The legend is set in the region of Mathura, the most significant center of early Krishna worship. It seems that this legend points to the suppression of the serpent cult that was very deeply rooted in Mathura and was in evidence till as late as the Kushana and Gupta periods, by the followers of Krishna (ref. Banerjea: 1956). Representations of the Kaliya-damana myth are known from the Gupta era (Banerjee: 1978). The powerful narrative scenes depict the dramatic confrontation between Krishna and the serpent demon. The iconographic model of this sculpture was conceptualized relatively late in South India, and enjoyed a certain popularity in Tamil Nadu from the 10th century AD. Much more common, however, are images that depict the child Krishna in the same dance pose, without, however, depicting the cobra. In these images the young thief Krishna is seen dancing with pleasure after successfully plundering the larder of his mother. ( ref: Pal)
It can be stated that the dance of Kaliya-damana does not, in any way, express a dramatic, moving battle, nor actual joy. It is, rather, a representation of a hieratic pose, on the head of the cobra, which, in images, can easily freeze into an abstract, static emblem. As already indicated, the dance pose itself is iconographically defined. However, the artistic execution of these guidelines are extremely varied - not just in purely formal aspects, but also with regard to the fine details of the basic expression.
In this example, the artist has been brilliantly successful in capturing the balancing act of the dance. With his stretched out left arm, Krishna seems to be not just lifting up the tail of the serpent; he is fact at the same time holding it tight. With his right hand in the bestowing protection gesture (abhaya mudra) Krishna conveys his blessings to the subdued Kaliya who has surrendered himself to the Lord. The great charm of this sculpture, filled with inner tension in which the play of forces comes to a standstill before resuming the flow and rhythm of movement has been exactly conceptualized and captured.
Krishna's head is adorned with a hoop-shaped crown. That he has been depicted here as a child is evident from the close fitting shorts and from the smaller proportions of the body.