Pichwai literally means ‘backdrop’ - the name came about because the paintings were used as a backdrop in the sanctum sanctorum of the Srinathji temple at Nathdwara in the western state of Rajasthan, more famously known for the opulence and grandeur of its princely kingdoms.
The town of Nathdwara was established 400 to 500 years ago because a special idol of Bal Krishna (Krishna, the child) was being moved from Mathura in the North (the birthplace of Krishna) towards Dwarka in the South-West (his palace, now underwater, and resting place) of the country. However, the people who were moving the idol felt this location in Rajasthan was where it was meant to be, and subsequently a magnificent temple was specially built to house it.
Here, the idol stayed and it has become one of the most revered and well-respected temples in the country.
Pichwai paintings have been made ever since, depicting the leela’s (activities) of Krishna as a child through the different seasons of the year.
These paintings are always made on cotton fabric with pigments that are derived from local stones, minerals and plants.
When I travelled to Nathdwara in search of blessings (and a pichwai for myself!), I found the local community is still steeped, after many centuries, in the language and traditions of Mathura! As a visitor, one is transported to another time physically, as well as spiritually! And their art, which now is found in homes across the country, help the viewer raise his mind to think of things as they perhaps were in another time.