Pichwais are religious cloth paintings that are hung behind the idols in the shrines of Lord Shrinathji at Nathdwara and other temples of Pushti Marga sect. It is an art form that pays tribute to the seven-year-old Lord Krishna, ‘Pichwai’ is a pathway to grace and spirituality. As, these paintings are made on large cloths and show Lord Krishna as Shrinathji and depict his childhood. The word Pichwai means ‘hanging at the back’ and is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘Pich’ which means back and ‘Wai’ means hanging. They describe the life events of Lord Krishna and are hung in temples behind the idol. The main theme of these paintings is Shrinathji and his Leelas (past times). Apart from being a visual narrative, they also express the mood of the deity, the spirit of the season or festival. With changing times, this art, known for fine intricate handiwork, has found its place in the urban living spaces. As art connoisseurs discovered Pichwais and took them to their living rooms as a metaphor of divinity, just as much as of opulence.

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Introduction:

Usage:

The Pichwai paintings are traditionally used for religious purposes like adorning the walls of temples and as decorations in temple chariots. Another purpose of Pichwai besides its artistic appeal, is to narrate tales of Krishna to the illiterate. They are changed daily and for various rituals and festive occasions in the temple. On all occasions, the Pichwai serves as more than a mere backdrop—interacting and altering meaning at each viewing. Pichwais are also changed to reflect seasons as well as the festivals. The depiction of the Annakut Utsav with the sat svarup (seven forms) is a popular subject for painted Pichwais, the hanging used on Annakut at Nathdwara is the heavily jewelled work that appears behind the svarups in the painted version.
In earlier times, Pichwais were given as gifts by the high ranked ‘Goswami’ priests. Princes and devotees would compete for such an honour.
Some painters have now begun making smaller pieces and working with acrylic paints as these materials allow their work to fall within a far more affordable price range and thus encourages their sale to tourists and art collectors.
The Pichwai paintings also serve as a historical documentation of Rajasthan preserving its rich cultural heritage. Over the years, these paintings have captured historic events the region has seen and they serve as an expression of the artisans’ reverence of the religion, rituals and customs of the land. They have been a large part of what defines and enlivens the occasion.


Significance:

Pichwai can be literally translated as a backdrop of anything. But for the artists of the temple town of Nathdwara who have been living through this tradition, it is a form of art, which often flows seamlessly between the realms of imagination, skill and motivation.

Natural colors and other organic materials are traditionally used to create the Pichwai paintings. Even the brushes used are made of horse, goat or squirrel hair. The use of pure gold in the paintings adds to their value and charm. For one painting, it may take 3-4 days to just prepare color from pure gold.

The idol of Shreenathji in the Nathdwara temple, is of a seven-year-old Krishna who is holding the Govardhana using one of his hands with the other hand on his waist. So, the idol is also treated as a child. Everything that happens inside the temple is done with keeping him in mind, like the puja is done in such a way that when the oil lamp is lit, the flame from the wick don’t burn the eyes of the idol. Also the people visiting the temple cover their faces, so that if they cough or sneeze the viruses don’t reach the idol of the lord. It’s similar to how a mother would take care of her child. All these things are depicted in the Pichwai paintings, which makes it of utmost significance to everyone who wants to learn about Shreenathji as well as to the people of Vallabha Sampradaya as these paintings are in a way documentation of their traditions.

These paintings used in the backdrops in temples can take from a couple of weeks to a few months to be prepared. The paintings for the temples are usually commissioned by wealthy families. Paintings representing the idols of Shrinathji inside the temple are also bought by the devotees for their personal shrines. This becomes a source of income for the painters while satisfying the devotees who want an image of their deity since photography is prohibited inside the temples.


Myths & Legends:

There are a few popular legends about the establishment of Srinathji temple. Some of them are,

