Phads belong to the rich tradition of paintings of western India. Phad painting is a beautiful specimen of Indian cloth painting. Rajasthan is the land of colors is known for Phad painting, which is done on cloth. These cloth scroll-paintings in folk styles are known as phads and they depict the lives of local heroes and their stories, and legends of erstwhile local rulers. The smaller version of phad is known as phadakye. Vegetable colours are used on cloth and paper for creating phad painting and historical themes are depicted on phad paintings.

Raw Materials

Cloth for canvas: Phad Painters usually prefer the hand 'woven and hand' spun (Khadi or Reja) coarse cotton cloth which is believed to be stronger. It is processed to make it good for the purpose.Natural dyes:Traditionally only vegetable colors were supposed to be used, as these colors remained fast and fresh for a long duration. However the scarcity of these colors was seen as an overwhelming threat to this art form, so the artists were compelled to make innovations. Innovation evolved in the form of waterproof earthen colors. The pounding the natural earthen colors with gum, water and indigo produce the desired colors. The specificity in the use of colors in Phad Paintings is remarkable. Only one color can be used at a time and specific colors are used for different things- orange for limbs and torso, yellow for ornaments, clothing and designs, gray for structure, blue for water and curtains, green for trees and vegetation and red, prominently for dress. All these are outlined with bold black strokes, which give definition to these forms. Gum: Gum from the babool tree, is mostly used to mix natural dyes in to make paints.Wheat/Rice flour: It is required to be boiled in water to make a thick white paste called 'kalaph' which is applied on the cloth. It is the first step of canvas preparation. This paste helps absorb paints and maintains a longer life of the canvas.



Tools & Technology

Mohra- This is a stone device which is rubbed over the washed cloth to get a shine, such that it almost becomes as ready as the canvas. The device is a hanging one with a long movable road and a stone attached to the end with two handles on both sides. The painter with the help of the handles rubs the stone all over the cloth.Grinding Stone- A grinding stone or a 'seel batta' is used to grind earthen colours before mixing them in gum to prepare paints.Brushes- Different sizes of brushes are made, depending on the outlining or filling of the phad painting and are mostly made from the hair of a squirrel's tail.Seashells- Seashells are used to keep the paints in, for mixing and using while painting. Seashells help reduce the quantity of paint required for each painting and also prevent wastage because if the colours dry in the seashells, they can be wetted and used again.


Since they depict the different episodes, these paintings are customarily opened or unrolled only after sundown, in conjunction with the all night performance. This could be one reason for these paintings to be called Phad. Which means folds in Rajasthani dialect. The word Phad is possibly derived from Sanskrit word patt. The painters who traditionally engage themselves in the profession of Phad painting are known as Phad painter.The commencement of these paintings is an occasion of great celebration for the painter community; hence, before the commencement offerings are made to Goddess Saraswati. Then a rough draft of the sketch is then made on the khadi cloth and the figures are perfected. A distinct narrative is devised and empty spaces are covered with flora and fauna. All figures are colored yellow initially and this base is called kachcha. Then the youngest virgin girl of the artist's family or a family of a higher caste is called upon to make the first stroke. This ritual is followed by celebrations and distribution of sweets. After continuous usage for many years the phad was immersed in Pushkar Lake. But now with the gaining popularity in India and abroad, this practice had been virtually abandoned.


Phad Painters usually prefer the hand 'woven and hand' spun (Khadi or Reja) coarse cotton cloth which is believed to be stronger. It is processed to make it good for the purpose.The artist prepares a mixture of wheat/rice flour and boils it with water till it turns in a thick fine paste. This process is called "Kalaph Banana".He then applies the paste of boiled wheat/rice flour and gum on the cloth. It is called "Kalaph lagana".The cloth is stretched and dried well in hard sunlight. This is called"Sukhana".The dried cloth is then rubbed with a stone device (Mohra) to make it smooth and shining. This is called "Ghotana". The cloth is now ready and works as well as canvas.The artist prepares his paints from gum, powdered earthen colors, water and indigo. They keep a grinding stone on which the colors are ground with gum and water. This process is called "Rang Banana". Earthen colors are used to give the tempera effect. Indigo, a color obtained from a plant, is still used for blue.  They use sea-shells to keep color.The painting begins on an auspicious day with the ritual offering of a coconut to Saraswati (the Hindu goddess of learning and fine arts). The first stroke of brush is always made by a virgin girl belonging either to the painter's family or to a higher caste.  The painter first of all divides the entire scroll into a number of sections and sub-sections, then he prepares rough sketch of the whole painting in light yellow color. This is called "Kachi likhai Karna".As the rough sketch is ready, the artist starts using colors in layer pattern from lighter to darker value, Orange for limbs or torso of figures, Yellow for ornaments & general clothing & designs, Green for trees & vegetation, Brown for architectural structures, Red for Royal clothing & flags and blue for water and curtains. This is called "Rang Lagana".The subtle black lines give the final touch. The forceful linear expressions become lively after "Shyahi kadhana ( Application of Black Color) is put on the phad.On an auspicious day the painter completes the phad. The artist signs in the central part of the scroll where the largest figure of Devnarayan/ or Pabuji is painted. He writes his name, as also the names of the Bhopa and the patrons together with their addresses and the date of signing.

PERFORMANCE OF PHAD PAINTINGS  The painting commences with great flourish on the appointed auspicious day, when the Bhopas arrive. The ritual offering of a coconut is made to the Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Learning). A free hand sketch is then made on the canvas, where various postures of human and animal figures are perfected. Floral trees adorn the piece filling up the empty spaces. The figures are the painted in a light yellow colour initially, known as kacha.Performance of the phad begins in the evening i.e. after sunset and dinner. the Bhopa  cleans the ground, sprinkles water over it and touches it with a piece of gold to make the ground holy.Before starting the actual performance, the Bhopa places a pat (a small wooden table) before the phad, and puts a Thal (metal plate) on it with a conch and a lighted lamp therein. Thereafter he burns incense-sticks and starts the performance.The Patvi Bhopa wears red Baga (a skirt), red Safa (turban) with red Bagatari(shirt).He also ties ghungroos (a foot-ring of small jingling bells) around his ankles and hangs Jantar in his neck. The Diyala-Bhopa, the assistant, who wears ordinary cloths, keeps burning lamp in his hand during the performance.    

After making all the arrangements for the performance the Patvi Bhopa begins to sing lura hymns to Devji. Throughout the night the Bhopa would sing the ballads and dance to the tune of his jantar. He narrates the folk epic on the basis of phad paintings to the audience adding explanations and even improvising innovations. Each scene comes to life as the narration gains and momentum and the assistant with the lamp illuminates it.  As the night fades into twilight, the last lura (recitation) is sung, the Prasad (offering) is distributed among the onlookers and the phad is rolled up. When a phad becomes worn-out and unserviceable it is cast - “off, with appropriate ceremonies, into the sacred lake of Pushkar which is supposed to be the abode of Brahma. This ceremony is also known as Thandi Karana.