Painting of Pushtimargi Bhitar ki Baithak (temple) at Gokul in Kasturbhai Lalbhai Collection

Painting of Pushtimargi Bhitar ki Baithak (temple) at Gokul in Kasturbhai Lalbhai Collection

KLC.1840 Pushtimargi Bhitar ki Baithak (temple) at Gokul, Water Colour on Paper, Rajasthani School, 18th century A.D. Inscribed: Shri Hari, Shri Gokul ki Veth.. (Baithak) Bhitar ki.

According to K.K. Shastri's biography of Vallabhacharya, there were three baithaks in Gokul which this author has numbered as first, second and third. It is a pleasant surprise to find that the second baithak was known as 'bhitar ki badhi baithak', which nomenclature when tallied with the inscription on KLC.1840, corroborates that this painting represents the particular baithak at Gokul. This baithak was the venue of Vallabhacharya's katha recitations and also where he shared his meals. A miracle was performed here by Vallabhacharya when the mahants of Vrindavan intended to test him. One Shyamnanda had been sent with a Saligram hidden in a purse. Gokul was also the seat of Shri Gokulnathji, one of the seven svarupas of Shrinathji. Vitthalnathji had set up the worship of the seven icons at seven different places.

The crucial point in this painting is the identification of the chief priest. In this context the story of Shyamananda seems to be very relevant (84 vārta). Presuming that the two seated priests interacting with each other in the second row from the top, represent this episode, then the priest on the left is to be identified as Vallabhacharya, who is depicted again in the third row leading the kirtan (collective singing). Another fact about the location of this baithak is, as has been already mentioned, that this was the sanctified region where Krishna spent his childhood immediately after he was brought here since his birth from across Mathura.

We presume that the artist visualized the portrait of Vallabhacharya perhaps accepting the tradition set up by his predecessors. Although there is supposed to exist an early image of the pushtimārgi founder but in general he is not represented so frequently in the pictorial repertoire of the Vallabhacharya school of paintings. The religious teacher is depicted with a solemn expression while his hair are tied in a knot at the back of his head. He sports a thin moustache and whiskers.

Here, it will be relevant to mention the pushtimārgi belief that the authentic portrait of Vallabhacharya was delineated by Honhar, who was Shahjahan's court artist. He in turn could have based his likeness of Mahaprabhuji on the painting created by an Akbar period Hindu artist. The Kishangarh raja Rup Singh had obtained the portrait image from the Mughal Emperor who was impressed by the Rajput warrior's valour. This is the icon believed to be installed in the royal temple at Kishangarh. However, it is not possible to ascertain if the rather occasional depictions of Vallabhacharya's likeness are derived from this contemporary portrait. One scholar who has quoted the description of the painting from Pushtimārgi text, at least it is clear that Vallabhacharya was of rather dark complexion, which is quite unlike how he is portrayed by the Nathadvara artists. In our painting which is under discussion, Vallabhacharya is rendered with dark complexion.
It is interesting to observe how the artist of this folio wished to focus on the spiritual activities carried out in the interior space. Perhaps, this is how he understood the purport of the inscription that the scribe has written. The artist has indicated entrance and exit into the baithak on the lower left and upper left corners. The interior space is divided in four registers. Upper two rows form one activity where the leading priest is concentrating on jāp (counting of beads held in a pouch). Both male and female devotees are seated cross-legged facing the chief priest. The same priest is presiding on what is the activity of kirtana (group singing), while the devotee-musicians are grouped in lower two rows. The chief priest is holding a vinā/ tānapurā, where as in front of him a musician is playing on vinā accompanied by a mridanga player. Other musicians are participating with instruments such as cymbals, duff, dholak, sārangi, etc. One person is playing a musical instrument with his mouth, probably known as munh chang. Apparently the devotees are deeply engrossed in Dhrupad form of Haveli sangit (Haveli style of music). The presence of frolicking monkeys in playful postures below each row of human figures, changes the connotation of the space. Thus, one is wondering if the interior space is supposed to be open-air space or enclosed space.

Perhaps it is historically plausible to associate this painting with the period of Harirai. Harirai lived a long life, who was born in V.S.1647 = 1590 A.D. and died in V.S.1772 = 1715 A.D. Genealogically, he was the son of Kalyanarai, who was the eldest son of Govindarai who in turn was Vitthalnathji's second son. At that period Gokul became the principal centre of Vallabha Sampradāya. Significantly at that point of time all Goswami children were also living here. Yagnopavit of Harirai was performed at the age of 8 and his uncle, Gokulanath, was his shiksha Guru and diksha Guru. Harirai became the chief exponent of Vallabha philosophy, principles of bhakti and literature. He wrote in Sanskrit and Braja bhāshā. He was the author of Mahāprabhu Prākatya Vārtā and Govardhananath Prākatya Vārtā. Pushtimārga recognizes the four most important Ācharyas, viz., Vallabhacharya, Vitthalnath, Gokulanath and Harirai.

It is possible that the painting was commissioned in that period that is during the early 18th century. It has some characteristics of the Kotah style. This painting is a significant discovery in the context of its association with the Pushtimārga and so far such kind of painting has not come to light.

1. Keshavram K. Shastri, Vallabhacharya Mahaprabhuji, Oriental Institute Baroda, 1977.
2. Harirai, 84 Vaishnovoni Varta (Gujarati Translation) by Shri Dvarkadas Parikh, Ahmedabad (n.d.).
3. Prabhudayal Mittal, Brajastha Vallabh Sampradaya ka Itihas, Mathura, 1968.
4. Natwar Lal Gokul Das Shah, A Life of Vallabhacharya, Baroda, 1984.

Key words : Pushtimargi Bhitar ki Baithak, L D Museum, Gokul

Categories : Painting