  • When ‘Indra’, the lord of rains, showed his wrath on the people of ‘Vrindavan’, with violent rains and thunder, lord Krishna lifted the ‘Govardhan’ Mountain like an umbrella and saved the inhabitants – “ the cows and cowherds, from Indra’s fury. ‘Indra’ was humbled and the people started worshipping ‘Govardhan’, the giver of rains and green pastures. This mountain-lifting form of Lord Krishna is worshipped as Shrinathji.
  • An image of the deity was found in 1409 AD when a cow worshipped the lord with offerings of milk. A temple was soon established in that spot which was considered auspicious and was deeply revered.
  • When the idol of Shrinathji was travelling to Mewar from Govardhan (Uttar Pradesh), the wheels of the chariot (or bullock cart) got stuck in mud in a village called Sihad on the Banas River. It was taken as a divine signal that the deity was wishing to settle in that village.
  • When the younger son of Vallabhacharya (establisher of Vallabha Sampradaya), Vitthalanatha was on his way to Dwarka, he saw Sinhad and found it perfect for Shreenathji. So, he told Hit Harivansh Mahaprabhu that Shreenathji will reside here in the future and will not leave the Govardhan hill. Vitthalnatha stayed in Sinhad and during this time the king of Sinhad, Shri Udaya Singh and his wife queen Ajabkunvari visited him. The queen became so attached to Vitthalnatha that when he was leaving Sinhad to continue his journey towards Dwarka, she asked him to stay there so she can worship him everyday. So, Vitthalanatha told her that he would not be able to stay here but he will make sure that Shreenathji comes to Sinhad from Govardhan hill daily to give her his darshan. So, Shreenathji used to come daily, the queen would worship him and then he would leave after palying a game of Chopat with him. Once the queen asked Shreenathji to stay in Sinhad so that she can worship him and he wouldn’t have to travel daily. But Shreenathji told her that till Vitthalantha is alive he won’t leave Govardhan Hill. But after that he will definitely come and stay in Sinhad. A lot of years later, Shreenathji recalled what he had told the queen and decided to go to Sinhad. The only hurdle in is way was the temples established by Shri Mahaprabhuji in Govardhana. So, he forced Aurangzeb to attack the temples, as this was the only way to shift all those temples to Sinhad. This way Shreenathji came to Sinhad, which later came to known as Nathdwara.
  • One day when Mirabai was going to Chittor, her birthplace, she asked Lord Krishna to join her. Lord Krishna wanted to test how much Mirabai trusted him, so he told her that he will go with her but only if she agrees to his condition. The condition was that while going to Chittor, he will walk behind her, as to protect her back and she should not look back. As, if she turned around and looked back then he will turn into a statue and will stay in that place. Mirabai agreed to this. Though when she reached Nathdwara, she had a doubt if Krishna was actually behind her and so she glanced at her back to see if Krishna was actually there or not. As soon as she turned around, Krishna turned himself into a statue in Nathdwara. Later around that statue the Shreenathji temple was formed.

History:

The Vallabha sampradaya (sect) was founded by Vallabhacharya (1479–1531), a Brahmin from the Andhra region of southern India who formulated the philosophy of shuddhadvaita (pure nondualism), which became the basis for the Pushtimarg or the Path of Grace. During his first pilgrimage to the north, he went to Gokul, which was identified as the place where Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, grew up and was associated with his childhood lilas (sportive pranks). By the late fifteenth and the early part of the sixteenth century, a very powerful devotional movement had developed around Krishna and some of the sacred sites associated with his early life in Vraj around the banks of the river Yamuna where he had grazed his cattle. Krishna is said to have appeared before Vallabhacharya and commanded him to go to Mount Govardhan, where he discovered the svarup of Shri Govardhananathji, which came in time to be known as Shrinathji to his followers and remains their principle devotional image to this day. Since that time the service or seva of Shrinathji continued to be performed on Mount Govardhan. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, during the twelfth year of his reign, ordered demolishment of the temples. He ordered his subedar, Abdul Nazi to go to Mathura and destroy the But-Khana (the place of idol worship) of Katra. In compliance of this order, many temples in the whole of India were demolished. Situated on Mount Govardhan, the main temple of Vallabha sect, the temple of Shrinathji also faced the threat of demolition. On October 10th 1669, priest Goswami Damodar ji and his uncle Govind ji, Balkrishna ji and Ganga Bai left for Mathura. Along with them the lord’s sevaks, priests, halwais (chefs), cows and their caretakers and the painters of temple background art also went along. They took the idol of Shrinathji along with them.  Many artists who were ardent devotees also flocked to the temple surroundings.  Acharya Gopinathji was one among them who took up the Pichwai style of painting and specialized in them. Many kings refused to give protection to Shrinathji due to the fear of Aurangzeb and Mughals.

At last, Rana Raj Singh of Mewar fortunately accepted Shrinathji in a very courageous manner. On 10th February 1672, the temple of Shrinathji was established in Singad village, presently known as Nathdwara. With the temple as the center of attraction, a town developed around it and came to be known as the doorway (dwar) to god (nath). People from various professions, such as potters, weavers, silversmiths, carpenters, cooks, began to settle here, offering their services to the deity and the temple, and the pilgrims who began to arrive as the word spread around.

