Artists of Nathadwara, Part Five

BY: SUN STAFF - 27.2 2019


In this last segment of our series on the Artists of Nathadwara, we will explore a number of pichhavais that exemplify the temple hangings of the Sri Nathaji cult. The Lord's pastime scenes are viewed in the temple as a sequence of events in Sri Krsna's life. These events generally fall within a specific month or season of the year.

Most of the painted pichhavais are designed for use during the autumn, and particularly commemorate episodes related to Krsna's activities during this season. Others are keyed to the monsoon season, while some depict pastimes at the height of the summer or winter.

The pichhavai hanging above is entitled Dana Lila, or 'Demanding of Toll'. Sri Krsna tips curds from a pot carried by a gopi as she and her five companions take their produce to market. The incident takes place against a background of trees, while celestials drop flower petals from their aerial chariots above.

Underneath this scene, against a mustard yellow background, Govardhana Hill is depicted with the Dana Lila again shown on the right and the Govardhana Puja on the left. Below this, by the Yamuna Ghat, a peacock dances in the center of a group of adoring cows, who are pleased by the fact that the peacock shares Krsna's blue color, and that Krsna wears a peacock feather in his headdress.

Around the top and sides of the panel is a narrow border of cows against a black background. Another row of cows and calves form an outer frame.

The outer border of cows was actually an addition, from another pichhavai. The main interior pichhavai was painted in the early 20th century, while the outer border, from the late 19th century, was added on. The entire panel measures 91" x 87".

In this pichhavai, Sri Nathji stands on the simhasana with a white curtain (the color of moonlight) hiding the back of His image. He is dressed in an orange kachini and its accompanying garments. Two gopis on each side glorify Him with raised arms.

The setting is a grove in Vrindavan, with a background of plantain, mango, kadamba and palm trees. Above in the moonlit sky are celestial chariots containing gandharvas along with Indra and Siva and their Consorts, and the sage Narada holding his vina.

Below the throne is Govardhana Hill, where Govardhan puja is taking place. At the left, a gopa is being attacked by a bull, who is evidently the demon, Arishta, who was subsequently killed by Krsna. To the right of this is the Dana Lila episode and a tank being filled with water. This is probably the large tank known as Manasi Ganga, which fills seasonally and dries up in the summer. At the foot of the pichhavai is a row of cows on either side of a cypress tree.

Around the central scene are twenty-six small panels, depicting as follows: (1) Sri Gosam-ji with disciples; (2-25) seasonal festivals in order commencing with Phul Dol except for the misplacement of (4) Narasimha Chaturdasi after Rama Navami instead of (6) Akhya Tij; (26) Sri Vallabhacharya-ji with disciples.

This pichhavai measures 56 by 40 inches, and was painted in Nathadwara c. mid-19th century.

The Seasonal Festivals

While many of the seasonal celebrations in India mark various pastimes of Lord Krsna and His associations, others celebrate different phases of the agricultural cycle. Within the Vallabha cult there are twenty-four main festivals, and for each there is a very particular method of dressing the image Deity of Sri Nathaji and His shrine.

These twenty-four sringaras are often recorded in small panels which surround the central scene of a pichhavai. As noted above, they are typically placed in sequence as the festivals occur.

Generally speaking, in North India the year starts in the middle of the month of Chaitra (March-April), but the New Year can also begin with three other months in areas where the Vallabha sampradaya is chiefly followed. Thus near Udaipur, where the sect has its chief shrine, the year starts at the beginning of the month Sravan (July-August), while in other parts of Rajaasthan and Gujarat it begins with the middle of the preceding month of Ashrah. Elsewhere in Gujarat, as in South India, it begins in the middle of Kartik (October-November).

Despite these differences, the calendar followed by the sect at Nathadwara is not that of the immediate locality, but rather is similar to that of Sri Krsna's homeland, Vrindavan and Mathura, where the year starts in Chaitra. Thus the majority of pichhavais show the festival sequence beginning with Phul Dol or Rama Navami.

According to the usual North Indian version of the calendar, each month begins on the day after the full moon, and is divided into two fortnights of fifteen days. The first of these is called the "dark half", when the moon is waning, followed by the "bright half", when it waxes.


Source information: "Rajasthani Temple Hangings of the Krishna Cult" by Robert Skelton