Leaf from Illuminated Manuscript of the Jnaneshvari (Primary Title)

Unknown (Artist)

1763 (dated Shaka Samvat, 1685)
Indian
opaque watercolor and ink on paper, red velvet bindings embossed with gold
Deccan, Maharashtra, Nagpur, India
Sheet: 14 3/4 × 10 in. (37.47 × 25.4 cm)
91.9.248
Page "Illuminated Manuscript of the Jnaneshvari" (91.9.1-628)

These pages are from a lavishly illustrated 18th-century copy of the Jnaneshvari, a 13th-centruy commentary on the great Sanskrit text, the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Divine One). Part of the Mahabharata, the Gita records a profound discussion between the hero Arjuna and the god Krishna—disguised as Arjuna’s charioteer—while two interrelated families prepare for an epic war. During the course of this conversation, Krishna expounds the text’s central doctrine: that the goal of life is to escape rebirth and attain salvation by becoming one with Absolute Reality.

The Jnaneshvari was composed by the poet Jnanadeva to clarify and interpret the Gita’s complex message for ordinary people. As such, he wrote it in Marathi, the vernacular language of the Marathas, a people from the northern Deccan. It closely follows the text of the Gita, explaining it through both erudite references to Sanskrit texts and comparisons to everyday village life.

Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
"Picturing Philosophy," VMFA, November 21, 2001-February 24, 2002
B.N. Goswamy, "The Word is Sacred, Sacred is the Word: The Indian Manuscript Tradition," New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2007, pp. 170-171.
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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