Like in other Krishna temples, Nathdwara too became known for its various festivals, such as Holi, Janmashtami, Nand Mahotsava, Govardhan Puja, Annakuta, Diwali, etc. To symbolize the different seasons, the events in the life of Krishna, and the festivals, representative paintings would be hung behind the idol. According to many art historians, it was this ritual which earned the paintings the name of ‘Pichwai’ (roughly meaning ‘pichh’ or back and ‘wai’ or painted textile). Gradually, the Pichwai paintings as well as the paintings began to gain popularity and were bought by the followers and pilgrims to be hung at home, often with the image of Shrinathji painted within decorated borders. Some commissioned ‘manorath’ paintings as reminders of their pilgrimage to Nathdwara and their communion with the divine.

With the paintings found on the walls of the Shrinathji haveli and the Pichwai, a school of religious art, popularly known as Nathdwara school of paintings was born. It is a subset of the ‘Mewar School’. Pichwai paintings began more than 300 years ago and have now evolved into a collector’s item.

References to Pichwai paintings are found in the poems of the Ashtachhapa poets which indicate that they surely existed as early as the 16th century. The poets were brought together by the younger son of Vallabhacharya (establisher of Vallabha Sampradaya), Vitthalanatha in the 16th century. These paintings are believed to be strongly influenced by the Mughal style. The imperial tents of the Mughals were embellished with elaborate hangings, canopies and partitions providing a regal setting. He was said to be in touch with the Mughals through Emperor Akbar and his court, and the influence is believed to have come through him. This is also supports the story that the enormous diamond on Shrinathji’s chin in the paintings is the gift of Emperor Akbar.


Design:

Enclosed in a dark border, rich colours like red, green,yellow, white and black are used with a lot of gold decorating the figures, the ‘Pichwai’ paintings come under the ‘Nathdwara school of art’ and are identified by their characteristic features; large eyes, broad noses and heavy bodies. These features are based on the idol of Lord ‘Shrinathji’ and are believed to emphasize the ‘Shringara‘ or adornment.
Another unique characteristic of these paintings is the depiction of different occasions, seasons and festivals using various colours and elements. For example, pink lotuses are used to depict the summer season, whilst the bright full moon is used to mark the occasion of ‘Sharad Purnima‘. Occasions like ‘Raas Leela’ and ‘Holi’ are painted with backgrounds relevant to the season in which they take place. The types of Pichwai used on any occasions are also governed by the traditions. Generally they are pictorial and illustrate the incident or event on which a particular festival is based. There are at least twenty four main celebrations, which are important to all temples. The borders of the painted Pichwais have designs on them. The Pichwais include the major Krishna festivals based on the well-known stories of the Bhagvata Purana and the verses of the bhakti poets as well. Some of them are idealized representations whereas some depict the actual events and are historical records complete with the portraits of the participants. Some of the varieties of Pichwai based on the occasions and seasons are:

  • Ramnavami Pichwai
  • Nandmahotsav Pichwai
  • Dana Ekadashi Pichwai
  • Braj Yatra Pichwai
  • Sharad Purnima Pichwai
  • Annakuta Pichwai
  • Govardhana Dharana Pichwai
  • Gopashtami Pichwai
  • Morakuti (monsoon) Pichwai – depict peacocks with crested crowns dancing in full abandon in the rainy season. These are named after the small village Vraja, which is near the birth place of Radha, where peacocks abound. As they mimic the ras lila or the Krishna’s dance with Radha and the Gopis.
  • Varsha or Vrikshachari Pichwai – depict Krishna as a vrikshacharya or tree dweller. He is only represented in the paintings, usually using Kadamba trees. Gopis are also shown carrying garlands, peacock fans, flowers and fly whisks, anticipating the arrival of Krishna.
  • Sandhya aarti Pichwai
  • Kamal Vana or Jal Vihar – In the broiling heat of summer, the dominant themes are representations of lush greenery, shady caves, sparkling pools, and blooming lotuses rising from the cool waters of the river Yamuna. These refreshing scenes contribute to Shrinathji’s comfort when the outside temperatures soar.

