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Pichwai art originated in Rajasthan’s Nathdwara temple, almost 400 years ago. In 1672, a deity representing Lord Krishna’s avatar as a 7-year-old was being transported from Mathura via Agra. The bullock cart’s wheel got stuck in the mud and devouts saw this as a divine intervention from Lord Krishna to build a temple here. Pichwai paintings were born in this temple. Pichwai style is dedicated to revering and adoring Shrinathji. Hence, Pichwai most famous artworks depict Shrinathji. The word ‘Pichwai’ comes from ‘pich’ (back) and ‘wai’ (textile wall hanging). The above mentioned Nathdwara temple has a centuries-old tradition of hanging Pichwai artworks depicting Shrinathji, behind the deity. These paintings came to be known as Pichwai paintings. Today, Pichwais are no longer restricted to the temple walls and adorn the walls of homes and offices. In fact, they are now also found on cushion covers, carpets, etc. The traditionally elaborate Pichwai portrait canvas may have been scaled down, but this doesn’t diminish the beauty of Pichwai art in any way.
Pichwai famous paintings are created on a large canvas, befitting for the walls of a temple. First, a rough sketch is drawn on a handspun starched cotton cloth which is filled with colours. Depending on the Pichwai style, it’s sometimes embellished with golden threads or crystals for a more ornate and refined look. They make for great wall art to be put up in pooja rooms or even living rooms. Traditional Pichwai paintings were always made with 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, etc—sometimes the process taking up to 3-4 days. Pichwai famous paintings have a bright colour palette consisting of red, yellow, black and green, which are some of the most common hues.
Since Pichwais paintings are a way of expressing love and devotion towards Lord Krishna, they are brimming with relevant motifs and bright colours. Sometimes, Pichwai artworks may look a bit crowded but the elements never overshadow their main subject, i.e., Lord Krishna. A Pichwai portrait of Shrinathji is perhaps one of the most sought after categories from this genre. One of the most distinct features of Pichwai artworks is the portrayal of Chowbees Swaroop, i.e., Krishna’s 24 divine avatars, usually found along the borders as miniature paintings. Today, many artists have deconstructed the Chowbees Swaroop by turning them into individual Pichwai paintings. With decorative elements from Mughal paintings, these miniature paintings have developed a soul of their own.
Some of Pichwai most famous artworks have emerged from this beautiful process of scaling down an ornate painting into something more easily consumable to create a smaller nugget of artistic beauty. These include common motifs like lotuses, cows, trees, peacocks and gopis. It is interesting to note how each of these motifs has a symbolic significance. While Pichwai art may have originated in a temple, all paintings are not religious in nature. Perhaps, this is why Pichwai famous paintings have found a humble abode in the walls of many living rooms and offices. Many Pichwais simply depict serene scenes of flora and fauna, with motifs like lotuses, peacocks and cows. They are excellent options for large wall fine art for living room decorations.
Another category of this art form is Summer Pichwai Paintings. Usually created in the summer months, these canvases are decorated with lotuses to offer Lord Krishna some respite from the heat. This Pichwai style shows Shrinathji in the verdant landscapes of Vrindavan, surrounded by ponds, birds, dense trees and lotuses. Some of Pichwai most famous painting depict scenes from Nand Mahotsav to mark the selfless parental love of Nanda and Yashoda towards their beloved son. This festival is celebrated a day after Janmashtami. This festival is celebrated across several temples in Vrindavan. These Pichwai paintings, obviously, showcase Krishna in his infancy, flanked by his loving and caring parents. Like Nand Mahotsav, Daan Leela is another festival that gradually became an important theme in Pichwai paintings. These canvases narrate the tale of Krishna stopping the gopis of Vraj, demanding a ‘daan’ or toll/tax of milk and curds to let them pass through. It is usually made for the Daan Ekadashi festival that goes on for about 20 days at the Nathdwara temple.
Sandhya Aarti is another popular theme for a lot of Pichwai most famous painting. This refers to lighting the lamp in the evening to mark the return of Lord Krishna after a day of herding cattle. Some of these Pichwai artworks show Lord Krishna’s deity flanked by priests, replicating the scene at temples where devotees gather for an evening darshan. Morkuti Pichwais, as the name suggests, depict peacocks welcoming the rainy season by dancing—akin to Raas leela. Just like there’s a separate category of summer Pichwai art, Morkuti Pichwais are dedicated to the freshness of the monsoon season. Similar to Pichwai most famous painting of Raas Leela, Morkuti Pichwais show peacocks dancing in full abandon around Lord Krishna to welcome the rain. Gopashtami Pichwais are dedicated to the auspicious event of Gopashtami which marks Krishna’s promotion from a herder of calves to an adult cowherd. Cows are an integral part of Lord Krishna’s life and Pichwai paintings, alike since he was a gwala (cowherder). The festival of Gopashtami celebrates his promotion from a herder of younger calves to fully grown cows.
While the above mentioned categories always show Shrinathji in some form or the other, Vrikshachari Pichwai paintings don’t show the deity in person. Here, Krishna is present in the form of a Kadamba tree, flanked by gopis holding flowers, peacock fans and garlands.