Artist-turned-textile designer, Mukesh has brought glimpses of the traditional pichwais to Bangalore in vivid, colourful frames

Far from the town of Nathdwara where the pichwais, one of the most popular forms of Nathdwara art originate, a whole series of these paintings now adorn the walls of Vermillion House. These paintings are being exhibited by Mukesh, an artist-turned textile painter. The series of Nathdwara paintings in the form of pichwais are part of his latest series of work.

“The word ‘pich’ in Sanskrit means back and ‘wai’ which means hanging. They are usually hung at the back of the Hindu deity ‘Shreenathji’ (Krishna) as a ritual. The pichwais hung behind the deity in havelis/temples are usually large-scale and since it is hard to replicate the paintings in that scale, I have taken glimpses of the imagery from these paintings into smaller frames of cloth,” says Mukesh.

His vivid and detailed frames, made of cloth, as all pichwais usually are, depict the deity Shreenathji being worshipped in all his finery, in various postures and costumes that change with the seasons.

Sometimes he is accompanied by gopis (maidens), sometimes by Radha, sometimes he is simply being worshipped in the frame. The imagery also includes trees and flowers, as well as animal forms, largely cows, monkeys and peacocks.

“The basic idea was to revive the craft,” says Mukesh. Though the craft is not in danger of extinction, Mukesh feels that its quality has somewhat diminished over the centuries. “Similar to miniatures in form (except that they are painted on cloth instead of paper), pichwais mainly adopt three schools of art — the Bundi school, the Udaipur school, and the local Nathdwara school. Few other schools, such as the Kishangarh and the Mewar, are also a part of the tradition. But these three schools are the most prominent and that’s what I have adopted in my paintings.”

Mukesh says he has remained faithful to the tradition in his works, learning the basics from a pichwai master. “It was only about four years ago that I decided I wanted to work on this collection. While looking for designs, I went to the temple and asked somebody from the pichwai tradition to paint on textiles. Though he did a good job, I was not happy with the outcome; it was not what I wanted. That’s when I went to the teacher and then went back to Delhi to work on it.”

Originally a graduate in Fine Arts from the Delhi School of Art, Mukesh was drawn to traditional textiles, especially block printing, after he worked on some brochures for the ITDC and later invited to design textiles for the “Festival of India”.

Though Mukesh largely works with block printing on handloom cloth, he now wants to explore other transitions like the Masulipatnam paintings, he may perhaps go back to the fine arts by beginning to do contemporary art, but he also wants to continue working with pichwais a little longer.

“I find it interesting because I am from an art college and have an eye for art. I love the ancient traditions of our country. One of the other reasons why I took up pichwais is because I am from a Vaishnavite family and this is close to my heart.”

The exhibition of pichwais is on view at Vermillion House, 3/12 Cleveland Road Cross, Frazer Town. For details, contact 41225830.