Pichwais made Lord Shrinathji’s shrine are some of the biggest in size, scaling up to 3 meters in width and about 1 meter in height. The portion in the painting that lies directly behind the idol is either left blank or is cut out.
Sometimes a large tree is drawn so that the deity appears to be standing under it. The tree (mostly ‘Kadamba’) in the Pichwai paintings is believed to resemble Lord Krishna from the ‘Hinayana’ Buddhist iconography. This is further established by the fact that these paintings show influences of the Mughal miniature style, with the ‘Tree of Life’ motifs being especially prominent.
Significant changes are not permitted in the important imagery and themes of the paintings. This is done so that the hordes of devotees who are only able to receive a short ‘Darshan’ (viewing of the idol), must be able to identify them at a glance. This is believed to enhance the impact of ‘Darshan’.
The paintings sometimes have rich embroidery or applique work and are enclosed in dark borders with vibrant colours. Gold is also used to decorate the deities and white color is used to highlight outlines.


Challenges:

  • All the Pichwais used in the shrine of Lord Shrinathji date back to the 19th and 20th centuries. Very few paintings are newly commissioned as the cost of making new paintings have greatly increased. A good quality Pichwai can cost anywhere between Rs.10000 to Rs. 1,00,000 each, depending on its size.
  • In present scenario, artisans are not earning sufficient funds as per their hard work, the reason being that a large amount of profit is taken by the middlemen i.e. commission agents and traders. That is the reason the artists need a platform in which the customers can directly contact them.
  • Pichwai art is very complex, intricate and requires a lot of time (approx. 3 – 9 months to one year). Even after all those efforts one puts into it, there are very few buyers for it as nowadays there is not much demand for them. On the contrary, people prefer buying embossed and digitized versions of it as it comes at a cheaper rate.
  • The younger generation of Pichwai painters are losing interest in this art as it requires time. Their generation is preoccupied with making money and they don’t think they can get good money from this art form. So, they decide to pursue other careers. Though in some cases they help their family in this work sometimes. The ones still interested in this art form instead switch to hard board, wood art, carving etc. As these kind of works require less efforts. So, the traditional art form is slowly vanishing. Now everything revolves around money and this has become a major challenge. Pichwais are hard to sell but when artists move into easier jobs like wood-based paintings, embossed paintings etc. they suffer as their heart still lies in Pichwai. But they have to do it to increase the financial situation of their family.
  • In every other fields the employee’s salary grows as per work experience. But this does not hold for artists. As they get older they have to face a lot of competition. Their eyesight gets weaker, they cannot work for increasing hours and their productivity declines.
  • Earlier in Pichwai, only those people who got trained in it were able to do it. But in recent times, people do not do the sketching part. Instead they use photocopies of the picture on cardboard and then paint them. So with less effort they sell the painting at lower prices. The way the specialty, uniqueness and the authenticity of the Pichwai is lost.
  • Nowadays, everything revolves around money and the artist work on the basis of the quantities of the orders they receive. Earlier it was not like this, the artists used to work with their hearts, they didn’t have to think much about money, as it was good. There is less respect towards this type of work. So the quality is not as good as it used to be.
  • We should save the techniques of traditional Pichwai art. These days very few artists in Nathdwara are doing Pichwai. As the tourists here like decorative artwork more and there is less demand for this art.
  • Though there is scope, if the artists explore new subjects in the traditional Pichwai art. As, people always like new subjects and can get bored seeing the same old subjects.

Introduction Process:

The process of creating a Pichwai painting is very traditional and has been there since over 300 years. It is accomplished in many stages. The artist starts with preparing the fabric i.e, a rough hand-spun cloth or canvas, and then starches it. This is followed by creating the outline or the rough sketch. It is then filled with colours or rich dark hues. These designs are painted directly on the cloth and sometimes printed using hand blocks. Traditionally handmade brushes and natural colours were used. Now the Pichwais are made using many different ways and techniques like embroidery, printing, painting, and sometimes they are even woven. It is usually a group effort with many painters working under a master artist. Artists also make miniature paintings of the Pichwai. The fact that the painting requires pure gold in its making adds even more charm to the value of the Pichwai paintings. The main colours used are red, green and yellow among the others. They are sometimes even painted on silk and materials like mirrors, pearls or gems are also used to adorn these beautiful paintings.


