back from the forest” by Mumbiram, Charcoal on paper, 1987, Pune

The scriptures describe how eagerly the gopis, the cowherd damsels, used to wait for the adolescent Krishna and his friends to return from the forest with the cows. Here one sees a village damsel is returning from the forest with a heavy bundle of forage overhead. The remote hills of India are inhabited by tribals that subsist on fruit, berries, herbs, honey as well as fodder and firewood that is gathered from the forest. At the end of the day men and women come home with heavy loads much to the happiness of those waiting for them all day. Mumbiram is immensely attracted to that life close to nature. He experiences echoes of the pastoral scenes of Krishna’s boyhood leelas in the forests of Vrindavan. The amazing beauty of the damsel carrying the heavy load is captured with great élan by the artist’s virtuosity in the charcoal medium. The young boy is about to rush to his beloved. His cow is the only witness to what follows. The damsel is pretending to ignore the advancing youngster but the expression on her face leaves much to the imagination of the viewer.
In private collection in Luebeck Germany

“Lakhu”, Gouache Watercolour by Mumbiram, 1985

“Lakhu”, Gouache Watercolour by Mumbiram, 1985

Lakhu was born in Karachi, now in Pakistan. As a young man Lakhu left Karachi to escape the Hindu-Muslim carnage that took place during the partition of India in 1947. Mumbiram met Lakhu for the first time in 1985 one day in the early morning hours in the Mandai Market place near Mumbiram’s atelier.

Mumbiram has recounted that meeting in some detail some years later. Lakhu was in a state of wild excitement. He was carrying a broom in his hand which he held high as he made wild and loud pronouncements that were nearly incomprehensible. Mumbiram was reminded of Nietzsche’s ‘Mad Man in the Marketplace’, who pronounced that God is dead. Beginning that first meeting Mumbiram and Lakhu developed a very close friendship that Mumbiram has recounted in the article ‘Who’s afraid of Friedrich Nietzsche?’ published in the Pune Digest in 1989. Ironically Lakhu, who left Karachi to escape from Hindu-Muslim riots, died in a minor Hindu-Muslim riot in the slums of Pune at the hands of youth who mistook him for a Muslim. Mumbiram was inspired to write the article to pay his tribute to this very precious friend that he had lost. Lakhu had been a cartpuller in the local hardware market area. His cart was the only thing that he had. He slept under it at night. With Lakhu Mumbiram could share rare moments of philosophical discussions. For him Lakhu was a gentleman and a friend with whom he could share the creative world of an artist. Lakhu was visiting Mumbiram’s studio regularly. He always brought as gift things like stone utensils, broken clay lamps, which he found along the historical Nagzari stream etc. and emptied his “booty” quite happily on the floor in front of Mumbiram. He was one of the few people Mumbiram would allow to watch him painting. The legendary work “Forest Women visiting Krishna and the Gopis” was one of the paintings Lakhu witnessed in its creation. Mumbiram will always remember the great talks with Lakhu about who is a Gopi and who is a Pulindi. Mumbiram has recounted the making of this painting of Lakhu in great detail. One day Mumbiram had met a young women from Israel, named Rachel (pronounced Rakheli in Hebrew), who said she was also an artist. Mumbiram invited her to make a picture which was when Lakhu had dropped in. Mumbiram gave her all the paper, paints and brushes. Mumbiram’s watercolour portrait of Lakhu was completed in no more than 30 minutes. Rakheli was still working on the pencil layout. Mumiram worked directly with his brush without any pencil work. The gang of Mumbiram’s rag-picker friends had also dropped in and crowded Lakhu from the left and right. That’s why Lakhu is seen with his shoulders shrinking. Lakhu was a gentleman. This painting is one of the best examples of Mumbiram’s hands-on-approach to painting. Mumbiram himself cannot believe that he made such a painting. It was a Leela. This is how Mumbiram has summarized his account of Lakhu: Lakhuji cartpuller, adored by the rag-pickers, inspiration of the artist, like a transparent rendering out of earthy gouache colours, he was handsomely unknown all his days.
After changing hands a few times the painting is again in the artist’s personal collection.

