This painting may be an illustration from the Bhagavata Purana, a popular Hindu text dating from the ninth or tenth century that narrates the life and loves of Krishna, an avatar or incarnation of the god Vishnu. Hindu texts refer to a formless god whose three primary manifestations are Brahma the creator, Siva the destroyer, and Vishnu the preserver. Krishna, is one of the most popular avatars and has important devotional traditions of his own.
In this work, Krishna has turned away from the goddess Radha, who looks dismayed by his action. It seems not even the lotus in Krishna's hand pacified her. As the rejected Krishna departs, his annoyance is evident on his face. He wears a saffron yellow dhoti and a crown such as the god Vishnu would wear, denoting his divinity. Radha, referred to as a gopi ("cowherd") in the Bhagavata Purana text, is depicted in this painting as a princess in her palace.
Until paper became commonly used in India in the fifteenth century, illustrated texts were made on horizontal pieces of palm leaf which were pierced and threaded together with a wooden cover. The artists were usually anonymous and the works unsigned. Some patrons were rajas (kings) who employed a studio of artists. Other patrons hired itinerant painters, both Hindu and Muslim, to illustrate their favorite texts. By commissioning this work, donors gained religious merit as well as aesthetic pleasure. The paintings were not meant to be hung on the wall but rather held in the hand for examination and admiration. Paintings of this genre embody bhakti, an intense personal devotion to a god. The love between Krishna and Radha was that of a divine union.
Adapted from text by Barbara H. Friedell, from Krannert Art Museum: Selected Works, 2008