Phad paintings are large-scale horizontal paintings on cloth portraying the epic lives of the local hero-gods. These paintings have the mammoth task of representing a complex and a full blown folk epic narrative, which it achieves through a very specific style of representation, filled with figures & pictorial incidents, these paintings form a kind of dramatic backdrop to epic storytelling performances.

Usage

The main objective of the Phad painting is to depict the lives of the local heroes in the folk style. Phad paintings are decorated with the usage of vibrant raw colors .Folk art paintings are especially an artist's expressions in pictorial form and usually they revolve and choose epic narratives from the famous Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and so on. They also include depicting the daily village life, social customs, rituals, birds, animals and the elements of nature and earth. Folk paintings make use of very vibrant and natural colours and papers, clothes, leaves, earthen pots, mud walls, etc., are as canvas.

Significance

Phad is a type of scroll painting. The paintings depicting exploits of local deities are often 275 carried from place to place and are accompanied by traditional singers, who narrate the theme depicted on the scrolls. This type of painting is a most famous painting of Rajasthan, mainly found in the Bhilwara district. Phad painting depicts the heroic deeds of a heroic figure, the daily life of a peasant, rural life, animals and birds, flora and fauna. These paintings are created using bright colours and subtle colours. The outlines of the paintings are first drawn in black and later filled with colours. The main themes of the phad paintings depict the deities and their legends and the stories of erstwhile Maharajas. Raw colours are used for these paintings. The unique features of phad paintings are the bold lines and a two dimensional treatment of figures with the entire composition arranged in sections.The Indian folk paintings and their various styles and patterns are as diverse as the Indian multicultural nation itself. Indian folk art prints include and describes the various art forms of India that have been practiced since ancient times. The Phad paintings, tanjore work, kalamkari, warli paintings, madhubani paintings, patachitra, pata paintings, pithora, etc are some of the famous folk art paintings in India. The study of had seeks to explore narration in its totality, that is, the oral art, with visual components, like painting. There has been a long standing tradition of professional narrators and singers of folklore in Rajasthan and the use of paintings and other artifacts as aids for their narratives is legendary. The art of painting the phads is approximately 700 years old and it originated in Shahpura, a princely state, 35 kilometres from the district of Bhilwara in Rajasthan. The continuous royal patronage gave a decisive impetus of the art, which has survived and flourished for generations.

