With a strong leaning towards Lord Krishna, Pichhwai art depicts the deity in different moods and postures on both cloth and paper. This ancient art form has been passed down from one generation to the next in the holy town of Nathdwara in Rajasthan. Like many other Rajasthani towns, Nathdwara is a cluster of small whitewashed dwellings huddled together protectively, as though shrinking from the relentless sun.
Pichhwai as an Indian folk art painting form expresses an exuberant outpouring of adoration for Krishna. The term Pichhwai comes from the Sanskrit words Pichh, which means back and Wais, which means hanging. The part theatrical backdrop, part religious icon, Picchwais create the mood for festivals or different events in the liturgical calendar of the Vallabhacharya sect. Unlike the founders of some other religious sects, Vallabhacharya (1478-1530) did not propagate asceticism as a path to enlightenment. He believed that the way to achieve the ultimate spiritual goal was through personal devotion to Krishna.
Even though images from Nathdwara are instantly recognizable in the way Krishna is painted and in the decorative element that embellished the cloth, the traditional Pichhwai consists of starched handspun cloth, painted with vegetable and mineral colours. The format of the Pichhwai is static, where even the natural elements appear frozen. Elements of nature make an appearance, whether it is the sun, moon, stars or even lightning. The Pichhwai artists mostly live as a community where there is constant interaction about their work and how they feel about this art form. In fact, several skilful painters work together under the supervision of a master artist.
The main Pushti Marg form at Nathdwara is Shrinathji, which portrays Krishna holding up Mount Govardhana to protect the people of Vraja who sought shelter from the torrential rainstorm of a wrathful Indra. The image of Shrinathji represents Krishna as a child god. Carved in high relief on a rectangular reddish-black stone stele, some one and a half meters high, it also shows the mount and various creatures – cows, a conch shell, a snake, ram, bird, peacocks and ascetics. Pushti Marg temples are called havelis (not mandirs) because they are palatial renditions of Krishna’s childhood home in Vraja. Shrinathji’s new home was named Nathdwara and all life in the township that sprang up revolved around the temple, as it does today. Shrinathji is in fact, Nathdwara’s reason for being.
Pichhwais vary according to the season and the moods. Each Pichhwai denotes the seva aspect of Shrinathji in a different season. The summer Pichhwai has pink lotuses as the backdrop while the winter pichhwai has an intricate Jamawar pattern, exuding the warmth needed for the season. And the main pichhwai that denotes the Anukooth has the deity in a silver outfit, exquisitely decorated with pearls and zardozi work. If you are looking for traditional Indian paintings that reflect our rich heritage and culture, Pichhwais are the works to buy.