Nepal in the Mahabharata Period, Part 41


BY: SUN STAFF - 18.12 2018

Lord Narasimha 
Late 17th c. Bronze, Nepal 
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

The Yadava dynasty's presence in Nepal, and the events that preceded and followed.

The influence of Vaisnavism in Nepal during the Mahabharata Period has been discussed at some length in this series, and it is particularly notable after the close of the historic period, which demonstrates the longevity of influence. The Malla rulers held power in Nepal from the 12th to 18th Century, the last king being Ranajit Malla of Bhaktapur (1722-1769 A.D.)

Kings like Siddhi Narasimha Malla of Patan (1618-1661A.D.) brought what is described as a 'golden age' to Nepal, due in large part to their personal practice of Vaisnavism. While the Mahabharata Period, as we have been referring to it in this series, was over long before the end of the Malla dynasty, still the influence lived on and manifested in the art, architecture and religious life of Nepal.

Nepal, copper-gilded bronze, Late 18th c.

There is an interesting legend about King Siddhi Narasimha Malla, who built the first and foremost Krishna temple in Lalitpur (Patan) in 1637. As described by author Aditya Man Shrestha, Lord Krishna was said to have been so pleased with the King's devotion that He visited him for dinner every day, although the King had to pledge secrecy about their meetings. Each day, the King ordered dinner for two persons, to be carried to his private chamber.

When the queen came to know about this, she was curious and wished to know who the dinner guest was? The King tried to evade her by answering curtly that the foodstuffs were all for him, but the queen was not satisfied. She began to silently spy on his room. One day she peeped into the chamber and Lord Krishna, aware of the invasion of privacy, instantly disappeared.

When Krishna stopped visiting, the King became guilty and desperate, and rejected all food and drink as a sign of penance. But Sri Krishna let the King know He would always be with him, and asked the King to dig at a particular place in the palace compound. Doing so, the King discovered a Krishna deity, which he installed after building the famous Krishna Temple for the Lord's abode.

There is another legend about this Krishna deity, which explains that the Lord, appearing to the King in a dream, instructed him to install an old deity image rather than a new one. But the only statue the King could find was missing its left toe. Not accepting the blemish, the King commissioned a new deity after all, until Krishna appeared a second time, telling the King that the missing toe was a real injury inflicted by a huntsman. So the King duly installed the damaged idol.

According to this narration of events, during the Deity installation ceremony, King Pratapa Malla and his guru arrived from Kathmandu, disguised as snakes. Apparently envious of the Lalitpur King's raising of the new temple, they came intent upon sabotaging the proceedings. Fortunately, they were recognized by King Siddhi Narasimha's own guru, Vishvanatha Upadhyaya, who used his mystic powers to trap the snakes under his seat until the ceremony was completed. To thank him, the grateful king conferred upon Vishvanatha Upadhyaya the hereditary office of priest at the Krishna Temple.

The Divine Play of Lord Krishna 
Watercolor on cloth, 17th c., Patan Museum 

King Siddhi Narasimha Malla is also known for his Bhakti composition, Krishnalila. The text is comprised of thirty-one devotional songs glorifying Sri Krsna's lila pastimes. The painting shown here, which hangs in the Patan Museum, is an illustration depicting the text. The King's Krishnalila songs were strongly influenced by classical Indian poetry. The illustration is described here by Mary Slusser for Patan Museum:

"The painting is arranged in five narrative registers, to be viewed from left to right, top to bottom. Each register contains several scenes, separated by exotic vegetation and set against a background of snow-capped mountains. Krishna – colored blue, of superhuman size, and often playing his flute – appears several times (the second upper left scene, for example). He is sometimes in company with gopis, adoring milkmaids who in the songs lament their unrequited love. The first scene depicts Shiva, his consort Gauri, his mount Nandi, two attendants and, far right, King Siddhi Narasimha Malla. The king and the numerous gopis wear Mughal-style dress like that worn at the late Malla Period courts.

The devotional songs are written in old Newari above the corresponding scenes. With one exception – the fourteenth-century Gopala Chronicle – they are the oldest Newari texts to be critically studied and translated. For many years this painting has been displayed annually in front of the nearby Krishna temple on the day of the May-June full moon – the lunar month of Jyestha – when to instrumental accompaniment the devotional songs are sung in Krishna's honor. Siddhi Narasimha had this temple built for Krishna in 1637."

The Divine Play of Lord Krishna 
(Detail, 2nd row, right)