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Contemporary art

Asian art

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Krishna's brother Balarama in tree with an elephant below

circa 1980s


Unknown Artist


For centuries, Hindu women around Madhubani, in the Mithila region of Bihar, India, have decorated the walls of their village homes with vivid paintings to ward off evil, mark festivals, and commemorate passage rites. This longstanding tradition, however, remained largely unknown to outsiders until the late 1960s, when a severe drought, lasting up to two years, had a devastating impact on the region’s predominantly agrarian society. To provide the community with a non-agriculture-based income, the All India Handicrafts Board then urged the women to create their paintings on paper for commercial purposes and introduced the world to Madhubani or Mithila painting.

Balarama is the elder brother of the blue-skinned Krishna. He is regarded as the incarnation of the cosmic snake Sesa, or the ninth incarnation of the god Vishnu. Balarama is depicted holding a ploughshare in his right hand, an implement that
associates him with agriculture. The elephant below appears threatening, but it is also connected with rain and so may be a good omen for the deity.


Other Title

Celestial being in tree with axe

Place where the work was made

Madhubani Bihar India


circa 1980s

Media category


Materials used

pen and ink on paper


72.7 x 53.0 cm sight; 73.9 x 94.0 x 1.7 cm frame

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of Claudia Hyles 1999


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history