Nathdwara, a hidden gem brimming with medieval history in the Western Rajasthan, is known for its crucial pilgrimage of Shrinathji temple. Shrinathji is an avatar of Lord Krishna whose idol was brought to Rajasthan from Govardhana near Vrindavan to protect it from the hands of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who in 1665 was bent upon vandalizing the area of Vrindavan by widespread destruction of Hindu temples.
The decision to settle the Lord here at Nathdwara involves an interesting story. When the wheel of the chariot carrying the Lord got stuck in the mud at a place called Sihar, the Rana saw it as a divine sign that Lord Krishna wished to settle here, and thus a temple was built at this spot and the holy township of Nathdwara grew around the temple. The temple, however, is not the only cultural reflection here. Nathdwara is also known for a small group of traditional artists who are the original descendants of Lord Krishna.
Shrinathji and other svarups (living images) of the Pushtimarg sect led to the development of rich artistic techniques during the sixteenth century, including the magnificent cloth paintings known as Pichvais. During Diwali, hereditary artists from Nathdwara, headed by their head (the mukhiya), continue to paint the temple premises and create the iconic Pichvais.
Project Virasat revived the languishing craft of the Thathera community in Jandiala Guru, Punjab in 2019 through P-TAL. We explored hundreds of artforms which had lost their significance due to automation, industrialization, and a lack of awareness about them.
We ventured more into diverse art forms both state and organization-wise to see which craft form has the potential to be revitalised. In this process, we discovered that the Pichvai Paintings of Nathdwara Rajasthan had lost their allure and the artists who made them were no longer interested in the work owing to poor demand, acts of forgery and no recognition towards its originality. After learning about the unmatchable beauty of Pichvai Art, we came across the Artist of Nathdwara's website. It served the objective of assisting the artists to present their brilliance to the general public and guiding them in receiving orders for the same.
Even though the website was live, it was not adequately organised in order to capture the attention of the visitors. It only mentioned a limited list of artists. To make the layout more appealing, many technical improvements had to be made to the design and development. Everything was falling into place and here we met our local on-ground technology and supply chain supervisor Mr. Agni Sanchiher. He is the backbone behind our impeccable online work structure.
After conducting intensive research and determining our course of action, we decided to contact the artists to discuss the issues they were experiencing and how our intervention could assist them. However, initial resistance and lack of confidence exacerbated the problem, since the artists were apprehensive to step forward and partner with us.
Consequently, we decided to visit the place of origin, interact with the community and understand the problem. It was during this visit that we first learned about Dr. Madhuvanti Ghose, curator of Indian art at the Art Institute of Chicago, USA, and of the landmark exhibition on the art of the Pushtimarg sect, the Gates of the Lord: The Tradition of Krishna Paintings (2015/16) on the 30th of December 2014. She has been working for decades in a holistic manner and has been a pioneer in leading the artists of Nathdwara. Being a main stakeholder, she assisted the artists in a number of ways. She helped them with exhibitions and to receive huge orders from notable people such as Ms. Nita Ambani, founder, and chairperson of Reliance Foundation. We were pumped up to start our intervention because of her, and this motivation has helped us to reach the point where we are on the verge of making the project self-sustainable.
We faced a number of challenges on our way to resurrect Pichvai's legacy, including the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced us to confine ourselves to our houses, resulting in a reduction in order volume due. This was because we did not have an adequate online presence at that time. Due to the difficulties they had in preserving the exquisite artform, the community was terrified of losing their identity. However, in the midst of all of this, we discovered a chance to rebuild the AON website and expand our horizons. Our mission was to ensure the well-being of the artist community while also providing original artwork to our customers.
Dr. Madhuvanti Ghose served as the foundation for building the legacy that we seek to create. We gained the confidence of the artists under her presence and established their trust in us. The efficient working chain between the head artists and subordinate artists in the division of their work has always been a boon for our system.
Ms. Shruti Gaggar, Former Director, Project Virasat has quoted the lines rightly, “ The journey of Pitchvai Artform was a roller-coaster ride. There were both good and bad times prevailing. But Dr. Madhuvanti ma’am’s inspiring persona and the enthusiasm in the artists kept us going. Their smiles brought happiness to our souls.”
Nathdwara continues to shape the work of generations of Indian artists and is on the verge of being self-sustained. It has been a long and beautiful journey, albeit with some challenges along the way. However, our desire and enthusiasm to build a framework and platform to restore this unique art form have never wavered.
Read more about Artists of Nathdwara at AON website.