Krishna lila in murals

Based on a square plan, the temple of Kishan Chand Bhandari, has a complex of buildings. The shrine is built on the upper storey and the apartment on the ground floor is partly used by the temple priest and partly converted into shops. After crossing the portico, one enters a small deorhi with a high tapering dome. It has perforated stone slabs fixed on the eastern wall. The deorhi opens into the main shrine with a square-based garbh-griha located at the centre with the images of Radha and Krishna enshrined. It is surrounded by a considerably wide circumambulatory.

The lofty sikhara above the garbh-griha tapers into a pinnacle surmounted by a golden kalash that tilted during the earthquake of 1905.

Every inch on the walls of the garbh-griha, the parikrama and the deorhi is embellished with more than a 100 panels of murals with themes derived from Hindu mythology. Four murals of fairly large dimensions embellish the outer surface of the walls flanking the entrance.

The murals inside the temple, many of small dimensions, appear to be a faithful imitation of miniatures with a blend of craftsmanship required for the wall.

Although a majority of paintings depict episodes from the life of Krishna, the painter has not maintained any sequence of events. Consequently, representation of scenes other than those related to Krishna have appeared here and there. Nevertheless, the painter adhered tly to religious themes. No secular theme, more often than not, found painted in the religious edifices of the 19th century Punjab, appear in the temple except one which illustrates Kishan Chand Bhandari standing with folded hands before Radha and Krishna.

Murals illustrating Krishna as a child represent him crying for moon at Yashoda’s house, killing the serpent Kaliya, stealing butter and playing hide-and-seek with his friends. In his youth, he is portrayed playing with gopis, headed by Radha, the theme vernacularly known as lilas. Krishna and Radha are seen on a swing, sitting on a couch of love, quarrelling and reconciling and enjoying Holi. Krishna is seen lifting Giri Govardhan, killing Kansa, Bakusura and Putana and entertaining Sudama, his childhood friend. Krishna also appears in scenes from the Mahabharata as driver of Arjuna’s chariot and helping Draupadi at the time of her unveiling by Kauravas.

Krishna 2
Radha and Krishna are depicted in a myriad moods
Vishnu finds place in a considerable number of murals. He appears with four arms reclining on the serpent Sesha floating on water. In his four hands he holds a club, a shell, a discus and a lotus which constitute his iconic paraphernalia. From his navel, sprouts a lotus bearing upon its petals the god Brahma. He also appears in the form of various incarnations known as avataras viz. Matsya or fish, Kurma or tortoise, Varaha or boar, Vamana or dwarf, Parsurama or Rama of the Axe. Kalki, the last incarnation of Vishnu, is yet to come at the end of Kali Yuga. Yet another panel represents him in the Gajendra Moksha scene.

The representation of Shakti, the supreme power taking feminine form and incarnated under many names for the destruction of demons, is also depicted in some of the panels. In addition, several other themes derived from Hindu mythology do appear, including deities like Surya, Indra, Brahma, Jagannatha and Ganesha.

These murals, executed in rectangular formats, were in a fairly good state of preservation when I first visited this temple in June, 1971 to make a photographic record. When I visited it again recently, after a gap of 36 years, the sheen of the paintings have become slightly diminished, apparently due to the ravages of time.

It is remarkable, however, that this temple has withstood the change of fashion from painted walls to whitewashed and distempered walls that have ruined murals in several shrines in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. But for the daubed captions in Hindi by some unscrupulous hand, the paintings in the Bhandari temple are still the best extant remains of 19th century mural art. 


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