Nathdwara – The Gateway to Shrinathji houses an intricate art form practiced from last several decades. Picchwai was originated with a purpose of, other than artistic appeal, narrating tales of Krishna to the illiterate. The art form is basically an intricate painting that depicts the theatrical life of Krishna’s life which is called his ‘Leela’.
The word Picchwai has its roots from the Sanskrit word ‘pich’ which means behind and ‘vai’ which means textile hanging. And that is why it is typically hung behind the sanctum of his own manifestation, Shrinathji. In ancient times, it was often used to create a devotional atmosphere for the daily ‘Shringaar’ – the special adornment of the deity. It was when artists, out of devotion, started making backdrops to depict Lord Shrinathji in different moods, settings and seasons.
Process of making Pichhwai
A rough sketch is prepared by the artist on a starched cloth first and later it is filled with colors. The traditional Pichhwai paintings were made up from natural colors and brushes made from hairs of a horse, goat or squirrel but with time, faster and less expensive material replaced them. Few paintings are still available which are made up of natural colors. Some paintings also demand the use of pure gold which adds to their value and charm. The process of preparing the color from pure gold takes around 3-4 days.
Apart from that, Picchwai painting for the temple backdrop can take up to 2-3 months to prepare. These huge Pichwais are commissioned by the wealthy people of around the country while for the common man, a smaller version of these paintings are available which they can take for the shrine at their home.
Pichhwai artists in Nathdwara
Most of the Picchwai artists reside in the Chitron ki Gali or Chitrakaron ka Mohalla in Nathdwara who makes a close community with constant interaction. Currently, there are only 10-12 original Pichhwai artists in Nathdwara which includes people like Narottam Narayan Sharma and BG Sharma. Most of these artists also paint the newer form which is in demand.
Some renowned Pichhwai artists from Nathdwara are –
Narottam Narayan Sharma
Narayan Sharma is widely known for his images of Lord Krishna which earned him fame in the entire North Indian region. His work was even more influential than the works of Raja Ravi Varma. Several of his paintings were published as posters by S.S Brijbasi, a firm based in Karachi, using chromolithography and were printed in Germany. His painting ‘Murli Manohar’ became the best-selling image in the history of the industry. His other famous paintings involved Shree Satyanarain, Kailash Pati Shankar, depictions of Maharana Pratap and Shivaji, and images of the independence struggle including portraits of Gandhi and Nehru, Gandhiji ki swargyatra (Gandhi’s ascent to heaven) etc. Narottam Narayan Sharma was initially trained at Udaipur.
Bhanwar Lal Girdhari Lal Sharma (B. G. Sharma) is a renowned artist who earned his fame from his miniature devotional paintings and his classic Rajasthani art which includes the Mughal, Kishangarh, and Kangra styles. His work has been internationally exhibited in London, Germany, and the United States.
Sharma’s family had been artists for generations. Moreover, there is an art gallery named as Shri B.G.Sharma Art Gallery in Udaipur which contains an extensive collection his work.
Apart from that, Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, British monarch Queen Elizabeth II and former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser all have commissioned portraits by Sharma. He has been awarded various awards including India’s National Art Award for Master Craftsman. A collection of Sharma’s artwork was also published in September 2000 titled Form of Beauty: The Krishna Art of B.G.Sharma.
The Three Generations of Picchwai Artists
The family has been aligned to Nathdwara Picchwai Art since ancient times. It is said that the ancestors of the family have been descended to Nathdwara with the arising of Shrinathji in town. The current artist of the Sharma family is Mr. Parmanand Sharma preceded by Devkrishna Sharma and Kanhaiyalal Sharma. The family is known for their miniature Picchwai painting. His work has been researched by the American scholar Tryna Lyons which has been narrated in his book ‘The Artists of Nathdwara’.
Apart from Picchwai, these artists also paint the idol of Shrinathji in the temple which people can take back to their homes. Since photography is not allowed in the temple, these paintings help the devotees to pray to Lord Shrinathji whenever they want.