Shri Nathji, ca. 1830
Gouache and gilding on paper 18 7/8 in. x 14 3/16 in. (47.94 cm x 36.04 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Anne and Malcolm McHenry in memory of William P. Cleary1994.18.2
The shrine of Shri Nathji, located in Nathdwara near the city of Udaipur, holds a famous sculpture of the god Krishna. Purportedly brought from Mt. Govardhan near Mathura, it represents the god lifting Mt. Govardhan as an umbrella to protect the villagers of Gokul from a storm that the god Indra brought upon them. The sculpture was carried to Nathdwara during the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1618–1707). Vaishnavites believe the sculpture was self-manifested, which increases its importance beyond an image made by man.
In this painting of that revered work, the dark-skinned Krishna, bedecked with jewels and garlands, raises his arm to support the mountain. The town of Nathdwara is famous for its picchavai (cloth temple hangings) depicting the sculpture, as well as representations in miniatures. Since Krishna worship was widespread, miniature paintings of Shri Nathji were commissioned beyond this locale.
This painting may refer to a specific festival, Sapta Svaruporsava, initiated in 1822 by the head acharya of the Shri Nathji shrine, Tilakayat Damodrji II (1797–1826, also known as Dauji).1 This festival culminated a year of celebrations, and here we see Dauji dressed in white and performing arati (ceremonial waving of lamps). Note the piles of offerings before the sculpture, and the painting (picchavai) behind, which copies a famous painting in a tree-of-life pattern that Dauji commissioned to commemorate the occasion. The small figure in front of the main image represents baby Krishna crawling, and the images to either side are Mathureshji and Dvarkadhishj.