Nearly 50 Phad paintings, two of which are rare originals created nearly six decades ago by Bhilwara’s illustrious Phad artist Padmashree Shrilal Joshi, will be displayed at an exhibition titled, ‘Phad: Mythical Heritage of Bhilwara’. The rest have been painted by the scions of the Joshi family – Kalyan and Gopal Joshi – over last two years. The show can be viewed at Bikaner House from October 5 to 8. It is organized by Delhi based arts organization ArtTree and is supported by Yes Culture, the practicing think tank of Yes Bank.
Phad is a traditional art form — more than seven hundred years old — from the Bhilwara/Shahpura region of Rajasthan, known not only for its vibrant colors, but also the fact that it is accompanied by an oral tradition of rendering the data (folklore). This rendition is performed by Bhopa and Bhopi – priest and his wife from the Rabari tribe. The accompanying instrument is a two string ‘Ravanhatta’. The singing is about the gods, about the heroics of either the local deity Pabuji or Devnarayanji revered by the Gujjar community of camel herders. The Pads – painted like horizontal scrolls with natural colors – also portray folklores, scenes from the Ramayana, and other mythological narratives,” says Pragati Agarwal, founder, Art Tree.
How a Phad painting is created
Creating a Phad is an act of devotion even as it is an art form. We commence our work with a prayer. Handwoven cloth is soaked overnight so that the threads get thicker. It is then starched, burnished for a smooth and shiny surface and then the Phad painter draws the entire narrative spanning the life of the deity and his divine deeds on this canvas. The figures are rounded, wear traditional attire and headgear and bright colors are used to fill them in. The colors are painstakingly extracted from natural sources – stones, flowers, herbs,” says Kalyan.
There was a time when the secrets of Phad painting were confined to the Joshi family. However, when Shrilala Joshi felt that the art form was slowly dwindling away, he felt the need to establish ‘Joshi Kala Kunj’, now ‘Chitrashala’ in 1960 to develop new artists other than the Joshi family. He took upon himself the task of revitalizing this art, both at national and international level. His sons, Kalyan Joshi and Gopal Joshi have carried forward this legacy and have taken on them the mantle of making this art more relevant in today’s times by introducing new themes and techniques but not compromising on the traditional Phad.
Phad — A living temple
Traditionally, the bhopas, who commission the painting, would commission the Joshis to make a phad for them with which they travel and perform. They are mostly called upon to perform in a community if the animals become ill or die. Devotees believe that the phad is a living temple and hence hold it in spiritual reverence.
The Phad is unique in the manner it is formatted and made. There is set pattern about how the characters are placed and the color scheme of Phad. Every available inch of the canvas is crowded with figures. Another highlight is the 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 do not face the audience; rather, they face each other. The characters have Orange for limbs or torso of figures, Yellow for ornaments & general clothing & designs, Green for trees & vegetation, Brown for architectural structures, Red for Royal clothing & flags and blue for water and curtains. An outline of the painting is drawn by the artist with light yellow colour paint; only earth colours or vegetable colours or indigo are used. The colours are then mixed with gum and water, and painted one colour after the other, in the order of orange, yellow, and so forth. Black is the last colour paint used for the border. However, traditionally, no gold colour was ever used.