Pichwai paintings are Hindu devotional paintings painted on a cloth canvas. The central theme of Pichwai paintings mainly revolves around the Hindu god, Lord Krishna. These paintings are often displayed at the Hindu shrines of Rajasthan. Besides artistic engagement, these paintings help in telling tales and folktales visually to the ones unable to read. These vibrant paintings, with different themes and motifs, are circulated throughout the year according to seasonal festivals.
The word Pichwai can break into the Sanskrit words ‘pich’ meaning behind and ‘wai’ meaning hanging. This infers to hanging them behind the idol of the deity.
Nathdwara school, a branch of Mewar school, deals with styles of Pichwai paintings focusing on Shrinathji, a regional avatar of Lord Krishna.
Pichwai paintings showcase Lord Krishna in different postures, settings, and attires. It illustrates ancient folklore sung by bards and minstrels and traces the deity’s life through various incarnations. Pichwai paintings are considered as benefaction or ‘seva’. Paintings are symbols of veneration to the luxurious Srinathji adorned with beautiful garlands and jewelry reflecting prosperity and wealth.
Often a Pichwai showcases a scene from folklore with Lord Krishna amongst groups participating in rasleela. Also, different scenes from Krishna’s childhood which focus on his mother, ‘Maa Yashoda’ come into an illustration with Pichwai art.
Sandhya Aarti is a popular theme that entails the evening prayer with the coming home of Lord Krishna after he finishes grazing livestock. Morkuti Pichwai showcases peacocks calling for monsoons dancing with lord Krishna resembling ‘rasleela’. ‘Danleela’, another thematic representation of the lore of Lord Krishna blocking gopis to ask for ‘daan’ or an offering for cow milk as he was a cow herder, is often shown in Pichwai paintings.
Artwork – Style, colors, and textures
In any Pichwai portrait, the central theme and figure are Shrinathji or Krishna. Shrinathji is always decked up with several ornaments, jewelry, and colorful traditional costumes. According to tradition, in Vrindavan, considered the Hindu deity’s childhood place, Shrinathji’s idol had a diamond-studded chain. Hence, Pichwai paintings depict Lord Krishna as a heavily ornamented figure with opulent rings, necklaces, nose rings, and jewelry.
Pichwai paintings require a lot of concentration, mastery, and control because even the slightest errors get magnified on canvas. Therefore, to minimize faults, Pichwai artists make these paintings by sitting on the floor in a fixed posture focusing all their attention on the art.
Traditionally, a Pichwai painting is purely organic. Starting from the canvas, made from handspun starched cotton cloth to the colors obtained from organic sources, a Pichwai is a complete organic creation. Since its advent, Pichwai paintings have been made from natural ingredients. The painters extracted colors from flowers, leaves, coral, saffron, zinc, and semi-precious stones. These extracted colors made Pichwai paintings a riot of vibrant and bright hues.
Interestingly there are Pichwai paintings for every season. If you closely go through a couple of Pichwai paintings, you will find many repetitive elements such as lotuses, cows, and peacocks. Each motif has a separate meaning and is used to depict a season. Pichwai paintings depict summers with rosy pink lotuses, and peacocks are used to paint that symbolizes monsoons and the welcoming of rain.
Examples of well known Pichwais
- Shrinathji Morkutir Pichwai – This very colorful Pichwai is an ode to the monsoon. It shows Shrinathji, the central figure, heavily ornamented and playing his flute, surrounded by dancing peacocks, a symbol of monsoon and rain. It also features cows and lotus garlands around his neck.
- Gopiyo ki Pichwai – This unique Pichwai features Lord Krishna in the middle with four gopis facing him in admiration and blandishment. The Pichwai is painted with a black and gold combination, with intricate gold patterns and flowers along the borders.
Due to the rising popularity of the work, Pichwai paintings have successfully gained recognition. It serves as a great source of art history and Indian heritage. Artists all around India are substituting natural elements and colors with artificial dyes to increase the sustainability of the paintings. Increasing in production and demand, they are finding their place in various exhibitions, studios, and homes.