Pichhavai, large painted cotton shrine backdrops, frequently depict scenes from the life of Krishna, the beloved avatar of the great Hindu god Vishnu. Gopashtami marks Krishna’s promotion from herder of calves to a full cowherd. The joyous Gopashtami festival, held annually in late autumn to honour cows and Krishna’s idyllic life as a cowherder, is still celebrated today. Aesthetic enjoyment and the ‘pathway of pleasure’ are essential elements of Krishna worship, with poetry, painting, music and dance considered religious pursuits and keys to spiritual awakening.
Identified by his dark-blue colouring, Krishna stands on a lotus as his evocative fluting summons the entranced cows, which are decorated with peacock plumes and festive Gopashtami garlands. A row of peacocks – a metaphorical allusion to Krishna – can be seen in the foreground. Above lush foliage,
on each side of the full moon, the heavens contain celestial chariots carrying divine couples. The gleaming colour of the cattle accentuates the dazzling image of Krishna, who is weighed down with garlands and jewellery. Krishna is dressed in a distinctive orange scarf and an ornate, layered dancing skirt. On his head he wears a decorative turban from which a large peacock feather protrudes.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008