“Chitalyanchi Soon” (Daughter-in-law of the Chitale Family ), by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1982

“Chitalyanchi Soon” (Daughter-in-law of the Chitale Family ), by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1982

”Chitalyanchi Soon” (Daughter-in-law of the Chitale Family ), by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1982, deals with the situation when a son comes home with a bride of an alien culture into an Indian family. Mumbiram himself came with a German-American girl from Berkeley in 1973. It was a disaster. Both hastily went back to Berkeley. After he returned to India at the end of 1979 the saga continued. Mumbiram came with a Maratha girl from Pune (1980), then a girl from an untouchable family converted to Christianity (1984), then a Japanese Krishna-devotee girl (1987), then a Greek art-lover he met in German Bakery (1987). All of them were outright rejected by Mumbiram’s mother. In contrast the alien daughter-in-law in this painting seems to be received more congenially. This painting made in 1982 saw the light of the day in the article “In Search of Art that transcends Culture” in the Marathi Daily “Sakal” in 1985. The article received popular acclaim. Some readers framed the cut-out of this painting and hung it in their home. This is from the “Personalist” period of Mumbiram’s art. The choice of faces appearing in this painting show Mumbiram’s intimate understanding of the class and caste structure of contemporary India. The title of the painting leaves a lot unsaid, yet says it all.

“Vrindadevi reveals the secrets of Bhakti”, by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1990, Pune

 

“Vrindadevi reveals the secrets of Bhakti”, by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1990, Pune

In the yard of an Indian home the holy Basil or Tulasi plant is found enshrined in a typical construction called Tulasi-Vrindavan. This Tulasi-Vrindavan appears in many renderings of Mumbiram. Tulasi is also called Vrinda. She is personified as the presiding deity of Vraja, Land of Krishna. Vrindavan means the forest of Tulasi plants. Vrinda is assisting in bringing together Krishna and his beloved Radha. Vrinda is considered the mother of Krishna Bhakti or loving attachment to Krishna. In this painting we see the personified Vrinda has descended from the Tulasi-Vrindavan. She is instructing the little child that is trying to stand with her support. Vrinda’s face has exquisitely delicate features that can be described at great length. She is as dark as they get. Her shapely ears can be appreciated only by standing in front of the original painting. A close look also reveals that her shapely neckline is adorned with a simple necklace of dark purple garnets. A matching small garnet adorns her ear. Her dark hands with long fingers are in captivating gestures (mudra in Sanskrit) that reveal confidential secrets about Love of Krishna. The child of lighter complexion is intently gazing at her. His innocent little hands express total love and trust. Her bottle-green velvet blouse and his adorable cap are out of the same material. A parrot-green sari with a broad red border neatly wraps around her bosom. Such colours are the favourite choice of proud newly married brides. The night sky is breaking out in dark purple. The large sliver of moon says it is the third of the waxing fortnight. Devotional secrets are revealed at such odd dramatic hours. This masterpiece of a Rasa Classic says volumes about Mumbiram’s reverential feelings towards his dark beautiful muses.

This painting is in the proud personal collection of the artist.

“Marathi Poets”, by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1982


“Marathi Poets”, by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1982

“Marathi Poets”, by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1982, deals with the rise of ‘Dalit’ Poets from the former untouchable class.
“Marathi Poets 1982”, by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1982, deals with the rise of ‘Dalit’ Poets from the former untouchable class. This painting made in 1982 saw the light of the day in the article “In Search of Art that transcends Culture” in the Marathi Daily “Sakal” in 1985. This is from the “Personalist” period of Mumbiram’s art. Mumbiram was acutely aware of the emerging social movements in Maharashtra. Emergence of Dalit Literature was an exciting happening in the 1980s. Mumbiram’s muses were mostly from the Dalit communities. Through his art Mumbiram was making his muses aware of their own unique beauty. Two of the darker Marathi Poets shown by Mumbiram in this watercolor rendering appear to be from the Dalit community. They appear to exude great assurance and self-confidence. The third lighter poet perhaps represents traditional Marathi poetry. She appears to take thoughtful cognizance of her new colleagues. Appearing as early as 1985 in the local popular daily this watercolor rendering received an enthusastic welcome. Notice Mumbiram has titled the painting “Marathi Poets 1982” without mentioning the possible Dalit background of the participants.

