Phads are scrolls that originally told the story of two venerated medieval heroes, Devnarayan and Pabuji. This is a folk painting style that forms the visual backdrop for mobile street theatre performances.
The bhopa’s (singers) travel from village to village, opening their 15-30 foot long scroll section by section, after sunset to create an evening of entertainment for local folk gathered in the village square.
The entire scroll is filled with figures and pictorial incidents. While the figures of the story are fairly evenly spread across the canvas, the size of each figure depends on the social status of the character they represent, and the role they play in the story. They also almost always face each other, rather than the viewer. The nature of the art, and its function, makes these scrolls very long - each episode in the life story of the main character needs to be accommodated! Nowadays Phad art includes narratives from the epics and other stories in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience.
Like Pattachitra’s, phads are made on pre-treated cotton fabric. The artists prefer khadi, a fabric unique to India where hand-spun yarn is woven into fabric on handlooms. The stretch of fabric is coated with a mixture of boiled wheat/rice flour and gum and left to dry in the sun. This is subsequently rubbed down with a stone to make it smooth and shiny, making it a fit canvas for the stories of the heroes. The colours are prepared from by mixing naturally derived tree gum with powdered colours made from minerals and plants.
Traditionally 15-30 feet long, each scroll is divided into sections and sub-sections before the artist sketches in the basic forms. The colours are then filled in - orange for the figures, yellow for clothing and/ or jewellery, green for trees, brown for buildings, red for royal figures and blue for water. The painting is finished with black outlines, which sharpens and delineates the figures. Interestingly, Phad artists always start, and end, work on a new painting on auspicious days, and sign their names where the large central figure is placed.