• Monday, November 28, 2022


Muslim woman’s Krishna art ‘a symbol of social harmony’

Jasna Salim with her paintings

By: Pramod Thomas

A MUSLIM woman from Kerala in southern India, who paints pictures of Sri Krishna, has said she wants to be a symbol of communal harmony at a time when tensions among religions are rising.

Jasna Salim, 28, from Koyilandy near Calicut, has made more than 500 paintings of little Krishna, which have attracted buyers from within and outside Kerala.

Now, her dream is to gift a painting to India’s prime minister Narendra Modi.

“We are living in a society where people are literally fighting on the basis of religion. Many, including religious scholars, advised me in the past not to draw the pictures of Sri Krishna as I am a Muslim woman,” Salim told Eastern Eye.

“But I told them by just painting Sri Krishna my religion never changes. People are even saying that I will enter hell for doing this. But who are they to decide that? My stand is that if I can become a symbol of religious harmony by doing this, then I am happy and satisfied.”

She added, “I am not doing anything wrong; so there is no need for me to take their objection seriously. As per my religion, my father and husband’s words are of top priority for me. They have no objection to what I am doing. If my paintings bring happiness to people, why should I stop?”

Recently, the Ulanadu Sree Krishna Swamy temple in Pandalam, in central Kerala, ritually accepted Salim’s painting, depicting little Krishna with a butter pot, after inviting her there.

It was the first time she entered a temple. Though she once visited a family temple near her home during a festival, Salim did not go near the sanctum sanctorum or see the deity.

“I come from a very conservative Muslim family. When I was a kid, I was fondly called ‘Kannan’ (meaning Krishna in Malayalam). At that time, I was not aware of who Sri Krishna was.”

When I was a kid, I was fondly called ‘Kannan’ (meaning Krishna in Malayalam)

Salim recalled how she got into painting. “After I got married (in 2009), my husband took me to his friend’s house and showed me, for the first time, a picture of Sri Krishna. After that, I noticed each and every picture of Sri Krishna I came across. Six years ago, when I was pregnant with my second child, my doctor advised bed rest for me. At the time, there was building work going on at home. There were some papers left. One day, I started drawing a picture of little Krishna with a butter pot.

“It was my first picture, I had not trained in the art form,” she said.

Salim then showed the picture to her husband and he liked it. But because of the conservative mentality of her family, he asked her to destroy it.

“My husband and family were very supportive, but my family was against all these. But I was not willing to destroy it. Then we decided to gift the portrait to a Hindu family. My husband got it framed and we presented it to them. Later, some positive things happened in their home, and they spread the word.

“I started to get enquiries about the painting. Everyone wanted the same image and I started drawing it. There are people who bought more than one picture,” Salim said.

When the demand increased, Salim decided to start charging for her work. They now sell for Rs 5,000 (around £49) for each picture. Salim needs five days to paint a picture and she incurs a cost of Rs 2,000 (around £20).

She is gifting portraits to the famous Guruvayur Sri Krishna Temple in Thrissur for the past six consecutive years. But tradition and custom have not allowed her to go inside the shrine or present it in front of the sanctum sanctorum; it is the temple authorities who come to collect the portrait.

Every year, people or organisations sponsor her paintings at the Guruvayur Temple. The picture she presented to the temple in Pandalam was sponsored by Thathwamasi Group in Pune.

As non-Hindus are not permitted inside the ancient temple, she would either place her painting near the hundi (collection pot) in front of the portal or hand it over to shrine staff on the occasion of Vishu (Malayam new year) and Janmashtami (Krishna’s birthday) every year.

Recently, celebrities, too, are placing orders to get little Krishna paintings from this young artist. And the orders come in not just from Kerala, but also from the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

“My husband, who is working in the Middle East, has been very supportive since the beginning. Most of his friends are from the Hindu community. Now, my parents have also no objection as they know that I won’t deviate from my faith and do anything against my religious principles,”

Salim said. Her parents wanted her not to keep the Krishna paintings at home, which she abides by strictly.

Salim said her family’s views softened when she started getting media coverage since 2016.

“I convinced them that I am not keeping these pictures at home or worshipping it. (I told them) Just think of this as another source of income.

“After continuous efforts, their attitude also changed,” she recalled.

A mother of two, Salim, has formal education till 10th standard (equivalent to GCSE). She said people have told her many stories about Sri Krishna.

“I have never tried to learn about Krishna, but was lucky enough to hear stories from people around me. Now, people are offering to teach me painting, but I am not interested. Though I tried my hand at other Krishna pictures, people only need the portrait of little Krishna with a butter pot. So, I don’t think I require further training,” she said.

Eastern Eye

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