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Strips of lampas-woven coloured silk, each slightly different, and each stitched to the next one. Each strip is made up of registers of repeating images illustrating Vaisnava and specifically Kṛṣṇa-related stories. For example, rows of Garuda images are seen, as are various of the 'avataras'. However, the majority are of images of Kṛṣṇa - battling with the crane-demon Bakasura, dancing on Kaliya, swallowing the forest-fire, hiding the 'gopis' clothes in the tree, and so on. They are all important elements of the Kṛṣṇa devotion associated with the Assamese mystic and teacher, Sankaradeva (d.1568). This type of textile is known in Assam as Vrindavani Vastra. Along the top are four strips of Chinese-style brocade and metal suspension loops, added to the original textile during the time that it was in Tibet.
- Production date
Length: 937 centimetres
Width: 231 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Blurton 2006:
In Assam, just to the north of Bengal, devotion to Krishna is associated with the equally charismatic and saintly figure of Shankaradeva (died 1568). A miraculous story is told of how the 'Bhagavata Purana' came to be the basis of the devotional cult that he founded. A brahmin pundit, Jagdish Misra, came to Puri to read the 'Bhagavata Purana' to the image of Lord Jagannatha in the great temple (Jagannatha is the deity of Puri who is regarded as a form of Krishna). While there, he had a dream in which the deity told him to take a copy of the text to Assam, where he was to find Shankaradeva and read it to him, too. This Jagdish Misra did, reading all twelve books to the saint. The contents of the text had such a profound effect on Shankaradeva that from that time onwards he made this text concerned with devotion to Krishna the basis of all his teachings. One feature of this bhakti cult that was different to that propounded by Chaitanya was that it was practised almost entirely without images. The most important elements of the cult became congregational singing of the god's praises and the calling on his and Radha's names by devotees in prayer-halls, or 'namghars'.
A striking exception to the rule of worship without images is seen in the outstanding woven-silk textiles that use themes from the Krishna legend as the basis for their decoration. These were made in Assam for ritual use in the Krishna cult in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In one register after another they show scenes from Krishna's life in Vrindavana, along with other mythological scenes. The Krishna stories illustrated include the defeat of the snake-king Kaliya and of the crane-demon Bakasura sent by the evil King of Mathura, Kamsa, to assassinate Krishna. Bakasura triumphantly swallows up the divine hero only to find him unbearably hot. He consequently has to vomit him out or risk being burnt to death, and Krishna then swiftly kills him. All these episodes are part of Krishna's 'lila', his play, for nothing can truly alter or interrupt his eternally graceful and delightful existence - all of which is so captivatingly different from the material world from which his devotees long to escape.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1993, BM, 'Deities and Devotion. The Art of Hinduism' Room 5
2006-2007 Sep-Jan, BM. 'Myths of Bengal', Room 91,
2016 21 Jan-15 Aug, London, BM, G91, Krishna in the garden of Assam: the cultural context of an Indian textile
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