This small bronze is a popular representation of Krishna depicted as a small child, carrying the ball of butter. It reflects Krishna’s mischievous prank of entering Gopikas’s (cow herding girls) houses and stealing cream, curds, and butter, while engaged in their household duties. The jars would be hanging on a swing from the ceiling and Krishna, helped by His brother Balarama would steal the content. They would then make balls with the butter and play with it, drink milk directly from the jar and sometimes distribute some to the monkeys.
There are many stories of Krishna as a mischievous child but this one is probably the most famous one and gave him the nickname Maakhanchor (butter thief).
After being caught Krishna would always win the hearts and minds of the Gopikas and his foster mother Yashodathanks to his charm and innocent smile.
“Once Yashoda appealingly asked Krishna as to why he was going to the Gopikas’ houses to steal their butter when there was so much butter in their own house. The Child Krishna replied ‘Mother, I am not stealing butter but the hearts of the Gopis.’ ‘Their hearts are pure and full of devotion,’ said Krishna. ‘Their butter is filled with devotion with which they churn the buttermilk. Their bangles keep time as they sing Krishna’s name while churning. The butter that is got contains the essence of the Vedas.’ Krishna asked Yashoda whether this kind of churning was taking place in her house. In this manner, every word of Krishna was replete with spiritual significance.’’Sai Baba, Summer Showers, 10/94, p. 262
Krishna stealing the butter, as all the other stories from the life of Krishna, has a philosophical importance. One interpretation of it given by an editor of the newspaper The Hindu on February 24, 2013 is that:
‘’The butter implies the atma (soul). Theatma does not belong to us, and this is what the Lord shows us. In taking the butter, Krishna, therefore, is not stealing, but in fact, is only taking that which is His. The pot is broken by Krishna, to show us that the body to which we attach so much importance is really of no significance at all.’’
A similar 14th century South Indian small bronze figure of the same subject was sold for $3,840, at Chrisite’s, as lot 76, in sale 1640, Indian Southeast Asian Art, 30 March 2006, New York, Rockefeller Plaza.