Pichhvai of Nathdwara

My trip to Udaipur with Samiksha in 2014, led us to Nathdwara to the Pichhvai artists. We had heard about it but never seen it and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn more. We reached Udaipur and just asked around where we could find Pichhvai artists and we were directed to Chitron ki gali (street of paintings) where most of the artists reside.

Pichhvais are backdrops to a shrine, typically for a special occasion or festival. The ones practiced in Nathdwara are specific to Shrinathji (Lord Krishna) and Vallabhacharya.

Earlier, the colours were sourced from natural materials and were made by the artists into usable pigments, but now they use commercially available colours. The brushes are made from squirrel hair, goat hair and bamboo, sometimes they buy brushes from the market as well. Earlier thick handloom cloth was used which has now shifted to thin power loom fabrics. Nowadays they’ve even expanded their skills to miniature paintings, bookmarks etc to cater to a wider audience.

A basic demarcation is drawn on a starched fabric to indicate where borders would go and how the narrative would play out. Then a sketch is drawn, composition is placed and then the colours are added layer by layer. The narratives typically revolve around the life of Krishna and stories from his childhood, there are some of Vallabhacharya as well, and a few with focus on flora and fauna alone.

This art practice is reserve of visual imagery and story telling, each detail has a purpose and a meaning behind it. Even though they’re narrating the same story of Krishna, each artist adds his essence to it making each one unique.

in 2017 I went to Kochi for the Third Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Walking around one of the many venues, I happened to see an exhibit ‘Pichvai Tradition and Beyond’ by Pooja Singhal. There were some old pieces on display of the pichhvai’s from Deccan and Nathdwara, along with a new contemporary take of the same. It was curated very well with a refreshing colour palette and interesting compositions.

Jewelled Textiles – Gold & Silver Embellished Cloth of India. (2015) – Vandana Bhandari. Om Books Publication
Handmade in India, Crafts of India – Edited by Aditi Ranjan and M P Ranjan. Mapin Publishing
In adoration of Krishna : Pichhwais of Shrinathji, Tapi collection by Kalyan Krishna and Kay Talwar

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