Raw Materials:

  • Cloth (100% cotton fabric) A rough hand spun cloth is used as the base. Since Pichwai is made on cloth, fabric becomes an essential component
    Canvas – This is also used as a base.
    Tea/Chai steeped water – The canvas is soaked in this water to achieve an antique finish.
    Paper – Earlier these were sourced from villages like ‘Gosunda’ and ‘Kotah’ near ‘Chittorgarh’. Today local shops provide such coarse paper.
    Gum or resin – This is used as a pigment binder.
    Poster paints – These are also used nowadays to provide ready-made color shades.
  • Lai or Mandi – A kind of traditional adhesive made from copper sulfate (neela thotha) with wheat powder or Maida cooked in water till it achieves a consistency, little thicker than the present day adhesive. It is used to starch the fabric and also to join two separate pieces of fabric when a large Pichwai is to be made.
  • Stainless steel pot – to make the lai
  • Small rag cloth – To apply the lai
  • Cotton thread – Used to mark a one-inch border on all four sides of the fabric for ornamentation.
  • Gum of dhawda – Used in the preparation of gold and silver colours.
  • Sares gum
  • Misri
  • Arrowroot powder
  • Poster colors

Colors from natural sources:  

  • Cow urine – This is used as yellow color. (for making it the cow is fed mangoes for a month and then the urine is collected and boiled. This yellow colour is mainly used to paint the Halo behind the deity’s image.)
  • Henna leaves – This natural source is used to obtain black, blue, green colors and shades of yellow.
  • Lac – This gives a light red color.
  • Palash leaves– These leaves are used to obtain a bright orange color.
  • Dried fruit of Peepal Tree – This is used to get a bright red color.
  • Cactus – This is used to get a different shade of yellow.
  • Black – This is derived from ground stones.
  • Thin gold and silver foils/sheets – These are placed inside a leather purse and beaten with a hammer to get extremely fine sheets.
  • Sendur stone – Orange colour
  • Kesar – Reddish saffron colour
  • Sulfide of mercury – Vermilion colour
  • Zinc oxide – White colour
  • Indigo – Blue colour
  • Hara patthar – Bottle green colour, (To obtain this colour the green spots found on the stone are grounded.)
  • Palash flower – Pink colour
  • Laps Lazuli stone – Sky blue color

Waste:


Tools & Tech:

Slanted Low wooden tables – These are used as an easel to spread the canvas.
Jhina – Fine brushes made of horse, goat or squirrel hair. The hair is attached to a piece of pigeon quill and a bamboo stem.
Jara – Broad brushes of goat tail hair are used to dust of fine particles
Coconut shells or Seep(Sea Shells) – These are used as palates by the artists for mixing paints and water.
Imli ki Lakdi – Charcoal is obtained from tamarind twigs and is used as fuel.
Ghonta – A special tool used to rub the back side of the pichwai cloth or burnish the coarse paper. This prevents the paintings from flaking. It is basically made of wood and is designed in such a way that a flat round stone of about 3-4” can be fitted in the centre. It has handles at the sides to provide easy grip and even application of pressure. The stone used is ‘agate stone’ or ‘hakik ka patthar’ and the technique is called ‘ghoontai’.


Rituals:


process:

Kholi Stitching:

100% cotton fabric is best for making Pichwai paintings as it absorbs the colour nicely. Earlier artists used thick woven material called khadi but they have now shifted to a fine quality cotton cloth from Nathdwara or Surat. The cloth used is called ‘Lattha’. This cloth is folded into half and stitched. Then a wooden or iron rod called ‘Nepha’ is inserted through it. This process is called ‘kholi stitchng’.

Hanging the fabric:

A pair of strong double rope is looped into several knots and is nailed on either sides of the wall while making sure that the knots are at equal distance so that when the cloth with the rod inserted in it is hanged through this rope, it stays straight. This arrangement will help the artist to roll the Pichwai up and down according the artists convenience, maintaining a comfortable height.

Pasting the fabric:

Lai or Mandi is used to stick the cloth to the board and its strength is less compared to the one used for starching. As, here it is only required to hold the fabric to the board until the painting is completed and after that the artist should be able to remove the cloth from the board. To do this, the lai is taken in a bucket and then the cloth is completely immersed in it. Then it is removed, placed on the board and is spread carefully starting from the middle of the board. After the board is covered, it is ironed to remove all the bubbles and the surface is made completely smooth and is left to dry overnight.

Starching the fabric:

After preparing the fabric it is starched using an adhesive paste made by the artists. This process is done to prevent the colours from running together as well as from bleeding through the material. The adhesive paste used here is called ‘lai’ or ‘mandi’. The top and bottom of the fabric are fixed with a bamboo and then the fabric is hanged on the arrangement made earlier. The lai is applied on this fabric with a small rag cloth. Sometimes instead of this the artists hold the cloth tightly on all four sides and then apply the lai. After applying the lai using either of these methods, the cloth is then left to dry properly.

