Mata Ni Pachedi is a handmade textile of Gujarat meant to be an offering in the temple shrines which house the Mother Goddess. The name is derived from the Gujarati words 'Mata' meaning 'mother goddess', 'Ni' meaning 'belonging to' and 'Pachedi' meaning 'back'. The goddess forms the central figure in the design, flanked by other elements of her story.

Usage

Mata Ni Pachedi is used as a hanging in temples which enshrine the 'Mata'. These ritualistic hangings served the purpose of depicting the epics of the goddesses as well as form temporary shrines. 

Modern usage also includes them being used as wall hangings in homes.

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Significance

When pushed into a corner, people find a new way out. These new ways are often bitter, sometimes disruptive and only in a few instances do we see them giving rise to beauty and art. The Devipujak community in Gujarat, India, has unique beliefs about their origin, their diet and religion, as do other ethnic groups from that region. For a few centuries, this difference led to restrictive social practices and as recently as 140 years ago, an act passed by the British government institutionalized their persecution. Ethnographic studies point to the fact that for a long time, the Devipujak community was not allowed entry into temples. To overcome this abhorrent practice, the community found a unique solution.

They painted an image of the goddess on a piece of cloth, hung it up behind the temple and directed their worship at the painting. This practice took root and the painted textile came to be known as Mata-ni-Pachedis, literally meaning 'behind the goddess (temple)'. The persecution of this community was detestable, yet resulted in the birth of a new textile art.  A lotus was born in the murky waters of social discrimination. Contemporary India has no place for such divisive concepts and so this selective restriction has been abolished. But the tradition of worshipping the Mata-ni-Pachedis continues even today.

Mata ni Pachedi is considered to be a complex system of various beliefs that sees many gods and goddesses as representatives of a singular form. Each division or a panel has a story to tell. The deities are represented as having human or animal form. They are also depicted with humanly desires, needs and emotions. They are looked up to as supreme forces controlling nature and their stories are spread using this medium.

The block printers do not have a singular block for making the Mata or other major forms. The blocks of different parts like head, hands, body etc are placed together to form the entire deity or element. Most of the artwork is commenced as a freehand drawing by the trained hands of the artisan. 

The Chitaras or the artisans have inherited various blocks from their ancestors, many of which are still in excellent working condition.

These hangings used by nomadic tribes served the purpose of depicting the epics of mother goddess as well as forming a temporary shrine for her. Traditionally this work of art always had an architectural rendering of a temple at its center which also housed the main mother goddess image. For a nomadic community this was an interesting alternative to a built shrine. A two dimensional structural rendering replete with details of condiments and properties also served as an instructional tool.

Myths & Legends

Once upon the time, a Solanki ruler wanted a son. When his wife finally bore a child it was a girl. The parents kept the newborn's gender a secret and named it Tejpal. They brought up their child as a boy and married him to the daughter of a neighboring king. But even at the wedding, people began to suspect that the bridegroom was not really a man, so he fled the palace together with his mare and bitch. Tejpal rode glumly through the desert, stopping at a pool with a tree beside it. His bitch leapt into the water – and re-emerged as a dog. Tejpal then led his mare to bathe in the water as well – and out came a stallion. Entering the pool himself, he emerged from the water a young man. So now he was able to return to his bride and celebrate their wedding. The tree responsible for this miracle is worshipped to this day in the temple of Becharaji, where the goddess Bahuchara resided in the tree. People afflicted by sexual dysfunction or whose longing for children has yet to be fulfilled still make pilgrimages to this goddess.

Godess Amba : According to folklore, the god Shiva was inconsolable when his wife Uma took her own life in protest at her father's shabby treatment of her husband. Shiva adored his wife above all else  and refused to allow her to be cremated, instead carrying her corpse around with him wherever he went. Overcome with grief he was unable to do or think of anything else, so the gods cunningly stole Uma's corpse, cut it up, and scattered the pieces all over India. Wherever a piece of Uma fell from the heavens a temple was erected in her honor. - “Legend has it that Uma's heart fell on Ambaji, a mountain in Gujarat, and it was here that the most important temple to the goddess Ambika was built.

