Deccan is the southwestern region of India, which has produced noteworthy painting traditions over the centuries in varied formats ranging from miniature paintings to wall murals. Deccan pichvais are stylistically distinct from their Nathdwara counterparts. They are known for their extravagant use of gold and are made by stencilling images onto a piece of cloth and then applying gold foil with an adhesive. The most common pichvais associated with Deccan are the golden figurative ones painted on either red or blue-black dyed cotton. Within the distinct group of Deccan pichvais, red pichvais are particularly rare and much sought after.
Gold and silver pichvais were historically prepared for personal family shrines during the varsha season (monsoon). The principal scene shows an adolescent Krishna being venerated by gopis. The characteristic feature of Deccan pichvais is the symbolic depiction of Krishna as a kadamba tree, commonly found in the forests of Vraj - the place associated with Krishna’s childhood and adolescent years. This particular stylistic composition is referred to as Vrikshachari (tree dweller).
A few artists from Udaipur learnt the gold and silver foiling technique from artisans from Hyderabad and combined the two art forms, resulting in the amalgamation of Deccan style with pichvais. A Nathdwara artist would sketch a traditional pichvai composition and another artist would complete it with foiling techniques that had been adapted from Deccan style, with notable use of colour. Very few artists know the foiling technique and the quality and nuanced usage of it is not the same anymore. PTB’s collection of Deccan pichvais has been handpicked from special pieces and brought together for the exhibition. Pooja Singhal innovatively reinterprets the traditional idiom from the Deccan region in a miniature style.
THE HAVELI OF SHRINATHJI/ TEMPLE MAPS
Within the Pushtimarg tradition, Shrinathji is believed to be a living deity. Owing to this sentiment, the residence of the deity is referred to as a haveli or mansion, instead of a mandir or temple. The pichvais of Shrinathji’s haveli feature the visual representation of the town of Nathdwara. The haveli comprises of a maze of streets and architecture and their internal and external environs. This genre is widely popular among devotees as these paintings recreate the experience of Shrinathji’s darshan.
The haveli pichvais are not maps in the conventional sense. They were envisioned to serve as reminders of the miraculous events and sacred objects associated with the life of Krishna. It is believed among the devotees of the Pushtimarg sect that the viewer can experience parikrama, holy circumambulation of a sacred spot, by a darshan of these haveli pichvais, particularly during the festival of Govardhan Puja, which is typically depicted in them.
Pichvai Tradition and Beyond’s collection introduces greyscale and other colour palettes in the temple maps and uses cloth as well as paper as mediums to present them in varying sizes in a contemporary context. They exemplify the versatility of the atelier, ranging from miniature to large-scale compositions with the same intensity of form and colour.
Nathdwara pichvais have imbibed an amalgamation of different artistic styles from different regions in Rajasthan. Kota has had a major stylistic influence on the paintings of Nathdwara. In fact, outside of Nathdwara, Kota has the largest number of havelis (Pushtimarg temples).
During the 19th century, Nathdwara pichvais began to display a strong influence of the Kota style. During this period, the posture of the figures depicted in Nathdwara paintings were more graceful, the colours became more muted in pastel-like shades in place of bright colours. Shrinathji, earlier painted in dark indigo, was now painted in ultramarine blue. In the Kota style, the portrait of Shrinathji is distinctly characterised by a short figure, roundish broad face and eyes. The short, plump stature of the deity is meant to emphasise that the child God is seven years old.
LOTUS/ KAMAL KUNJ
Creating the appropriate bhavs or emotions to enhance the experience of darshan is significant in the making of pichvais. This intention is rooted in the overarching sentiment associated with the neo vaishnavite bhakti movements towards adoration of Krishna; where love, devotion and surrender is the cornerstone of veneration of the divine. In the Pushtimarg tradition, cultivating emotions that connect the devotee to Shrinathji is one of the highest spiritual pursuits.
The Kamalan ki Pichvai, or the lotus pichvais, is used during the summer months to create a cool and genteel atmosphere in the sanctum of Shrinathji. The repetitive lotus motif of these pichvais denotes expansive lotus ponds and the banks of the river Yamuna, where the young Krishna spent much of his time with his beloved gopis. The painted lotus pichvais were introduced in the 18th century and are typically displayed during the Gangadashmi festival.
In a some lotus pichvais, Gokulchandramaji, a swaroop of Krishna plays his flute under a pavilion of roses, in the middle of the river Yamuna. Curling lotus stems and fanlike leaves with numerous bees swarming around surround the image of Gokulchandramaji in the centre. The visual presented in this pichvai uses the popular metaphor from the ashtachhapa poems, where Krishna is compared to a bee and his beloved gopis to lotuses.
The pre-eminent style of painting connected with the pichvais is generally known as ‘Nathdwara’. Several highly skilled artists and their families accompanied the swaroop of Shrinathji and settled in close proximity to the temple or haveli, in a location that came to be known as chitrakaron ki gali (the painter’s street).
The formative period of the Nathdwara School absorbed a medley of different styles from Rajasthan such as the Mewar tradition of painting as well as the formal meticulousness of the Jaipur School (influenced by the Mughal style) Bundi, Kota, Jodhpur and Kishangarh. The refined mannerism of the Kishangarh School with its unusually curved and elongated treatment of the eye was a source of inspiration for several Nathdwara pichvais.
The Nathdwara style continued to flourish through out the 19th and the 20th centuries and a distinct Nathdwara idiom characterised by dreamy-eyed cows, human figures with fuller bodies, bell-shaped skirts and large almond eyes has emerged. The characteristic features of the figures in Nathdwara paintings were short, broad shouldered and slender-waisted. Shrinathji is portrayed in pichvais with crescent-shaped eyes, painted looking downwards, towards the feet, as gesture of his abundant grace, a short body with a blue-black complexion and the typical attire of the Pushtimargis.