Srila Prabhupada taught that art, however crudely done,
is perfect when done to please Krsna.
IN NEW YORK CITY, 1967, Srila Prabhupada asked me to do a painting of Narada Muni, a great sage who travels everywhere in the universe and beyond, enlightening all he meets.
"Come into my room," Prabhupada said. "I'll give you an idea how to do it."
Prabhupada handed me a picture he had brought from India. It showed Narada walking through a forest holding wooden clappers in his left hand and a stringed instrument (called a vina) in his right. Prabhupada then handed me a small strip of paper on which he had written the caption narada muni bajaya vina radhika-ramana name, which he translated as "Narada Muni plays his vina and chants Hare Krsna."
I finished the painting in a few days, and although it was crudely done, Prabhupada seemed pleased. He had it hung in the temple for all guests to see, and he asked me to paint similar ones for his other temples.
By 1968 I was in Boston and ready to do the painting a second time. During my student days at City College of New York, before I had ever met Prabhupada, people would line up for several blocks at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art to get a one-minute view of the Mona Lisa. Now I remembered that and thought, "If I can paint in that Renaissance style, people will come from all over to see paintings of Krsna and His devotees like Narada Muni."
So I went to the Boston library and studied Michelangelo and Da Vinci. The result was a painting of a muscle-bound Narada Muni with gaunt cheeks in a California redwood forest. I sent the painting to our Los Angeles branch, and the devotees wrote me letters about how they loved it and how it increased their ecstasy during kirtana.
Then Prabhupada, who had been in India for several months, returned to the United States and visited Los Angeles. He wrote me on April 8, 1968.
"My dear Jadurani,
"Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated April 2, 1968, and I thank you very much for it. …
"You are already a great artist. You don't want to become a great artist to satisfy the senses of the public. If your present paintings are not acceptable to the general public, I do not mind; they are fools. You continue trying your best to make your pictures, as far as they can be, nice-looking, but not to satisfy the senses of the rascal public.
"Yesterday I have been in a Unitarian Church, and there I saw two pictures of only logs and bamboos. I was explained by our great artist Govinda dasi that these are modern abstract arts. Anyway, I could see in them nothing but a combination of logs and bamboos. There was nothing to impel my Krishna consciousness. So if you want to be a great artist in that way, I will pray that Krishna may save you.
"Anyway, if the public doesn't buy, we don't mind. Why are you anxious for selling? We shall distribute them to devotees without any price. If our things have no market in the sense gratification society, that does not mean we are going to change our principles. We are meant for satisfying Krishna, not anybody's senses. That should be the principle of our life.
"In this connection I may remark that you have sent one picture of Narada Muni which I understand was copied from some so-called great artist. But Narada Muni's body appears to be very sensuous. He was a first-class brahmacari [celibate young man]. He cannot have such a sensuous body.
"So you will do well not to work from the so-called well-known artists. But you should follow exactly the descriptions of the scriptures. The picture of Narada Muni which you painted in New York in my presence was very nice and good looking, but this picture here doesn't appeal to me. Better not to worry about this sort of technique and style. …"
Depressed, thinking I had not pleased Prabhupada, I took courage and gathered all my strength to write an explanation and an apology.
I received his reply on April 13 from San Francisco.
"My dear Jadurani,
"Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter post-dated April 11, and this is the first time I received your letter finished in three lines. So I can understand that you have been depressed by receiving my last letter.
"The idea is that there is a story that 'I have lost my caste, and still my belly is not filled.' In India it is the custom that the Hindus do not ever take meals in the house of a Mohammedan, Christian, or of anyone other than a Hindu brahmin. But a man was very hungry and accidentally he took his food in the house of a Mohammedan. And when he wanted still more food, the man refused, as the man could not supply.
"So the Hindu man said, 'Sir, I have lost my caste, and still I am hungry!'
"Similarly, if artistic pictures as they are approved by the people in general in this country can be sold quickly, I have no objection to present our pictures in such a way. But I know that pictures in this country are sold not on the merit of the picture but on the reputation of the artists. That system is also current in India. But to come to the point of a reputed artist will require long duration of time. And our time is very short. We have to finish our Krishna consciousness during our lifetime, and we should not waste a single moment for anything else.
"According to Caitanya-caritamrta, a man is famous who is known as a great devotee of Krishna. So if there is no possibility of selling our pictures immediately on presentation, I do not think there is any necessity to improve our artistic craftsmanship. …"
Srila Prabhupada advised me not to waste a single moment trying to make my paintings commercially profitable. I should simply paint for Krsna. When Krsna is pleased, the whole world benefits.
Yadurani Devi Dasi is working on Krsna conscious picture books and illustrative comics in graphic novel style. She lives at ISKCON's New York City temple.