Nikumba Cornered at Shatpura, ca. 1830-1850
Gouache and gilding on paper 16 1/2 in. x 22 1/4 in. (41.91 cm x 56.52 cm) 1994.18.9
Mountains separated the various small kingdoms of the Punjab hills of North India, a region ruled by Hindu Rajputs. The Mughals controlled Kangra, one of the larger principalities, during the 17th and early 18th centuries, and no painting from the region produced prior to the mid-18th century survives. A number of sets of Kangra paintings depicting Krishna tales dated after that time are extant and are characterized by their lyricism and elegant, fluid lines. This work is in the style of the artist Purkhu and his family, though there is no signature to identify the exact painter of that lineage.
The great Indian epic, the Mahabharata (300 bce–300 ce), recounts the war between two factions, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, each seeking control of the throne of Hastinapura. Some consider Vyasa to be the author of the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa, an appendix to the Mahabharata, which tells of Krishna’s exploits as a young man. An avatar of Vishnu, Krishna is a popular subject for paintings. This scene depicts Krishna’s battle with Nikumbha, a great rakshasa (demon) general who had kidnapped the princess Bhanumati.
Krishna, the blue warrior in the forefront, has cornered Nikumbha at Shatpura, the “six-fold cities” that Brahma had granted to the asuras (demons) and where Nikhumbha was king. Krishna’s brother Balarama stands to his right, and the rest of his retinue stand ready to assist him in his battle against Nikumbha. The gods watch the fight from the upper right, while Krishna’s parents Devaki and Vasudev are in attendance below.