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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Attributed to Mola Ram, Indian
Krishna Quells the Serpent Kaliya, Folio from a Bhagavata Purana (History of God) series
Other Titles
Title: Krishna Quells the Serpent Kaliya
Work Type
late 18th century
Creation Place: South Asia, India, Himachal Pradesh
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
23.6 x 16.6 cm (9 5/16 x 6 9/16 in.)
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Bienstock
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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The painting depicts Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu who is worshipped as a deity in his own right, holding up a multi-hooded snake in the swirling waters of the Yamuna River. The blue-skinned god is surrounded by women that are have snake (naga) half human. The image depicts a scene from the Bhagavata Purana, (History of God). The Bhagvata Purana is one of the eighteen Mahapuranas (Great Histories) and is a revered text in Vaishnavism, a Hindu tradition that worships Vishnu. Produced sometime between the sixth and tenth century, the text promotes bhakti (devotion) to Krishna. When Krishna was a youth, he went into the Yamuna River to rescue his ball. He encountered, Kaliya, a poisonous snake (naga) with 110 hoods. The serpent wrapped his body around Krishna, but the deity expanded his body, causing Kaliya to release him. Then, Krishna assumed the weight of the universe and danced on the naga’s hoods, beating time with his feet. Kaliya’s wives begged Krishna to show mercy for their dying husband, depicted here. The awesomeness of Krishna’s size and strength is denoted through his ease in holding up the fearsome serpent. Although Krishna could have vanquished Kaliya, he showed the creature mercy and pardoned him.
Exhibition History

The Arts of Krishna Bhakti, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 03/09/1983 - 05/01/1983

Out of the Hills: Miniature Painting from Himalayan India, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 05/26/1984 - 07/08/1984

32Q: 2590 South and Southeast Asia, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 04/19/2018 - 11/07/2018

A Colloquium in the Visual Arts , Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/04/2021 - 01/02/2022

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at