Soot Jhadna:

Before starting process of drawing, the outline of the fabric is marked and then a cotton thread dipped saffron colour is used to mark an inch border on all sides of the fabric. Decorative elements complementing the painting are drawn in these borders. This process is called ‘Soot-Jhadna’ or marking with thread.

Kacchi Likhai:

It is the process of drawing the outline or rough sketch of the painting. Since this is the rough or raw sketch it is called kacchi likhai. A twig of tamarind or Imli k Lakdi is used for this process. This twig is burnt till it gets burned and then we get something that resembles a charcoal stick. The outline work is done using it and then the fabric is jerked off to remove the excess charcoal from it.

After finalizing the outline of the final drawing, geru colour is used to retrace it and draw the final outline of the painting.

Preparing the colours:

Natural and solid objects used to obtain colours are grounded on stone. This is only done on the day when they are going to be used for painting. They are then sieved using a fine sieve, so that all the solid pieces and impurities are removed from it and a fine powder is left. Some of these objects are grounded dry and some of them are wet. This fine powder is then dissolved in water and the process of siphoning is done to obtain the pure colour, which is then mixed with gum or resin. Pure gold and silver are sometimes used in the paintings and it may take about three to four days to prepare them. They are prepared using a different method called ‘hal of gold and silver’. Gum of dhawda is used in this preparation. Also nowadays synthetic colors have replaced the earlier use of natural colors. Poster colors are more easily available and do not require long duration of preparations as natural colors would do.

Ghontai:

After preparing the colours, the process of painting starts. The base colour is applied first and for this process Jara is used. It is a special brush made using the hairs from the neck of goat, squirrel or horse. If the canvas is large, the artists will spread it on the floor, and sit on the canvas itself when painting. After filling the painting with the base colours, a process called ghutai is done. Ghonta is special wooden tool which is used for this process. It is basically a grinding process. To start this process, the painted Pichwai is carefully placed on the floor and is spread evenly. Then the wooden ghonta is placed underneath it and is rubbed or grounded. This makes the surface of the painting bright, clean and ready for painting the details. The finished and colored portions would be then covered with newsprint and would be reopened later for detailing and shading.

Pakki Likhai:

In this process the final detailing of the figures and the landscapes is done. As, this is the final process of the painting it is called Pakki Likhai. This is what gives life to the base colours and after this we can start seeing the figures and landscapes in the painting, close to their final form. Artist’s skills are also prominently seen in this process as it is very precise and an important part of the painting since it sets the base for the final shading.

Pardaj:

This is the process where the forms created in the pakki likhai, will get their shades and bring them to life. The artist does this by giving the forms the effect of light and shadow. Shading is always done with the same color that is used as the base, for example a pink base would be detailed with a shade of pink and similar.

Likhai or Ekharika:

This is the process of giving the final details to the painting. It is done using a very fine brush called ‘Jhina’. The details like those of the eyes, mouth, trees, flowers, clothes etc. are done in this process. In terms of painting order of the idol of Shrinathji, the artist begins and ends with the painting of the eyes, both literally and metaphorically. So, they start with the painting of eyes and end with painting the tilak, which symbolises the third eye. This layered process of intricate detailing is finished by bejeweling the paintings with glitter stones.

Wark Chapna:

Gold and silver work is done on the painting in this process. For doing it, sares gum is liquefies and then water and misri (uncut form of sugar) are mixed together. It is then applied on the painting in the place where gold or silver is to be filled. This needs to be done with a lot of precision. Once this is applied, the artist touches the gold foil by his finger and very carefully places his finger in the place where the earlier mixture was applied. The gold dust then sticks to the painting and is fixed over there.

Ophai:

This is the finishing process and done on the gold paint done in the Wark Chapna. It is done using a special tool called Ophani. It is rubbed on the parts of the painting where the gold paint has been done and polishes it. This gives it the shine and luster that makes the Pichwai paintings ecstatic and luxurious.


