Krishna and Balarama Leaving for Mathura with Akrura
A great masterpiece in the tradition of Orissa Pata-chitra: a cloth painting, by the known Oriya artist Rabindra Behera, represents one of the most significant events from Krishna’s life which led to the fulfillment of the objective for which he had incarnated in human birth: elimination of Kansa, the Mathura’s demon king. The painting rendered on a cloth-length – a blend of cotton and silk with peach colour as its base, powerfully reveals the Oriya art idiom in the figures’ iconography : large eye-balls with miniaturised black portion, angular faces with protruding chins, pointed noses with arched central part, extra inflated cheeks merging with necks and typical eye-brows, in their anatomy : the tall females with highly ornate style of hair-dressing and robust males with bold figures, in the character of body colour, style of apparels, their colours, prints and mode of wearing, type of ornaments and a highly charged drama revealing in the gestures and body-language of the represented figures. The painting, the classicism manifesting in a folk tradition, is worthy of aestheticizing the ambience even of a large hall if placed on one of its walls.
As goes the story in the Bhagavata Purana and other sources, after all his evil agencies had failed in killing the child Krishna, Kansa made a plot to get him and his brother Balarama killed in his own presence in a direct action. He decided to hold a fourteen days long celebration ‘Dhanuryajna’ : bow-breaking competition, which comprised besides, a number of other feats, main among them being wrestling. Believing that his mighty wrestlers Chanur, Mustaka and others would not only defeat Krishna and Balarama but also kill them he invited them to participate in the competition. Kansa had also posted his mighty elephant demon Kubalyapitha on the main entrance to kill Krishna and Balarama the moment they entered the venue.
Being the king, the invitation from Kansa had an order’s force which could only be complied. Apart, for further ensuring their attendance Kansa ordered Akrura, one of his ministers and a most honoured leader of Vrishnis, the clan to which Krishna and Balarama also belonged, to personally go to Vrindavana and bring Krishna and Balarama with him. Akrura knew Kansa’s design and had sympathy with Krishna and Balarama but could not disobey Kansa knowing that its punishment would be death. From the events in past when Krishna eliminated a number of demons Akrura felt that he was not an ordinary child and wished that he ended Kansa and his cruel rule. With such thoughts he reached Vrindavana and convinced Nanda, Yashoda and others to let Krishna and Balarama go to Mathura with him. A fief holder of Kansa Nanda could not disobey. As for Krishna, he knew that the right moment had arrived for the right action and hence insisted that they would go.
As portrays the painting, riding the chariot that Akrura drove Krishna and Balarama left for Mathura. As the Bhagavata Purana has it, and as portrays this Pata-chitra, no sooner than the news reached inhabitants of Vrindavana : cowherd men, women, young and old, Krishna’s ‘sakhas’, Gopis, Gopas and even the cows, all, desperate as they were, gathered on the road to Mathura, some wailing in deep agony, some obstructing the passage, some crying to halt, some heading to a shrine for praying the deity to stop Krishna, and some lying down on the path preferring to be crushed under the chariot instead of letting it take Krishna and Balarama away from them. There appear divine powers, symbolised in the painting by their flames-like radiating headdresses, and bless Krishna. With anxiety on faces cows rush towards the chariot. A large number of inhabitants, Krishna’s friends in particular, follow Akrura’s chariot. Towards the right end in the register above the bottom a Nanda-like figure seems to falter and a lady, perhaps Yashoda, supports him on her arms. The bottom register portrays all-across from right to left, the cowherd maidens bewailing and falling on the ground. The painting has wondrously captured the mood of the hour.