Artshala: Pichwai Art

The year is 1672. A deity representing Lord Krishna’s avatar as a 7-year-old is being transported from Mathura via Agra. Suddenly the bullock cart comes to an abrupt halt as the axle gets stuck in the mud. Devouts see it as a divine sign from Shrinathji (a local form of Lord Krishna) and decide to build a temple at that spot. 

The town is now called Nathdwara (the gateway to Shrinath), which is hailed as the birthplace of Pichwai art.

Origins

The word Pichwai comes from ‘pich’ (back) and ‘wai’ (textile wall hanging). The above mentioned Nathdwara temple has a long standing tradition of hanging cloth paintings depicting Srinathji behind the deity. These paintings came to be known as Pichwai paintings. Today, Pichwais are no longer restricted to the sanctum walls and adorn the walls of homes and offices. 

 Artshala: Pichwai Art

The traditional elaborate canvas has been scaled down to something that the walls of your house can accommodate easily. But, this doesn’t diminish the beauty of Pichwai art in any way.

Process

For the gargantuan canvas gracing temple walls, there’s a head artist who supervises a group of artists. First, a rough sketch is drawn on a handspun starched cotton cloth and then it is filled with colours. Depending on the designs, they are sometimes highlighted with gold thread, especially the ornate features. The border of these paintings are often embellished with crystals to give a grand look. 

Traditional Pichwais always used natural ingredients for the canvas, colours and brushes. Goat, squirrel and horse hair were used to make the bristles for brushes. The colours, originally, were obtained from coal, zinc, indigo, saffron, gold, silver, etcsometimes the process taking up to 3-4 days. 

Motifs

Pichwais paintings are a way of expressing love and devotion towards Lord Krishna. Hence, the vibrant colours and relevant motifs. While the canvas tends to get a little crowded, it somehow never overpowers the main subjectSrinathji. Instead, the embellished canvas only brings out the deity’s features which are intentionally exaggerated.

Artshala: Pichwai ArtBuy this painting here

The colour scheme isn’t restricted to these hues but red, yellow, balck and green are quite common in Pichwai paintings. One of the most distinct features of this art form is the portrayal of Chowbees Swaroop, i.e., Krishna’s 24 divine avatars, usually found along the borders as miniature paintings. Today, many have deconstructed the Chowbees Swaroop by turning them into individual paintings. These include common Pichwai motifs like lotuses, cows, trees, peacocks and gopis. 

Artshala: Pichwai ArtBuy this painting here

Why were these symbols chosen? The answer to that lies in the next section!

Themes

Each Pichwai painting tells a story and all these stories arise from events that occurred in Lord Krishna’s life. Here are some of the common themes in Pichwai art:

Annakut Pichwai: It narrates the tale of a young Krishna protecting villagers from Lord Indra’s wrath by lifting Govardhan Parbat on his little finger to save them from a torrential downpour.

Raas Leela: Scenes from Krishna’s cosmic dance with the Gopis that symbolise a union of the soul with the Lord.

Summer Pichwais: Usually created in the summer months, these canvases are inundated with lotuses to offer Krishna some respite from the heat. 

Artshala: Pichwai ArtBuy this painting here

Nand Mahotsav: This Pichwai depicts the festival that celebrates the selfless love of Yashoda and Nanda. It is celebrated the day after Janmashtami.

Daan Lila: This brings to life the story of a mischievous Krishna demanding milk and butter from the gopis in return for a safe passage home. 

Sandhya Aarti: It depicts Yashoda and gopis waiting for Balrama and Krishna to return home after herding cows all day. 

Morkuti Pichwai: As the name suggests, these paintings depict peacocks welcoming monsoon by dancingakin to Raas leela.

Artshala: Pichwai ArtBuy this painting here

Gopashtami: This event marks Krishna’s promotion from a herder of calves to an adult cowherd. 

Vrikshachari Pichwai: Here, Krishna is not present in person but, in the form of a Kadamba tree, flanked by gopis holding flowers, peacock fans and garlands.

Despite having a plethora of motifs and themes, Pichwai art never feels too heavy on the eyea testament to its aesthetic beauty. The balance of colours and elements narrate stories in a beautifully visual manner. 

Hopefully, with our Pichwai collection, you’ll feel it too!

{Cover image by Eventshigh}

- By Prakriti Bhat

October 08, 2020 — Team Bimba