Myths & Legends

Since Phad paintings are traditionally story based paintings and legends of Devnarayan and Pabuji are chiefly painted but other than these two folk deities  stories of Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Lord Buddha, Hanuman, Goddess Kali, Lord Shiva, Lord Ganesha are also painted. Life Stories of Historical & Mythological characters are also painted. Sometimes Love stories, Erotica, Philosophical, Psychological, Social & Contemporary subjects are even painted. Here are some of them :- Story of PabujiStory of DevnarayanStory of Narikunjar (Nine Women elephant)Story of Panchtatva ka Ghoda (Five men Horse)Story of Dhola-MaaruStory of Gan-gaurStory of Hadi RaniStory of Haldi GhatiStory of Lord KrishnaStory of Lord Rama & SeetaStory of Prithviraj ChauhanStory of Rani PadminiPhad illustrate mostly two popular epic traditions of Rajasthan. There are Phads for other deities, but these are rare. Phads of Ramdevji, a Rajput hero and saint from Marwar who opposed caste discrimination, can be found, is revered by Bhambis, Meghwals, Chamars and other belong to the schedule caste. But the most popular one is about Pabuji Rathore, A Rajput chieftain, whose elder brother rules at Kolu. He is venerated as an incarnation of Lord Rama's brother Lakshman by Rebari camel-herders. Ramdevji ~ The story, as derived from folklore, is thus. King Ajmal was the king of Pokaran. His wife, Rani Mainade, was the daughter of the king of Jaisalmer. The couple was issueless for many years. Once day the king was on a tour of his kingdom. It was monsoon, yet the kingdom had not received any rainfall. On his tour, the king met a few farmers who were on their way to their farms to sow seeds. On seeing the king, they begun to return back to their homes. Surprised at this act, the king asked farmers the reason for their behaviour. When assured that no harm would come to them if they told the truth, the farmers told the king that they believed that seeing a barren king's face while on their way to their fields may cause their crops to fail, and therefore they wanted to return to their homes. King Ajmal was very sad on hearing this. Being a devotee of Shri Krishna, the king decided to go to the Lord's palace in Dwarika. King Ajmal arrived at Dwarika and prayed for many days. Ultimately, in sheer disappointment, he asked Krishna's idol the reason for deserving such sorrow. The idol did not respond to the king's repeated queries. Angered and raged at this, the king threw a dried laddu at the head of the idol. The priest of the temple, considering the king to be mad, asked the king to go to the mystic Dwarika to speak to the Lord. The mystic Dwarika swallowed by the sea many centuries ago, lay at the bed of the Arabian sea. The unfearing king dived into the sea to meet the Lord. Pleased at the king's dedication and faith, the Lord granted him a boon. The king asked for Lord Krishna to be born as his son. The Lord promised to take birth in the king's house. Soon thereafter, the royal couple began to have children. Baba Ramdevji is considered to be an incarnation of Lord Krishna. Muslims venerate Baba Ramdevji as 'Ramshah Pir'. He was said to have had miraculous powers, and his fame reached far and wide. Legend has it that five Pirs (saints) from Mecca came to test Ramdevji's powers.
The second story is about the twenty four brothers (Bagrawat) and Lord Devnarayan. They are popular among cattle-keeper, farmers and rural craftsman who generally lives in the eastern part of Rajasthan. Dev Narayan is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and his story parallels Krishna's story many way. Devnarayan probably lived in the 10th century A.D., Pabuji in 14th century, and Ramdevji in the 15th century. They all are "Cattle Heroes" who rescued the community's cattle and died as a result. Cattle heroes are collectively known as "Bhomiyo". Only some Bhomiyo become powerful gods and their cult develop epic poems and network of shrines.

History

The art of painting the Phads is approximately 700 years old. It is said that it was originated in Shahpura, some 35 kms from Bhilwara in Rajasthan. The continuous royal patronage gave a decisive impetus to the art which has survived and flourished for generations. It is believed to have been first commissioned by Chochu Bhat, a devotee of Lord Devnarayan and  chronological mentor of Devnarayan's clan. Devnarayan was a medieval hero venerated as a folk-deity.  He is worshipped as an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. According to the legend, he was incarnated in year of 968 ( 911 AD) of Vikram Era (Hindu Calendar) as the son of Gurjar warrior Sawai Bhoj Bagaravat and his wife Sadu Mata Gurjari. Pabuji is also worshipped as a folk-deity. He lived in 14th century in a remote village known as Kolu, near Jodhpur, in Rajasthan. The Phad represents his divine character as an incarnation of Lakshmana (brother of the Rama of the Ramayana Hindu epic story). The  professional Phads painters called Chitera and are known by the clan name 'Joshi' of the Chipa caste. Joshi is derive from "JYOTSHI" Brahmin Horoscope/Calendar predictor. Earlier Joshi Phad artists were engaged in horoscope/Calendar printing for "Jyotshi" or "Joshi" Brahmins but later they adopted "Jyotshi" profession  and "Joshi" as a surname. In 10th century Chochu Bhat commissioned Joshi Phad Painter to make Phad painting on Devnarayan's whole life. After seeing that artwork, Devnarayan privileged "Joshi" caste to make Phad paintings and since then "Joshi" are doing Phad painting. Joshis consider themselves belong from PUR, near Bhilwara city in Rajasthan and in 16th century they migrated to Shahpura. At the end of 19th century some Phad artists, moved from Shahpura to Bhilwara and they established a new seat for Phad Artists.

