There are styles of paintings that were developed in order to showcase the lives of the kings and rulers and then there were paintings that depicted the life of the common man. While some styles of paintings portrayed nature in its prettiest form, and then there were some that were truly religious in its ethos. Continuing with our series on the history of paintings that are inherently Indian, today, we bring to you the style known as Pichwai art.
Pichwai Paintings

Let’s start with what Pichwai work is:

Pichwai or Picchwai comes from a combination of two words – pichh which means back and wais means hanging – the paintings from this genre are almost always devotional and tend to portray Lord Krishna. The origins of the paintings date back more than 400 years; it is believed that when the Nathdwara temple was built around the year 1672, clothes would be painted with images from the life of Lord Krishna and these would be hung up behind the deity.
Unlike the more popular Radha Krishna paintings that you will be able to purchase online at eCraftIndia, these paintings were concentrated more on the form of the god known as Shrinathji, who is the resident deity at Nathdwara. This temple is near present day Udaipur, Rajasthan and is thronged by innumerable devotees each day. The paintings were created to tell tales of Lord Krishna to those who were uneducated, as the pictures were the easiest form of teaching. The temple of Nathdwara has several such paintings and you will also be able to see similar paintings in certain temples of Aurangabad. The paintings would be changed, based on the calendar of festivals that were to be celebrated in the temple.
The traditional Pichwai paintings would generally be made on cloth and they were known for being intricate and absolutely stunning to look at. Each painting would take months to made, because immense skill was needed to make these and the details would be extremely complex, hence taking time. The deity manifesting these paintings, Shrinathji, is actually Lord Krishna as a seven-year-old; which is why the most common subjects in the paintings are everything associated with his adolescent life – gopis, lotus flowers, cows and Radha.

Moving onto the history of these paintings:
The history of Pichwai painting can be categorised into roughly three subsets – the era that saw the start of this style of painting in the 16th century, the evolution during the 19th century and the present-day scenario.
It is said that the Shrinathji Nathdwara temple was built and completed in 1627 and the chief priest at the temple was Vitthalnath; he was also the son of the Vallabhacharya, who was the founder of the Pushitmarg sect. Vitthalnath employed several artists to create these paintings, which would not only work as décor for the temple, but also narrate stories of a young Krishna to those who were not literate enough to read. These paintings would change as per the festivals being celebrated in the temple and the commissioning of the same could be done only by the chief priest. Over time, royal families also started getting these paintings made and those were the more heavy and intricate versions.
At the start of the 19th century, there were Western influences on the style of the painting – painters, in order to meet the demands of the changing audiences were now incorporating oil paints and more realism in their techniques. Something as basic as the peacock paintings too now was seeing a different hue. However, the independence struggle also added to the influences – with the rise of the Swadeshi movements, there was an attempt to stay as true to the traditional style as possible.
Today, the modern Pichwai paintings have become the main export of the state of Rajasthan and is in much demand all over the world. The artists who are practising the form still live in close knit communities and you will often see single paintings being a joint effort, under the watchful eye of an experienced artists. The style has taken off in such a manner that it has now found its way into home décor and fashion as well!

The method to the meticulousness:
If you were to look at a typical and traditional Pichwai design, it would have 24 boxes around and each is called a Swaroop – each of the boxes would have a Krishna, or gopis or other elements of the nature and even though there tend to plenty of elements, the paintings never seem crowded. The making of a traditional painting tends to take at least a couple of weeks – it starts with a hand spun cotton fabric that has been starched and the sketch will be made first. The decorative images will be added in next and once the drawings are complete, only organic colours and paints will be used to fill in the colours. As a matter of fact, even the brushes used are natural and made by hand using squirrel goat and horse hair. Certain patterns would be added using blocks and the colours would always be intense and vibrant. Many a times, the borders would be embellished with crystals and precious stones. The most typical aspects would be the large nose, big eyes and the radiant features of the deity. It comes as no surprise that even today these paintings are popular wall decor items.

There are styles within the Pichwai school of art:
As is the case with several styles of painting, there are variants and themes within the Pichwai painting technique and the main ones include Chowbees Swaroop, Annakut Pichwai, Summer Pichwai Paintings and Sandhya Aarti to name a few. The Chowbees Swarup or 24 incarnations was one of the most popular forms, over time, each incarnation was made into individual paintings and these have become extremely sought after in recent times.

Then there were versions where small details, which might otherwise have gotten lost in the larger frame of things were given prominence – peacocks, lotus flowers, cows and trees were extremely popular. The Annakut paintings describe how the young Krishna lifted the Govardhan mountain and the Raas Leela Pichwai depicts the dance and merriment that Krishna enjoyed with the gopis.

The Summer Pichwai’s were usually created during the summer months and the kamal talai or the lotus flower is one of the most beloved themes and is still used constantly by traditional and modern painters. The lotus flower was meant to offer some relief from the heat to Lord Krishna and other images would show him surrounded by trees, ponds and birds. The Nand Mahotsav would show scenes of the love showered on Krishna by Nanda and Yashoda. Similarly, the Sandhya Aarti, which refers to the lighting of the evening lamp, was meant to show how Krishna brought every cow back home, each evening, as the lamps of the homes were being lit. The Pichwai cow art was also an important theme and there would also be peacocks as the central theme.

Finally, coming to the most commonly asked questions related to Pichwai painting

  1. What are the main themes in Pichwai paintings?
    The paintings are almost meant to express love and a sense of devotion towards Lord Krishna – there are scenes from his childhood and adolescent age.
  2. What are the festivals that are prominent in antique Pichwai paintings
    Festivals like Sharad Purnima, Govardhan Puja, Janmashtami, Diwali and Holi are the most prominently featured festivals. Raasleela is also a common theme.
  3. Which are the main castes of people who make these paintings?
    The Adi Gaur, the Jangirs and the Mewaras are the main castes of people who used to create these styles of paintings. These days, however, there are no caste-based restrictions.
  4. Who are the most well known names associated with Pichwai art today?
    Shehzad Ali Sherani, Kuldeepak Soni and Pooja Singhal are some of the most prominent names in this domain.

At eCraftIndia, we have strived to give a platform to artists from all over the country, a chance to showcase their craft and their talent and due to their efforts, you will be able to buy not only beautiful wall paintings online, but also all kind of home décor pieces.