It is the month of love with a day dedicated to a saint who supported it. Saint Valentine, the Catholic priest, lived in the 3rd century and was punished for a rite that he performed against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II, a pagan. He married Roman soldiers secretly when it was forbidden to do so. But when Rome became Christian, the Pope eliminated pagan rituals and declared 14th February as Saint Valentine’s day.
Another kind of special rite has been celebrated in Indian painting. If one looks at the ancient Indian paintings of Kishangarh and Basholi, one notices that the love story of Radha and Krishna is the favourite theme. Indian artists take great pleasure in creating these artworks. Radha dominates a bevvy of gopikas who dance around Krishna amidst plantain trees under a full moon inspired by the GITA GOVINDA composed by the poet Jaydev. This inclusion of the erotic was in direct contrast to the monastic, Vedantic tradition. And was a response to the rising tide of the Chaitanya Vaishnava movement.
So what exactly is the dance that Radha and Krishna are enacting? The story goes that once the Lord Vishnu went to Kailash, seeking a Mahamantra and the Goddess appeared before him as Mahamaya. She tells Vishnu that using the mantra is not enough; one also needs to practice the ritual. A practice that involves secret rites with his partner. In other words, he needs to use the body and hence practice tantra. She explains to him all the rituals he needs to perform. She gives him a beautiful lotus garland that falls to earth and transforms into Radha. Then Vishnu arrives on earth as Krishna, and Radha becomes his guru in the tantra rites, which artists celebrate as the “RAAS” of Krishna in their paintings. This mystical “RAAS” bestows on Krishna wealth, knowledge, beauty and attractiveness, which bestow the epithet of Bhagwan. Traditional Indian paintings like the PICHWAI portray this enchanting love rite between Krishna and Radha. And are one of the best ways for devotees and connoisseurs to experience the colours of love.