Cluster Name: Nathdwara

Introduction:


district Nathdwara
state Rajasthan
population 42,016 (2011)
langs Hindi, Rajasthani
best-time October to March
stay-at local hotels
reach Well connected by rail, road and flights.
local Auto Rickshaws, Tempo Rickshaws and Buses.
food Kachori, Rabdi and Daal-Baati

History:

Nathdwara became a temple town when the idol was brought here from Braj in 1671. The idol brought with it many cultural elements of Braj and the city was greatly influenced by the Sevapaddhati of the shrine, utsavas of the temple and cult of Pushtimarga founded by Vallabhacharya. The Vallabha sampradaya (sect) was also founded by Vallabhacharya (1479–1531), a Brahmin from the Andhra region of southern India who formulated the philosophy of shuddhadvaita (pure nondualism), which became the basis for the Pushtimarga or the Path of Grace. During his first pilgrimage to the north, he went to Gokul, which was identified as the place where Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, grew up and was associated with his childhood lilas (sportive pranks). By the late fifteenth and the early part of the sixteenth century, a very powerful devotional movement had developed around Krishna and some of the sacred sites associated with his early life in Vraj around the banks of the river Yamuna where he had grazed his cattle. Krishna is said to have appeared before Vallabhacharya and commanded him to go to Mount Govardhan, where he discovered the svarup of Shri Govardhananathji, which came in time to be known as Shrinathji to his followers and remains their principle devotional image to this day. Since that time the service or seva of Shrinathji continued to be performed on Mount Govardhan. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, during the twelfth year of his reign, ordered demolishment of the temples. He ordered his subedar, Abdul Nazi to go to Mathura and destroy the But-Khana (the place of idol worship) of Katra. In compliance of this order, many temples in the whole of India were demolished. Situated on Mount Govardhan, the main temple of Vallabha sect, the temple of Shrinathji also faced the threat of demolition. On October 10th 1669, priest Goswami Damodar ji and his uncle Govind ji, Balkrishna ji and Ganga Bai left for Mathura. Along with them the lord’s sevaks, priests, halwais (chefs), cows and their caretakers and the painters of temple background art also went along. They took the idol of Shrinathji along with them. Many kings refused to give protection to Shrinathji due to the fear of Aurangzeb and Mughals. At last, Rana Raj Singh of Mewar fortunately accepted Shrinathji in a very courageous manner. On 10th February 1672, the temple of Shrinathji was established in Singad village, presently known as Nathdwara. With the temple as the center of attraction, a town developed around it and came to be known as the doorway (dwar) to god (nath). People from various professions, such as potters, weavers, silversmiths, carpenters, cooks, began to settle here, offering their services to the deity and the temple, and the pilgrims who began to arrive as the word spread around.

Geography:

Nathdwara is located in the Rajasmund district of Rajasthan, on the banks of the river Banas. It is on the north-east of Udaipur at a distance of 48 kilometres and is 60 km from Kumbhalgarh. It has an average elevation of 584 meters. By air:  The nearest Airport is Maharana Pratap Airport, Dabok (Udaipur) located at a distance of 56 km via Mavli Junction and from there one can travel via a taxi or a bus. By road: Express buses of the state tourism as well as private companies ply between Nathdwara and major towns like Ahmedabad, Pushkar, Ajmer, Jaipur and Delhi. From Udaipur too, there are several buses daily that take about two hours to reach Nathdwara. The bus stand is a 15-minute walk from the temple complex. By railway: The Mavli Junction lies 28 km from Nathdwara. Another main rail head is Udaipur, from where a bus is available to get to this town. Nathdwara has a small railway station which is 13 km away from the town and has a small reservation office near the temple. Local Transport: Even though taxis and rickshaws are available in the town, walking is the best way to explore this beautiful quaint town.

Environment:



Infrastructure:

Nathdwara has developed as a town due to the presence of the Shrinathji temple, so in the basic structure of the town, the center area of it constitutes a lot of the religious places. After that the middle area of the town mostly comprises of the commercial places as well as the educational institutions. The outermost area of the town is mostly residential. The residential areas are also known a mohallas. These are named on the basis of the name of the caste or the profession of the people residing in them. The town being a pilgrimage center has led to many facilities like health, hotels and transport being brought about. The Banas River is the source of water supply for the town. With its well-built intra-city road network, it is easy to access most parts of the town on foot or via local transport like auto rickshaws. The main temple road and the lanes parallel to it are flanked by numerous small shops selling grocery, temple ware, frames, local food and paintings, overall a scenario full of hustle bustle. The market timings ply as per the opening and closing timings of the temple. 4:30 AM in winters and 5:30 AM in the summers are the morning opening times for the market and it closes at 12 PM for siesta and reopens at 4 PM till 12 AM or even later.

