Phad Paintings in Rajasthan-India

R ajasthan the land of colours is known for Phad painting, which is done on cloth. This type of painting is mainly found in the Bhilwara district. The main theme of these paintings is the depiction of local deities and their stories, and legends of erstwhile local rulers. Phad is a type of scroll painting. These paintings are created while using bright and subtle colours. The paintings depicting exploits of local deities are often carried from place to place and are accompanied by traditional singers, who narrate the theme depicted on the scrolls. The outlines of the paintings are first drawn in block and later filled with colours. Rajasthan is also known for Pichwais, which are paintings made on cloth. Pichwais are more refined and detailed than Phads. They are created and used as backdrops in the Shrinathji temple at Nathdwara and in other Krishna temples. The main theme of these paintings is Shrinathji and his exploits. Pichwais are painted, printed with hand blocks, woven, embroidered or decorated in appliqué.
phad paintingPainting Ballads on Cloth – When balladas are captured on canvas in vivid hues and immortalized for posterity, the effect is stunning and it is termed as the phad painting. These paintings depict the various folklores on a scroll of canvas, scene by scene, with utmost clarity. The nuances of each scene are explained by professional narrators, known as Bhopas. The study of had seeks to explore narration in its totality, that is, the oral art, with visual components, like painting. There has been a long standing tradition of professional narrators and singers of folklore in Rajasthan and the use of paintings and other artifacts as aids for their narratives is legendary. The art of painting the phads is approximately 700 years old and it originated in Shahpura, a princely state, 35 kilometeres from the district of Bhilwara in Rajasthan. The continuous royal patronage gave a decisive impetus of the art, which has survived and flourished for generations.

It is moment of joyous recreation when the Bhopas who hail from Marwar (Jodhpur-Nagaur area), arrive in the village, along with the audio-visual paraphernalia, which includes the painted scroll and their stringed musical instruments, called the ravanahatha. Believed to be a precursor to the violin, it is simply made with a bamboo props and the lyrical narration, accompanied by dancing, continues throughout the night. Each event comes alive, as the prabcham (narration) gains momentum and the mute audience, transfixed, savours the dramatic details of the legend. The Bhopas perform all the year round, except in rainy season when the deities are supposed to be in slumber.

phad painting from Rajasthan IndiaA close interaction between the painter and the singer is but obvious. The Bhopas depend on the painter to give expression to ideas and demonstration of his skill whereas, the painter paints to fulfill the requirements of folk narration.

The phads that display the heroic exploits of goods and many Rajput warriors are generally of five kinds namely Pabuji, Devnarayan, Krishna, Ramdal (Ramayana) and Ramdevji. Of these, the most legendary and popular is that of Pabuji, who is considered a demi god in Marwar, even today.

Pabuji, is revered as a great hero and adulatory verses are sung in his praise by the Bhopas. The phad that shows as entire sequence of events from his birth to death, has crowded scenes and innumerable figures full of movement, but, that of Pabuji, astride the Kesar kalimi, a beautiful black mare, is most prominent.

The Devnarayan phad, which is also equally popular, has a religious appeal.

Another type of phad, that has now been abandoned was that of the Goddess Kali. Painted for a particular caste of the untouchable Bhopa, it was distinctively different from the rest, as it was done in the batik style, using wax.

A traditional phad is approximately thirty feet long and five feet wide and the material used is local khadi or canvas. Primarily only vegetable colours were used, which remained fast and fresh for a long duration. Scarcity of these colours, however, would have ultimately led to a virtual stagnation of the craft, so the artists were compelled to make innovations. Thus the usage of water-proof earthen colours evolved. These colours are made by pounding the natural earthen colours with gum, water and indigo.

The painting commences with great flourish on the appointed auspicious day, when the Bhopas arrive. The ritual offering of a coconut is made to the Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Learning). A free hand sketch is then made on the canvas, where various postures of human and animal figures are perfected. Floral trees adorn the piece filling up the empty spaces. The figures are the painted in a light yellow colour initially, known as kacha.

The first stroke of colour is always made by a virgin girl from the artist’s family or from another family of high caste. The artist uses only one colour at a time, filling it in wherever required. The colour orange is used for limbs and torso, yellow for ornaments, clothing and designs, gray for structure, blue for water and curtains, green for trees and vegetation and red, prominently for dress. The subtle black outline that brings the linear expressions alive, is the syahi.

The phads that are made for the Bhopas, are always signed – the signature being near the largest central figure. The price of the phad however, is determined prior to beginning the paintings.

After continuous usage for many years the phad was immersed in Pushkar Lake. But now with the gaining popularity in India and abroad, this practice had been virtually abandoned. The inflow of tourists from outside the country have provided a new lease of life to folk paintings and to their creators, who even paint tukras (small pieces of canvas), on popular demand, where sometimes only one figure is highlighted. No longer are the themes restricted to the afore mentioned, Udaipur and Bhilwara, are found phads that depict scenes even from the Mahabharata, with many variations.

As a layman buyer is unable to tell the difference between the vegetable and earthen colours, very often new pieces are sold as old and large sums procured (an old piece sells for as much as Rs.10,000/-). Because commercialization has spiraled the cost to a great extent they are bought not only for ornamentation but also as an investment.

Phads were discovered by scholars of Rajasthan in the early 60s and even after a period of 30 years this exotic folk art seems to hold a perennial appeal and continues to remain predominantly popular.