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Pichhwais: A Design Tradition

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February 24, 2014 at 02:33 PM

There are several design traditions all over India; which over the years have perished - mainly because of fewer people from the next generations learning the craft and choosing other, more lucrative occupations.  One of the ancient traditions in Gujarat is the ‘Pichhwai’- a decorative cloth curtain hung behind the image of Lord Shrinathji – has survived; due to the support given by the wealthy Vaishnava followers. One such devotee is Jagdish Parihar, also an art connoisseur and collector, who is actively contributing to the survival of the ancient craft.

© Courtesy of Jagdish Parihar

Today, there is a mind-numbing range of paints and textures, wall-papers and claddings to choose from! In the olden times, options were few. Interior walls of palatial Indian homes were often covered with dhurries and tapestries in the winter and light-coloured printed or embroidered curtains in the summer. In more modest homes, walls were white-washed and covered with paintings or geometric patterns often decorated with bits and pieces of mirrors, shells, small pebbles, seeds. 

The ‘decorative’ tradition of the ‘Pichhwai’ cloth curtain that is hung behind the Lord Shrinathji image in the splendid havelis of the Vaishnavas – like many others – could have perished too. While the ‘Mata ni Pachhedi’ – a design tradition of the background cloth of the Mother Goddess worshipped by the Vaghari community in Ahmedabad is in doldrums, the “Pichhwai’ tradition continues to flourish as it is supported by the wealthy Vaishnava followers, who often buy off old/used Pichhwais from the haveli-temples as prasada and even commission ‘Pichhwai’ painters to create them for their own personal temple-spaces in their homes.

Jagdish Parihar is a true devotee, art connoisseur and textile conservationist and collector all rolled into one. In addition, he is also an art historian whose specialization in the hoary tradition of the Nathdwara Pichhwais, has been garnered not from academic lessons but from the soil in which this tradition’s seeds were sown and continue to be harvested by its painters over many centuries. Parihar, therefore, has a deep understanding of how the tradition evolved, developed and honed itself into a fine craft, and he has taken upon himself the onerous task of trying ways and means of keeping the tradition alive and healthy.

The Parihar family that hails from Udaipur has been acquiring and dealing in antiquities for more than five decades. Jagdish learnt his first lessons in identifying a genuine and valuable piece of antiquity, sitting on the knee of his grandfather in the family shop. As he grew, his interest in textiles, their embellishment with painting and embroidery, and particularly the history of the Pichhwais, became more focused.

Today, Jagdish Parihar has one of the finest collections of Pichhwais ever produced not just in the Nathdwara region of Rajasthan but also in other parts of North, West and South India. His sprawling workshop employs many talented young persons from traditional painter families who he trains to re-create the fabulous Pichhwais of yore. This is one effort that will enable future generations to enjoy the beauty of the Pichhwai and value the humungous heritage of textile craft in the country that would otherwise be completely lost.  

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