“Gokula dreaming of India” by Mumbiram, Oil on canvas, 1988, Japan

“Gokula dreaming of India” by Mumbiram, Oil on canvas, 1988, Japan

This is one of five oil paintings that Mumbiram made during his stay in Japan. Mumbiram met Gokula in Krishna’s Vrindavan. It was a very unique friendship between two lovers of Krishna who were too sincere to belong to any organized sect that existed in the holy land. A detailed account of their time together in Vrindavan and in Japan is available in “Gokula Catalogue” which Distant Drummer publishing has put together for publication. One need not know all of that to appreciate this painting though it greatly enhances the experience of this work as Rasa Art. Here we see a reclining Gokula dreaming of India. Gokula has fallen asleep while reading a book about India. She is wearing a green tie-dye saree with red border. Jagannath has appeared in her dream. Mumbiram had brought many nice sarees for Gokula. Gokula had worn only sarees in India. Mumbiram was always proud of that. Gokula was very happy that her beloved artist liked to see her in sarees. Vrindavan was on their mind. Their bodies were in Japan. Their minds would not leave the magical domain of Krishna. Mumbiram treats every single painting as a unique creation. He does not let his art get into a stereotyped style. Making paintings in Japan was a great challenge. The rendering has to be true to several distinct cross-cultural realities. Mumbiram’s hands-on approach has created a great composition and a great mood. The patterns on Gokula’s saree and on the Indian printed handloom sheet are created with carved potatoes as printing blocks. As a rendering of a reclining sleeping maiden this painting has no peer. The intimate intertwining of the artist’s life and his art is the vital ingredient that goes in making such a natural Rasa Classic.

“Drupada coming out of the river with Mumbiram”, by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1990

“Drupada coming out of the river with Mumbiram”, by Mumbiram, Watercolor, 1990

An episode in the friendship between Artist Mumbiram and the Parsepardhi Birdcatcher women Drupada on the bank of the Mula river near Pune. It is an example of art of the Rasa Renaissance movement where the life and art of the artist are intimately intertwined.

The Parsepardhi tribe belong to the lowest castes of scheduled tribes and castes. During the British rule of India they were considered ‘criminal tribe’. They are like gypsies and live a fiercely independent life. Mumbiram has been admiring their independent and creative spirit even when he was a child. His father, Advocate Ramdas Paranjpe, was one of the first and only lawyers who took on cases of Parsepardhis and defended them in the court. After Mumbiram had returned to India form the US he was able to connect with them again and developed friendships with them that were full of romance and adventure. The Parsepardhis admire the courageous artist as much as he adores their daring. Mumbiram calls the Parsephardis birdcatchers. Parse means trap. Phardie are hunters. They used to be experts at setting traps to catch small animals or birds. Today they make ends meet in various other ways.

In this masterpiece the young girl of the Parsepardhis (birdcatcher) tribals and her artist friend are taking a walk along the river. She is in her typical dress. Birdcatcher women are free to wear their sari in that way, pulled up to the knee. Her blouse is of that type with longer sleeves as it used to be worn in previous generations. He is looking at her in appreciation. She is not the typical beauty. Her hair is dishevelled. There is no decoration or jewellery. The artist likes her just the way she is, with her wild hair as only decoration. On the street she goes unnoticed.

Here she is the star. In real life she had been rescued by the artist, when a watchman was about to throw stones at her.

Such and similar treatment is what tribals face on the streets in the big cities. Their belonging to the lowest castes of scheduled tribes and castes is totally invisible here. She trusts him and is hanging on to him with her hand under his arm. He is holding two brushes in his hand. Maybe she is so excited because he is going to make a picture of her. The other lady in the foreground is going to accompany them. She is a friend of hers, also a Pharsephardi, from her settlement. She is also smiling and happy for her friend to have made such a unique friendship.

The artist has depicted the early morning atmosphere of the Indian summer successfully and effortlessly. The painting is a virtuoso example of the art of portraiture. The artist has captured the mysterious dramatic tension between the three figures with his understated hands-on approach.

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