Godess Meladi : As another legend goes, one day the goddess Parvati was oiling her body after bathing. She scraped off the superfluous oil, dust, and calloused skin and formed it into a small lump into which she breathed life. The being thus created prayed to Parvati, saying: "O mother, you were kind enough to create me. Please now take me as your own!" Parvati smiled and replied: "Since you were formed out of the dirt from my body you shall be called Meladi (which means -⊃1;made of dirt-º). I will give you a billy goat to ride on and will endow you with strength both to spread joy and to lose your temper. People will therefore be afraid of you and revere you. You will do all the work that a pure goddess would not do. And because the temples in the villages and towns are already dedicated to other gods, you shall reside outside the villages and at the cremation grounds."

Godess Momai  : About the Goddess Momai, she used to be worshipped only in the far-off Indus Delta. A man returning from the delta to his home in Saurashtra brought with him two baskets containing her emblems, a peacock and a swan. The peacock was torn to pieces by the local dogs, however. Fearing Momai's wrath, the shepherds asked their local goddess Chamunda to bring the peacock back to life. They have venerated Momai ever since, although in the absence of a whole peacock, she is symbolized only by a fly whisk made of peacock feathers.

Godess Shikotar  : According to a rural legend, The ship of a merchant from Gujarat was caught in a storm on the high seas. The merchant promised the goddess Shikotar half his profits if she would rescue him. The goddess calmed the tempest and the ship was saved.-“That same night a priest in the port city saw the goddess Shikotar in a dream. When the priest went to the temple next morning he was amazed to find that the clothes on the cult figure of Shikotar were soaking wet. -“ A few weeks later the merchant came to the temple with a large sum of money. He told of his adventure and thanked the goddess for rescuing him. His gold was used to make a crown for the figure of the goddess.

Goddess Khodiar :  A court minstrel had seven daughters who each day would collect water in seven earthenware pitchers. After that they jumped into the pond to bathe. The water thus became muddy and the king's horse refused to drink it. After four days it had died of thirst. The king summoned his servants and questioned them to find out what had happened. Next morning he rode to the pond himself to watch the girls bathing. Spiking their clothes on his spear, he said: I will give them back only if one of you will marry me. But because the girls were goddesses they couldn't marry a king. Khodiar was the eldest. She gave the king a lock of her hair, saying: Hang it above your bed and at midnight send your servants away. So the king had his bedroom decorated and scented. When midnight came, each hair turned into a snake, and the king spent the whole night cowering on his bed in terror. Next morning he summoned the court minstrel and his daughters and ordered him to drown them. They were bundled into a basket, but when they came to the watering place they said to their father: "Leave us here and go home, but do not look back.- But he did look back, and was immediately transformed into a boar. This boar got into the king's garden and laid waste to it. The king summoned his army and commanded: Don't let the boar get away! Anyone who allows him to escape under his horse will be hanged -“ whereupon the boar ran away under the king's horse. But the king threw a spear at the boar and slew it. The seven sisters were dismayed and set out to steal the king's water buffalo in revenge. Khodiar turned herself into an old woman and lay down on the banks of the pond in which the buffalo was bathed every day. She cast a magic spell on it making it mortally ill. One night, while the buffalo was lying in its stall, the sisters came to kill it and hid its flesh in baskets. The king's guards came looking for the buffalo and when they found the baskets they asked to see what was inside. Suddenly the contents of the baskets were transformed into little sheep and goats, whereupon the sisters laid on a great feast with lots of meat.

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History

Historical evidences for this craft go back to five hundred years. Mata Ni Pachedi was crafted by the nomadic tribes and rural communities of Gujarat to worship the various incarnations of Mata, the divine singular form on the goddess from whom the others emanate. The narrative hangings of epics of Mata or Devi or Shakti were executed by the nomadic community of Waghris and were used by the people of this community. Communities of Waghris gradually settled on the outskirts of towns/villages as they shifted from a semi nomadic stage to a fixed state. A Mata Ni Pachedi for the nomadic Vagharis served the purpose of a portable shrine. When they started settling down later these fabrics served as backgrounds in the shrines. Traditionally maroon and black were the colors used, with the surface of the material as the third color. They were natural dyes sourced from alizarin and oxidized metal. Maroon was associated with the color of the Mother Earth or 'Gaea' and believed to possess healing powers. The color black was meant to repel malevolent spirits and intensify spiritual energy. Gradually other colors from nature started adding to the color palette without having any religious significance. As time went by the community got introduced to pigment dyes which had begun arriving in Gujarat for a fledgling textile industry.

