To coincide with the anniversary of Swami Vivekanda’s ground-breaking speech in 1893, The Art Institute of Chicago have gathered the finest examples of traditional Indian paintings celebrating Krishna as Shrinathji, his divine image as a seven-year-old child.
Miniature opaque watercolour devotional paintings on paper and huge textile hangings (pichvais) by artists from and representing the Pushtimarg sect from the temple town of Nathdwara, Rajasthan, are sensitively distributed across the dark, red or muted coloured galleries .
In 2012, the Art Institute inaugurated the Vivekananda Memorial Program for Museum Excellence which interacts with Indian museums through workshops and seminars. The Lead sponsors for The Gates of The Lord exhibition are Nita and Mukesh Ambani and the Reliance Foundation, Mrs Ambani wore royal blue on the occasion of the opening.
Madhuvanti Ghose, curator, has assembled most of the treasures from the hitherto unseen private collections of the Amit Ambalal Collection from Ahmedabad and the TAPI Collection from Surat.
The Pushtimarg sect was founded in the 16th century by the saint and philosopher Shri Vallabhacharya (1479–1531) one of the five main Acharyas of Hinduism. The exhibition explains the role of patronage and how art and worship are intertwined in Pushtimarg culture, how these beliefs spread across the Deccan Plateau, to Mumbai, Surat and Hyderabad.
Madhuvanti Ghose, curator, has assembled most of the treasures from the private collections of Amit Ambalal Collection from Ahmedabad and the TAPI Collection from Surat.
The galleries take the viewer though the devotional calendar year and festivals in Nathdwara, traditionally not only the seasons but the day was divided into darshans, often focussing on adornment, poetry, music and food offerings.
There are scenes of Krishna’s childhood miracle lifting Mount Govardhan in his left hand followed by pastoral, playful and amorous scenes, each more charming than the last.
To complement Krishna as the divine flute player enchanting the milkmaids from their homes to dance with him in the middle of the night, ragas are played in the first gallery, the ragas also change according to the seasons.
As the exhibition moves through the seasonal venerations, the pichvais change their narrative. The monsoon (varsha) pichvais are covered with peacock motives, as varsha is the mating season for peacocks and Krishna danced as a peacock for Radha, his most beloved gopi. Autumn after the rains when crops are plentiful and the moon is full, pichvais depict the circular dance of raas lila. Winter sees Krishna wrapped in sumptuous apparel. Bright colours, roses and flowers in Shrinathji’s sanctum greet the arrival of spring, Goswamis use gulal to decorate their deity as well as his sanctum walls. Summer pichvais are an explosion of lotus blossoms and watery scenes with birds, to help devotees visualise the banks of the Yamuna and feel refreshed.
It is a spectacular exhibition with precious pieces such a C17th velvet pichvais embroidered with silver gilt and sequins, in pristine condition; a late C19th lace pichvais made in Nottingham, UK, showing Radha waiting for Krishna and a delightful pichvais of a 1,000 dancing cows.
The magnificent artworks remain on show in the Regenstein Hall until 3 January 2016.