Architecture:

Each and every house in the town of Nathdwara is considered to be the residence of Shreenathji. The buildings in the temple town are bright with white wash. The houses are mostly rectangular constructions of strong brick and stone with tiled roofs. Most of the houses here are made of mud (kaccha houses) and are painted with safeda and neel (white mixed with indigo), it is regarded as a mark of cleanliness and keeps the houses cool in summer.  Some houses also have occasional splashes of color in congruence with the temple. Mostly the houses also have an otla outside them which is an exterior extension of the house, mainly used for sitting. Chitrakaron ki gali is a lane near the Shreenathji temple. It’s a place where the pichwai artists live with their family and practice this art. The houses of artisans here have a neat but busy ambiance. The houses usually have a balcony on the first floor overlooking the narrow streets below. The studios are located on the brightly lit first floor. Small windows and ventilators keep them warm during winters and keep the heat out during summers. Almost every home at chitrakaro ki gali has paintings made in white and red on the stairs at the entrance of every house. Towards the outskirts of the temple complex, the building clusters increase around narrow streets and have elaborate paintings on their entrances too. Bright paintings of elephants, warriors and tigers in the Nathdwara style adorn these walls.   The temple of Shrinathji is where all the activity and roads seem to lead. The shrine is housed in a grand Haveli or a mansion. Since the deity is a living person for the devotees, the shrine that houses him is to be a home rather than a temple. It is modeled in the traditional homes of Rajput princes and exudes royal grandeur. The Haveli has countless rooms, small passages, indoor gardens, pools and courtyards. The structure is of stone and brick, embellished with Rajput style of balconies, arches and pillars, essentially marble clad or white washed. Other than the shrine, the rooms around are put to various uses as offices, jewel rooms, audience chamber etc.

Culture:

Nathdwara has developed around the temple of Shrinathji and the lives of its people also revolve around the temple and its chronology. From garments and jewelry for the lord, to food offerings, paintings, hotels for tourists etc., the town thrives on business that is generated because of the temple and also for it. The population of this town mainly consists of the people who have migrated from the surrounding areas hundreds of years ago due to its religious importance. More than displaying a Rajasthani culture, Nathdwara seems to have a strong influence from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. The markets are abuzz with sweetmeat shops making ‘Kachoris’, ‘Rabri’ and other local delicacies. The place livens up during the ‘Darshan’ or audience with the Lord. The temple gates open with loud drum beats as hordes of devotees wait with hands folded in prayer. The doors open to reveal the spectacular sight of Shrinathji with the beautiful Pichwai in the background. The town is known for its large presence of businessmen and traders.

People:

The people are a mixed culture from Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Various tribes like the Banjaras, Raikas and Rabaris can also be spotted. Their traditional attire is the Ghaghra-Choli or the skirt, it reaches above the ankle and has a narrow waist with increasing flare and width at the base, and blouse or a kurti for the women. The designs inspired from nature like that of moon, leaves, sun and flowers can be spotted on their outfits. They wear a Dupatta over their heads and adorn a lot of silver jewelry. The men wear the Dhoti, Kurta or Angarkha, the colourful turbans also known as Paghadi, waistband also known as Pattka or Kamarbandh. Paghadi or turban is an important part of the men’s costume, as the way it is worn shows the religion, caste and the place where the person belongs to. They can be found in different colors, shapes and sizes. Men here also wear earrings with a pearl necklace or a gold chain along with a thick big bracelet on their wrist. The youth have slowly taken to contemporary wear like t-shirts and trousers.

Famous For:

The Shrinathji temple is the unanimous attraction of Nathdwara. This 12th century structure is also called NandBhavan or Nandalaya as it is built to resemble Lord Krishna’s abode in Vrindavan when he was little. The temple has a black marble idol of Lord Krishna with his hand upraised lifting the Govardhan Hill. The temple has over 500 cows, one of which is the one whose milk is used as offerings to the deity. Annakut Festival holds a special place in the temple occasions. It takes place a day before Diwali and is to celebrate Lord Krishna’s Govardhan hill incident. A hill is made of 2,500kg of rice and is offered to the deity. This rice hill is called Annakut. Once the Darshan is done the celebrations include looting this hill of rice. RathYatra is conducted during the month of April when the deity is taken around the town in a silver chariot and offerings of butter and mango are made. Nathdwara is famous for its Pichwai paintings which exalt the deeds of Lord Krishna. These detailed paintings which are hung behind the temple idol are much sought after as temple souvenirs too. Apart from the temple and the paintings the town is also famous for its mouth-watering sweets especially milk sweets. One can enjoy Rasmalai, peda, gulab jamun, rabri and other local sweets.

Craftsmen

List of craftsmen.

Documentation by:

Team Gaatha

Process Reference:

Cluster Reference:

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