Finishing Business With An Unfinished Painting


by Srila Jiva Goswami dasa

Murlidhara Prabhu was known throughout ISKCON as one of the great artists. The fact that he is responsible for magnificent paintings in the Palace, and for many of the great works in the Temple is yet another high marker in the transcendental record of sublime achievements from Old New Vrindabana.

Murlidhara Prabhu was silent. I never heard him say much of anything other than “Hare Krsna,” until this particular, small encounter, which I recount for you here, Dear Reader.

One of Murlidhara’ s projects was a huge picture of Krsna and Radha before a gazebo. This picture is painted on plywood, and is inlaid with gold. Murlidhara had not finished this picture when I came to admire it in the Columbus Temple. There it was, upstairs in an empty storage room, facing the wall.

I purchased that unfinished work of Murlidhara’s for about $75.00. I kept it with me where ever I found myself over the ensuing years. The painting was unsigned.

Murlidhara, of course, was one of those very advanced Devotees. The intensity he brought to anything he did seemed palpable to me. Even the taking and serving of Prasadam by Murlidhara Prabhu seemed highly deliberate and tuned in accordance with the Principles of Devotional Service. His eyes were large and dark. Like a deer, in my opinion.

More than once, I had occasion to drop off supplies at the Art Studio. The Studio was formerly the little schoolhouse nestled in the crook of the fork where the path to the Brahmacari Ashram split off from the main road.

Then I would have a chance to talk with Puskara Prabhu, who seemed perpetually frisky, and also, to interact with Murlidhara Prabhu, who came across to me as one who was grave as Abraham Lincoln. Frivolity was not one of Murlidhara’s features.

I made bold, one morning there, to ask Murlidhara if he recalled that gold leafed painting he’d begun on plywood. The one with Radharani and Krsna in front of the gazebo. Murlidhara stated that he did indeed recall that painting, and that it had been just an experiment.

The light in the studio was excellent. Canvas, paint, and artist’s tools were everywhere. Murlidhara pointed at himself with the handle of his brush. “I always wondered what ever happened to that painting,” he said. His voice was even, as always.

“I have that painting,” I said proudly. “I want to ask if I bring you the painting, will you sign it?”

Murlidhara put the brush down on the easel tray and wiped his fingers with a rag. “You have the painting?”

I nodded eagerly.

“We’ll see about that,” Murlidhara declared.

I left the studio with the understanding that Murlidhara did not think it was appropriate for me to harbor his painting. I think now that his apprehension was due to the fact that as far as he was concerned, the work was unfinished, and should not be attributed. I understood that I was involved then again in one of those transcendental pastimes.

Perhaps Murlidhara would not sign the painting. Still, to me, the value was and is very much there. I did not imagine that I’d have to return the painting to him.

A day or so later, I was walking on the main road, from the Palace. Just past Mother Megamala’s store, along came Kuladri, Temple President, in his latest careening vehicle, a well beaten and dusty Pontiac station wagon. Kuladri Prabhu always had a list of “To Do” things, and when he saw me walking, due to expediency, I came, for the moment, to the top of the list.

Kuladri hit the brakes hard enough to kick up dust and cause the old car to sashay a little on its spongy suspension.

“Jiva!” I heard the high pitched voice I love.

I made dandavats, my preferred form of obeisance, actually physically easier for me than touching the forehead to the ground. I got up and dusted myself off. “Yah?”

“Uh, I understand you have a certain painting,” Kuladri chirped.

I knew right away what he meant. I nodded assent.

“That painting does not belong to you,” Kuladri said. “Where did you get it?”

“I bought it at the Columbus Temple,” I replied. “From the Temple President.”

You’re going to have to give it back.”

“I know who it belongs to,” I said. I was thinking, “Krsna,” and Kuladri, who knows me very well, certainly understood.

“Uh huh.” Kuladri drummed the steering wheel with the fingers of one hand and peered straight ahead, though the grimy windshield. “You’re going to have to give it back,” Kuladri said again.

I agreed. The painting did not and does not belong to me. I followed Kuladri’s edict, and promptly turned the painting in. Subsequently, Murlidhara duly signed the painting, and that would be that, except for the fact that as I write this, the treasured painting is right here, on this very office wall. I look at it now.

You see, about a week later, once again while delivering supplies, I saw the painting again, up in the Mother’s Sewing Room and it was leaning face first against the wall there.

A few days after that, I approached Kuladri Prabhu, and told him that as the painting was simply faced against the wall in the Mother’s Sewing Room, it might be OK for me to go get it back.

“Sure, OK,” Kuladri responded cheerfully, and without hesitation.

In this way on that issue, typically, everyone was and is more than totally satisfied.

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Reader Comments

Who are you? I know Murlidhara well. He no longer goes by that name but is a most talented classical artist for his time. The style of art he prefers is like that of David during the French Revolution. His talents increased even after the subject matter changed. pusti dd

You almost certainly know that Murlidhara Prabhu painted the fine murals which hang proudly in what is now known as WesBanco Arena, here in Wheeling. Small world? Full circle? As a senior at Wheeling Jesuit, in 2000, one morning a professor handed around reproductions of one of Murldhara’s works. You see, the professor had been Murlidhara’s models for the painting. I failed to recognize our instructor, but when the class was challenged to state what was special about the picture, of course, I cited Murlidhara Prabhu. The rest of the class was spent talking about the Palace of Gold and Murlidhara Prabhu. Our teacher praised Murlidhara to High Heaven, and I felt that glow one gets when one is not so nice, but knows for even just a moment that he or she is in with the in crowd.