Art speaks the soul of its culture. - Abby Willowroot
India’s various folk arts narrate stories of centuries that are submerged in tradition and history through the use of vibrant colours and various techniques. Phad painting represents a 700-year-old legacy passed down from generation to generation within a single family, originating in Shahpura, near Bhilwara, Rajasthan. Phad painting is known for its indigenous style and depicting ‘narratives of folk deities of the state.’ This painting style done on a piece of scroll or canvas known as ‘Phad’, includes elements of both Rajput and Mughal painting styles.
The Phad painting is unique because of its depiction of deities. Pabuji and Devnarayanji, a local folk deity and an incarnation of Vishnu respectively are mainly portrayed in this painting style. It is created in a form of mobile temples and was carried by priest singers of the Rabari tribe, known as Bhopas and Bhopis. The priest- singers would unfold the scroll after sunset and perform the tales in front of the villagers during the night time. The word ‘Phad’ means ‘fold’ in the local dialect, hinting that this tradition with the painting is the reason that this art form is known as Phad. The performances were carried out in a particular manner, where the male priest (Bhopa) would play a two-string musical instrument known as ‘Ravanahatha’ and his wife, the female priest (Bhopi), accompanies sings and dances to the tune by reciting poetry about instances from Ramayana, Hanuman Chalisa, and Mahabharata, also putting light on the scroll with the help of a lamp to bring focus upon the painting.
Phad painting requires a high number of skills, precision and proper techniques, thus taking weeks and sometimes even months for completion. The cloth or the scroll used for painting is made out of ‘hand-woven coarse cotton that is soaked overnight, thickened with rice or wheat flour starch, and then dried in the sun.’ Next, the scroll is polished with moonstone for a glossy finish.
The paints used in this painting style are made naturally from flowers, leaves, and fruits and then are mixed with water and gum. The major colours used in Phad painting are green, black, yellow, red, orange, brown and blue, each serving a different purpose in the painting. The colour green represents vegetation and trees, blue represents water, yellow represents ornaments, brown is used for architecture and buildings, orange showcases limbs and torso, and red is used for royal clothes, thick borders and flags. Lastly, the colour black is used to outline the painting. After all this, the most important aspect and detail of the painting are added, i.e., the eyes. After the addition of eyes to the painting, it is ready for worship and to tell and narrate the stories as a tradition.
The figures are beautifully distributed on the canvas however, the size of the figures determines their social status. The bigger the figure the higher the social status or rank of that particular figure. One of the most unique aspects of this painting style is the ‘flat figure aspect’, the figures drawn or portrayed are flat and face each other instead of facing the audience or the viewers.
Traditionally, Phad painting was only done by the Joshi family. The techniques required to make the Phad painting were only taught to members of the Joshi family, to keep the heritage of this style. Since the traditional painting styles are followed extremely diligently in Phad painting, the popularity of this art form started to decline. As a result, several different attempts were made by various members of the Joshi family and other well know Phad artists to revive this art form.
The Byah collection of Kaunteya represents Indian weddings and rituals through Phad painting. This collection extensively uses the colours black and gold, signifying mystery and wisdom respectively. The idea behind using these two colours is the idea of the mysterious journey a marriage is, where individuals together try to know and understand each other and eternal love by committing mistakes and learning from them.