Retreiving Pichwais from the crypt

New Delhi, Oct 3 (IANS) The life of Lord Krishna provides ethos, inspiration and devotion to many. The deity’s influence on art is as entrenched and deep-rooted as the belief on his mythical life and times. Among the many art forms inspired by Krishna is the delightful, yet dying, Pichwais tradition.

In an attempt to revive the art and rekindle interest in this great tradition, New Delhi based art and fashion entrepreneur Pooja Singhal is holding an exhibition with over 80 pieces of art work.

“I have grown up seeing Pichwai art in Udaipur. My mother was a collector of the artworks and that’s how I got introduced to it,” Singhal told IANS.

Now, it’s time to breathe in life to the dying art, she feels.

“The art was taught under the Gurukul system, so there are very little experts left who are adept in the art. The idea is to make the art relevant and popular,” Singhal said.

Singhal, who has founded a revival project of Pichwai art, had commissioned works by artisans who stay true to the original styles and techniques. “Currently, I have commissioned work from over 25 artists for the project,” she said.

Pichwais crudely translates to “back hangings”. They are intricate works of art executed on cloth or paper to illustrate stories from Krishna’s.

It developed initially in the 17th and 18th century as decorative curtains providing a background for the Shri Nathji idol at the Nathdwara temple.

Through this project, Pooja Singhal has attempted to revive Pichwai by making the style more accessible to a larger audience, while ensuring that the traditional techniques and styles remain alive.

“It is a culmination of four years of work and it is an ideal setting to be able to showcase all the genres of Pichwais. It is a great opportunity to change the perception of traditional arts and show them in a contemporary way,” said Singhal.

Interestingly, the very first Pichwais were developed by just five families of the sect who created iconographic renderings as backgrounds for the idol at Nathdwara.

Each Pichwai is an intricate and carefully composed work depicting Lord Krishna in twenty-four forms. In these paintings Krishna’s clothes change every fifteen days, in total, twenty-four times a year, said the artist.

Many of these compositions have been long forgotten as they have not been ever recreated. Some even sport a contemporary look and feel. Close observation reveals greater graphic detail, depth and more unusual prints on the garments.

Though simple in appearance, there is great detail in every Pichwai, from the lively expressions to the beauty and sense of movement in the garments.

Through in-depth research into catalogues and private collections, the artists reproduced compositions that are original, beautiful and no longer available, Singhal explained. She added that there is a growing interest in Pichwai art in abroad.

“There is a Pichwai exhibition currently going on at the Chicago and Metropolitan Museum. In Delhi, the interest on this exhibition has been phenomenal, we have had many streaming in to get a glimpse of these executive works. I have made the price reasonable, it costs somewhere between Rs.10,000 to Rs.3 lakhs.,” said Singhal.

Besides the traditional large works on cloth, she has developed varied sizes including smaller works that are affordable for the young collector.

“Original Pichwais were all done with stone colours on cloth and paper. I have done the same. The diversity of expression and accuracy of setting in these are also remarkable,” said Singhal.

Through tireless and detailed research and discussions with artisans from the region, the artist has developed an exquisite collection that has brought the diverse and forgotten scenes and designs of the Pichwai back to life.

The exhibition is open till October 9, from 11 am to 7 pm at 24 Jor Bagh, New Delhi.

Preetha Nair can be contacted at

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