Sixteenth century in medieval Indian History has been witness to a great social movement called bhakti. The expressions of devotion by the saints, mystics and poets of this movement created scintillating patterns of literary marvels, including everlasting Ramacharitmanas by Tulsidas and Sursagar by Surdas.
Perhaps no other incarnation has aroused so much ardour and devotion in India as Krishna, who being complete in all sixteen phases of life, himself espoused the primacy of formless worship in his own teachings in Bhagvad Gita. The life of Krishna became an ideal for the devotees and has been sung with passion by many great poets like Jayasi, Raskhan, Mira, Chaitanya, and in the modern times by Prabhupada. Surdas, who flourished in the sixteenth century, revived the Krishna devotion by his epical creation Susagar, which paints the life of this Lord in verses. Inspired by his guru Vallabhacharya, who narrated to him the tenth chapter of Bhagvat Purana, Surdas is said to have composed as many as one hundred and twenty five thousand verses blended with contemporary ragas. More than five thousand of these verses that can be authentically attributed to Surdas have survived to us today.
The popularity of Krishna devotion revived by Surdas simultaneously led to the popularity of Sursagar. The compositions were compiled, illustrated and treasured in large numbers. With the decay of the Mughal Empire and the dispersal of its atelier, the regional schools became the new patrons of art. The principality of Awadh was a great centre of all forms of art, including literature, painting and music in the nineteenth century. The paintings of these two illustrated manuscripts of Sursagar, one prepared under the royal patronage and the other under the popular stream, provide a deep insight into the style and the art of the Awadh School.