Design

A traditional phad is approximately thirty feet long and five feet wide and the material used is local khadi or canvas. Primarily only vegetable colours were used, which remained fast and fresh for a long duration. Scarcity of these colours, however, would have ultimately led to a virtual stagnation of the craft, so the artists were compelled to make innovations. Thus the usage of water-proof earthen colours evolved. These colours are made by pounding the natural earthen colours with gum, water and indigo.In Phad painting, the art prints of heroes in history such as Goga Chauhan, Prithviraj Chauhan, Amar Singh Rathor, Tejaji, and others are common. In contemporary times, the stories of the father of nation and Narayan Dev Ji are mainly depicted. Shree Lal Joshi, Pradeep Mukherjee and Nand Kishor Joshi, Shanti Lal Joshi are the most noted artists of the Phad painting, who are known for their innovations and creativity. Prakash Joshi  &  Mukut Joshi are successfully following their lineage.The principal subjects for the paintings are the life of two legendary Rajasthani heroes-Pabuji and Dev Narayan Ji- who are worshipped as the incarnation of lord Vishnu and Laxman. Each hero-god has a different performer-priest or Bhopa. The repertoire of the bhopas consists of epics of some of the popular local hero-gods such as Pabuji, Devji, Tejaji, Gogaji, Ramdevji.The Phad also depict the lives of Ramdev Ji, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Mahavira. The iconography of these forms has evolved in a distinctive way. All Phads, no matter which hero-god they present, have certainly similarities. Every available inch of the canvas is crowded with figures. Another similarity is flat construction of the pictorial space. While the figures are harmoniously distributed all over the area, the scale of figure depends on the social status of the character they represent and the roles they play in the story. Another interesting feature is that the figures in the paintings do not face the audience; rather, they face each other. These paintings are very wide to accommodate the numerous episodes of the complex stories. Some Phad painters are  experimenting with the 'collage' form for Phad paintings where while remaining true to the basic principles of the art form they combine various aspects of the art form to create a visually appealing modern painting. Phad sketches made with a single stroke of the pen while following the Phad form are also gaining popularity.Painting Ballads on Cloth -“ When balladas are captured on canvas in vivid hues and immortalized for posterity, the effect is stunning and it is termed as the phad painting. These paintings depict the various folklores on a scroll of canvas, scene by scene, with utmost clarity. The nuances of each scene are explained by professional narrators, known as Bhopas. It is moment of joyous recreation when the Bhopas who hail from Marwar (Jodhpur-Nagaur area), arrive in the village, along with the audio-visual paraphernalia, which includes the painted scroll and their stringed musical instruments, called the ravanahatha. Believed to be a precursor to the violin, it is simply made with a bamboo props and the lyrical narration, accompanied by dancing, continues throughout the night. Each event comes alive, as the prabcham (narration) gains momentum and the mute audience, transfixed, savours the dramatic details of the legend. The Bhopas perform all the year round, except in rainy season when the deities are supposed to be in slumber. A close interaction between the painter and the singer is but obvious. The Bhopas depend on the painter to give expression to ideas and demonstration of his skill whereas, the painter paints to fulfill the requirements of folk narration.Types of Phad paintingThe phads that display the heroic exploits of goods and many Rajput warriors are generally of five kinds namely Pabuji, Devnarayan, Krishna, Ramdal (Ramayana) and Ramdevji. Of these, the most legendary and popular is that of Pabuji, who is considered a demi god in Marwar, even today.Pabuji, is revered as a great hero and adulatory verses are sung in his praise by the Bhopas. The phad that shows as entire sequence of events from his birth to death, has crowded scenes and innumerable figures full of movement, but, that of Pabuji, astride the Kesar kalimi, a beautiful black mare, is most prominent.The Devnarayan phad, which is also equally popular, has a religious appeal.Another type of phad, that has now been abandoned was that of the Goddess Kali. Painted for a particular caste of the untouchable Bhopa, it was distinctively different from the rest, as it was done in the batik style, using wax.

Challenges

The inflow of tourists from outside the country have provided a new lease of life to folk paintings and to their creators, who even paint tukras (small pieces of canvas), on popular demand, where sometimes only one figure is highlighted. No longer are the themes restricted to the afore mentioned, Udaipur and Bhilwara, are found phads that depict scenes even from the Mahabharata, with many variations.As a layman buyer is unable to tell the difference between the vegetable and earthen colours, very often new pieces are sold as old and large sums procured (an old piece sells for as much as Rs.10,000/-). Because commercialization has spiraled the cost to a great extent they are bought not only for ornamentation but also as an investment.

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