Rising from the rich culture of Rajasthan, Phad Paintings closely resemble to Miniature Art Form in many manners.
Phad painting or Phad is a style religious scroll painting and folk painting, practiced in Rajasthan state of India. This style of painting is traditionally done on a long piece of cloth or canvas, known as Phad.
More than 700 years old, Phad originated in the Bhilwara region of Rajasthan and owes its popularity to its accompanying oral tradition. Phad paintings are part of an elaborate song-and-dance performance by a pair of balladeers, usually a priest and his wife – called bhopa and bhopi – belonging to the Rabari tribe of nomadic cattle and camel herders.
They travel from village to village with their “ravanhatta”, a two-string instrument and using the Phad paintings as visual aides, perform dramatic renditions of stories from the Ramayana, Hanuman Chalisa and other mythological tales. A Phad is usually displayed as a panorama in the Phad which is rolled on a stick. Each painting depicts a different episode and they are opened or unrolled only after sundown, in conjunction with an all night performance. This is possibly why these paintings are called Phad which means folds in local dialect.
The idea to create these scrolls, it is believed, came to the members of the Rabari tribe when they realised that there was no one fixed temple that they could visit. So, instead, they created temples that could visit them.
The Joshi families of Bhilwara, Shahpura in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan are widely known as the traditional artists of this folk art-form for the last two centuries. Presently, Shanti Lal Joshi, Shree Lal Joshi, Nand Kishor Joshi, Prakash Joshi and are the most noted artists of the Phad painting, who are known for their innovations and creativity.
For every Phad Artist, each painting is an act of devotion. Before that first stroke of colour on his canvas, handwoven cloth in this case, a prayer is offered to either Pabuji, a folk deity of Rajasthan, or Devnarayan, an incarnation of Hindu god Vishnu. The artist then starts working on the blank cloth which, over the next few months, becomes crowded with a narrative spanning the entire life of the deity. Such is the devotion for this Rajasthani Folk Art Form “Phad”.
Till as recently as 50 years ago, the form of Phad was exclusively practiced by the artists of Joshi lineage of the “Chippa” caste. The Joshi artists were commissioned by the bhopa and bhopi to create the Phad artworks and carefully guarded the techniques associated with the art.
However, one of the most celebrated Phad artists and Kalyan’s father, Shree Lal Joshi, realised the need to let in others on the secrets of Phad and established Joshi Kala Kunj, a school of Phad, in 1960 to popularise the art. The school, now called Chitrashala, teaches Phad art to those from outside the clan.
Though, one of the biggest differences in how artists practice Phad today is that they no longer wait for a bhopa and bhopi to commission a painting. They have also started depicting simple scenes like marriage processions or a hunt in the forest along with religious themes.
The creation of a Phad Painting is a step by step process, which unveils in the following manner:
- First, the handwoven cloth is soaked overnight to make the threads thicker. This cloth chosen could be a cotton cloth or a Khadi-silk cloth.
- It is then starched, burnished for a smooth and shiny surface and then the artist starts drawing.
- The figures are rounded, wear traditional attire and headgear and bright colours are used to fill them in.
- The colours used in Phad are painstakingly extracted from natural sources like stones, flowers and herbs.
- Traditionally, orange is used for limbs, yellow for ornaments and clothing, green for nature, brown for architectural designs, red to symbolise royal clothing and blur for curtains. Black is the last colour used to paint the border. The most important detail of the painting is left till the very end. The eyes. “It is only when the eyes of the deity are drawn that it is awakened,” “The artists give ‘life’ to the deity by opening the pupils of the main deity at the centre of the painting.” This is the point when the creation goes beyond being a work of art and becomes a travelling temple.
- All Phad paintings have certain common features. Every available inch of the canvas is crowded with figures. Another similarity is flat construction of the pictorial space. While the figures are harmoniously distributed all over the area, the scale of figure depends on the social status of the character they represent and the roles they play in the story.
- Another interesting feature is that the figures in the paintings always face each other instead of the viewer. These paintings in their traditional form are very wide to accommodate the numerous episodes of the complex stories.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts of various artists and their successors to popularise Phad art, there are less than 10 artists practicing it full-time today. “Most people interested, come and learn the art at the school as a hobby,”.
“There is very little appreciation for folk art forms in India and as a result, the profession is not a lucrative one.”