Pichwai Painting of Rajasthan

The seasonal rhythms of the Pichwai painting depict the variety of this textile according to season and festivals. These devotional pieces of textiles were birthed 400 years ago in a small town called Nathdwara, near Udaipur in Rajasthan, India. Pichwai literally means a cloth backdrop used as a piece of “Shringar”, adornments in Shrinathji temple.

Imagine this, Lord Krishna frolics in the foliage while being in the presence of his beloved gopi. Radha, and is bestowed with love and adulation or he plays the flute by the banks of the Yamuna river filled with birds and pink lotus blossoms.

These are a few of the divine depictions of Shrinathji that one can notice in the intricacies of Pichwai painting.

Pichwai painting is a beautiful yarn of the rich aesthetical fabric of culture and traditions. It belongs to the Hindu sect, Pushtimarg. When Shrinathji, a special svarup of Lord Krishna was installed, the artisans followed in hope and aspirations to decorate the temple. This folk art of Nathdwara developed further.

Significance of Seasons in Pichwai Painting

Apart from the aesthetical value, the Pichwais have several other significance, one of them being – Seasons

An incident described in the elaborative book – Gates of the Lord, The Tradition of Krishna Painting, mentions how Raja Man Singh of Amber was left disappointed with the inappropriate use of heavy brocade Pichwai during the summer season in Gaudiya temple in Vrindavan. Later, during a pilgrimage to Shrinathji temple in Govardhan, he was pleased to observe the “Shringars”(adornments) thoughtfully selected as per the season. This implies the importance of the selection of Pichwai as per the seasonal changes and marks its significance.

The Shrinathji Pichwai painting illustrates the elements of nature, tales of Shrinathji, and festivals of Nathdwara. This suggested their usage as per seasonal rhythms. The colours aligned with the theory of weather change and motifs hinted at the same. 

So here’s a list of Pichwai paintings that are suited as a shringar, for the particular season.

The Summer Season Pichwai Painting

The Lotus Pichwai Painting

As often described in different pieces of literature, the lotus is considered Lord Krishna’s favourite flower; hence, this particular motif and Pichwai paintings go hand in hand. Not known by many, these motifs help devotees visualize lotus ponds and the banks of Yamuna River, where the young Krishna spent his time rollicking with the gopis. These were used frequently during the summer months to create a cool atmosphere in the sanctum of Shrinathji. The refreshing use of blue for water ponds or rivers and pink for blossoms gave away a soothing feel. You can also see the deity dressed in light-coloured cloth adhering to the season. Interestingly, the artisans first mastered the block-printed lotus Pichwais during the eighteenth century and later transitioned to hand-painted lotus Pichwais.

Lotus Pichwai
Image source: Gates of the Lord; The Tradition of Krishna Paintings

Jal Vihar Pichwai

The desert town of Nathdwara experiences scorching heat in the month of May, June and July. To provide a calming effect in the temple sanctum, the light-coloured Pichwai is used to place it behind Shrinathji’s images. Jal Vihar is particularly used during the summer season and depicts the water sports of Lord Krishna. It illustrates how he amuses himself near the poolside along with his beloved Radha and other gopis. The exceptional use of lace in Pichwais started in the second half of the nineteenth century. The lace detailing served the purpose of making the Pichwais look summery.

Image source: In Adoration of Krishna; Pichhwais of Shrinathji. Tapi Collection

The Monsoon Pichwai Painting

Morkuti Pichwai

Rainy season and the prancing of peacocks needless to say is a breathtaking sight. Pichwais like these were displayed in the month of July and October, during the monsoon season. It bears its name from the little village near Radha’s home in Vraj. This detailed artwork represents “Morpriya’s” love for peacocks. The story goes that, Lord Krishna dances for his beloved, mimicking the peacocks while other gods cherish the sight and levitate in the evening sky. The usage of colours denotes the monsoon season. Blue-black clouds, darker green groves and vibrant peacocks make a magnificent backdrop for Shrinathji’s temple. 

Morkuti Pichwai
Image source: Gates of the Lord; The Tradition of Krishna Paintings

The Winter Season Pichwai

Just as the summer, winters too are extremes in Rajasthan and the “Mangala darshan” ( the first viewing of the day) is timed to take place before sunrise. During this season, the deities are richly bejewelled and adorn quilted garments. It is observed that heavy brocade Pichwais, generally in darker colours are offered. It is believed by the native of Nathdwara that the thick and weighty material Pichvai and garment protects the deity from cold. 

The Spring Season Pichwai Painting

Vasant Panchami is the arrival of the spring season, a time when plants and flowers bloom and Shrinathji’s idol is offered flowers and smeared with sandalwood and gulal( coloured powder). As the season symbolizes a burst of colours and growth of life, the Pichwais also depict the same every day. Plain white cloth is displayed behind the idol and the priests create designs on the white Pichwai with red gulal.

Shringar with Spring Pichwai
Image source: Gates of the Lord; The Tradition of Krishna Paintings

These detailed tapestries of Nathdwara were not only used as a means to decorate the sanctum but also adorned the walls to create a theatrical drama, enhance the mood of devotees and evoke an emotional atmosphere. Each motif had a tale to tell and so did the alchemy of colours. 

Pichwai Painting is one of the precious gems of Indian art culture and is still being practised proudly in the northwestern part of the country.

Follow Rooftop and the online workshops to know more about such exclusive content regarding Indian art culture and its interesting details.

Citation: B.N.Gpswamy’s, In Adoration of Krishna, Pichhwais of Shrinathji. Tapi Collection

Madhuvanti Ghose’s Gates of the Lord; The Tradition of Krishna Paintings