8. Krishna lifts Mount Govardhan
Gouache and gold on paper
11 ¾ x 7 ⅝ in. (29.5 x 19.3 cm)
- Sothebys, New York, October 6th, 1990, lot 38
From the Collection of Dr. William K. Ehrenfeld, San Francisco
- Daniel J. Ehnbom, Indian Miniatures. The Ehrenfeld Collection, catalogue of the traveling exhibition organized by the American Federation of Arts, September 1985- November 1987, no. 73, illus.
In this painting Krishna lifts Mount Govardhana to shelter a group of villagers from a devastating rain invoked by the god Indra, Lord of Storms. Krishna stands with one foot crossed in front of the other, holding the mountain aloft with his left hand. Rain falls in torrents from a black sky filled with lightning, yet it is deflected by the massive mound. To either side, villagers look on in reverence and cattle gaze upward in smiling adoration. Indra himself is depicted prostrating in the foreground. Rather than depicting the full story, the artist has focused on the main episode, the miraculous revelation of Krishna as god.
Krishna found his friends the cowherds (gopas) preparing to worship Indra, the Lord of the Heavens and God of Rain. When he asked why Indra was to be the object of veneration, they replied that Indra was the all powerful Lord of the Rain, who granted water, which is the life of living beings. Krishna asked them instead to worship the mountain Govardhana, and said that if they did, the spirit of the mountain would be revealed. The gopas agreed to do so. Krishna himself became the spirit of the mountain and received their offerings.
Furious at being replaced, Indra sent a dreadful storm of the worst kind of destructive clouds to punish the gopas and gopis and their cattle. But Krishna lifted the mountain like an umbrella over his friends and the cattle, and held it up for seven days. Indra then understood Krishna’s power, relented, asked Krishna’s forgiveness, and was pardoned. As with other of the fantastic tales in the Bhagavata Purana, from which this episode is adapted, the story contains an underlying moral message: pride dispels knowledge, allowing evil to become manifest.