Unfortunately, unlike other temple hangings or block printed textiles of the country, Mata-ni-Pachedi never obtained much of a significant position in the history of Indian textiles. With time it is slowly losing its sacred significance in the religious context of Gujarat, due to the emergence of other mediums like posters and idols of gods and goddesses.

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Design

The Devipujak community has been practicing this worship and art form for 300-400 years. In the beginning, individuals used a wooden stick to draw their own 'Pachedi' and offered these for worship. As the art evolved, clay blocks were created for ease of replication and were used to apply mineral dyes to the cloth. These were coarse and the print became diffused over subsequent uses. So after a short productive life span these clay blocks were laid to rest in the river. They were eventually replaced by wood blocks that not only lasted longer, but also allowed for sharper drawings. Wood blocks are used even today to make Mata-ni-Pachedis. The production of hand-drawn ‘Pachedis' continues, but is more labour-intensive, making them more expensive than block-printed ones.  Economics forced a shift and today only a few Mata-ni-Pachedis are hand-drawn.

In the olden days 'Pachedis' were meant for group worship and once hung up, the 'Pachedi' would be viewed by a large group of people. The proportions therefore, of both the textile itself as well as the motifs drawn upon it, were large and the Pachedis could be up to three metres in length. Today they are much smaller. During the last century measures have been taken to undo the crimes committed against this community. Along with gaining equality, entry restrictions to temples have been lifted and today the Mata-ni-Pachedi is not the only shrine available for worship.

The framework of the Pachedis is usually the same. The Mata is placed in the centre and the other elements surround her. The themes are influenced by goddesses, epics, myths, tradition and the worshippers. The other main characters are Bhuva, Purvaj, Panihari etc and mythological characters like Sita, Ram, Ravan, Radha Krishna etc also play an important role in the narratives.

The 'Pachedi' has decorative elements like the borders, flowers and trees. The animal on which the Mata is placed depicts the incarnation.

A few elements shown in the 'Pachedi' are as follows:

Bahuchara Mata - Her block is placed in the centre of the 'Pachedi'. She is shown seated on a rooster which symbolizes innocence. A smaller block is sometimes placed on the top left side of the panel.

Durga Mata - She is positioned in the centre and on a pedestal. Her 'Vahana' or vehicle is the lion or the tiger. She is depicted with many arms as she is the warrior incarnation.

Momai Mata - She is placed next to the central Mata in the middle of the right panel. She is shown seated on a camel and is worshipped as the goddess of the desert.

Jogani Mata - She is usually placed on the third row from the top of the right side. A pedestal or a flower forms her base.

Solanki Mata - She is also known as 'Siddhi' and is placed in the centre or on either side of the Pachedi. She is shown seated on an elephant and has four hands holding a trident, sword, flower and a chain.

Vanvati Mata - She is also known as 'Shikotar Mata' and is placed in the central panel. She is shown travelling in a boat on water which has fish.

Ganesha - This deity is placed on the top arch of the Mata's temple. He is considered the lord of the beginnings and is therefore worshipped before starting any ritual or ceremony.

Narada - He is placed along with Ganesha on the top panel above the central figure. Narada is a divine sage from the Hindu tradition.

Saraswati - She is portrayed along with other goddesses on the middle left side of the central Mata. She is the consort of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation.

Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman and Ravana - The main deities from the Ramayana appear in the middle section which is dedicated to different events from the Ramayana. 

Suraj - This is the symbol of the sun which controls day and night. It nurtures the earth and its elements. The Suraj is placed on the top left corner of the Pachedi.

People - The various non-gods are Bhuvo. Shravan, Jyotish (Astrologer), Shehnaiwado (Shehnai player), Malan (Garland seller), Chowkidars (guards), Paniharis (Water bearers), Pari (angels) etc.

Animals - Bakro (goat), Pado (buffalo). Gadho (donkey), Kutro (dog), Hiran (deer), Mor (peacock), Jal machali (fishes), Popat (parrot)

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Challenges

Poor infrastructure and workspace facilities have led to the decrease in the Pachedi production. Most of the activities are now outsourced. The artists depend mainly on natural lighting. If the light source is weak, it also affects the drying which in turns gives uneven colour.

Manufacturing of new blocks is proving to be expensive and the quality of craftsmanship has decreased drastically. 

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