On View Yug Deepak Soni’s pichwai paintings combine the traditional with the experimental.

Pichwai, literally meaning ‘at the back,’ are lyrical paintings on cloth which hang as a back drop to the idol of Srinathji in the sanctum sanctorum of the Nathdwara Temple of Udaipur and the Krishna deities of other temples of the Pushtimarga sect of Vaishnavism.

They are mostly depictions of Krishna’s childhood in the imagined idyllic surroundings of Vrindavan: forests and trees in shades of verdant green, enormous pink lotuses entwined with leaves or growing with profuse abandon in ponds, and birds perched on flower laden trees. These are summer Pichwais, while the monsoon ones feature Krishna Leela against the background of dark clouds, pelting rain and dancing peacocks!

Pichwais are changed in the temple in tune with the changing moods of the deity, seasonal rhythms and festivals. Along with the Pichwais’ matching canopies, thrones and seat coverings have been among the varied items that were made around the Nathdwara Temple by traditional artists. They are still being crafted by artisans belonging to the Gowda Brahmin sect. Today Pichwais have become interior design statements and are also painted by artisans from other communities.

Sheer poetry

Yug Deepak Soni’s Pichwais, now being exhibited at a city art gallery, present a pageant of Krishna’s life. Many of the paintings are sheer poetry, others are colourful vignettes of Ras Leela and a few present significant philosophical moments in the Krishna story such as Vishvaroopam.

Srinathji is depicted in most frames typically bedecked in jewellery and lotus mala in frames bordered with shaded lotus flowers and cows, often painted brightly. Fantastic gilded trees, lotus flowers, peacocks and cows give each painting a typical Pichwai flavour as scenes from Krishna’s life unfold. Although Soni’s inspiration is the traditional Pichwai, he experiments and innovates in his painting.

“I look at many Pichwais”, says Soni, who learnt his craft of miniature painting from his grandfather Shilpguru Badrilal Chitarakar. “Although the traditional Pichwai painting is my genre, I experiment with where to place the cows, Krishna, floral themes and colours. The colours are natural stone pigments got by crushing and grinding the stones, filtering, and getting the essence of the colour, all of which I do on my own. I might sometimes add poster colour for shading.”

Standing beside a delicately executed Pichwai with white as the dominant colour and splashes of vivid orange on the cow’s horns, the artist explains how this charming Venugopal composition is his own experiment. In other frames Srinathji captivates, in the summer ambience of burgeoning leaves and lotus flowers or amidst the monsoon magic of heavy clouds and preening peacocks surrounded by cows and cow herds.

The Ras Leela theme is dominant while the artist experiments by depicting Krishna in enormous peacock feathers, placed at the heart of an open lotus or in a compelling 10’x7’ frame surrounded by Pundits and cows. There is a secular Pichwai of a field of lotus flowers and an antique look frame of Krishna in conversation with the gopis.

The Pichwai Exhibition is on till January 18 at Vinnayasa Premier Art Gallery, 21/11 CIT Colony, 1st Main Road, Alwarpet.