Phad is a unique ethnic form of painting having its origin in Rajasthan. Painted on long pieces of clothes called phad, these are large paintings with vibrant colors eulogizing the deeds of an Indian legend or hero. These are usually scroll paintings, and the contents highlight not only the deeds of a local hero, but also uphold a visual narrative of the myths, beliefs and exploits of the hero who is representing the Rajasthani community. However, the smaller version of a phad painting is called a phadakye.
The Phad Paintings were first initiated by the Joshi families of Shahpura in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan. Creating this form of art since 1629, the descendents of these artistic families have maintained this tradition and in 1969, two representatives of this proud lineage has been recognized with National Awards in the fields of art in India.
A Phad painting is displayed as a panoramic view of heroic deeds of some local kings put up by rolling it on a stick. It can vary in their sizes – either fifteen feet or thirty feet, depending on the piece of the cloth and the independent decision of the artist. The colors which are used are all natural in their origin, usually extracted from vegetables, fruits and flowers. The method of executing this style of painting is unique – the first stage is dedicated in drawing the outlines in several blocks. After this, the several blocks are filled with colors.
Indian folk painting has always been different from those of the West, therefore the Phad, unlike the modern European paintings, does not inculcate the perspective (use of depth of field dividing the painting into foreground, mid ground and background creating an impression a three dimensional image) but sticks to the indigenous style of two dimensional painting.
The depiction of events in the Phads is not only pleasing to the eyes, but also has a rhythm of movement and an impression of celebration, its tempo and force in its form as well in its content.The images are enriched and enhanced by hard dedicated work by the earnest labor of the artists.
A multi chromatic color palate is a significant characteristic of the Phad Paintings. The order in which the colors are added to the pictorial depictions of historic episodes are:
Strong renderings of the local heroes and folk ballads are the main features of the Phad Painting. The older day Phad Paintings include:
Goga Chauhan ki Phad – Also known as Jahar Veer Goga, a warrior hero who is also venerated as the ‘Snake God’.
Prithviraj Chauhan ki Phad – A legendary Chauhan king who was the last independent king to sit on the throne of Delhi.
Amar Singh Rathode ki Phad – A seventeenth century Rathode Rajput who fought against the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan.
Tejaji ki Phad – Considered as a folk deity, a saint, who is worshipped for his sacrifices for the community.
But these protagonists seldom find their place in the contemporary Phad Paintings. The new phad paintings which have gained enormous popularity are:
Pabuji ki Phad:
Pabuji was the Rathode chief of Rajasthan in the 14th century A.D., who is known to be an incarnation of Hindu God, and worshipped by the Rabari tribals of Rajasthan. Clad in the robes in vibrant colors of bold green and robust blues, Pabuji ki Phad is a 30 feet long scroll.
Legend behind this great Phad: Pabuji ki Phad is one of the most popular and sought after scroll in this form. Legend says that Pabuji was born out of the union of an Apsara (a celestial nymph) and a mortal. His compassion for the different communities of Rajashthan ( he fought for the community called Charan and led his army of Bhills into a number of battles) earned him the status of the God. In return of his favors and greatness, the Charan community gifted him magical black mare.
How this Phad is Used: The complete legend of the Pabuji Phad comprises 52 couplets, which are called Panwaras. These Panwaras are chanted and narrated by a special group of performers and folk singers called the Bhopas. In the land of Ramayana where the communities cherish narratives to be performed and sung, these Phads become an integral part of this traditional heritage where the great heroic tales are sung with the help of these paintings.
Devnarayan Ji ki Phad:
The legend of Devnarayan is considered as the incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. The Phad of Devnarayan is also called Devnarayan Ki Par, and it is largest Par or Phad in Rajasthan. It contains 335 songs and measures 170 square feet in size (34 inches x 5 inches). The narration is recorded in 1,200 pages, and has almost 15,000 lines. This Phad includes powerful images of Sati burning, wars, Hindu Gods like Rama and Krishna and Devnarayan’s serpent Basag Nag.
Legend behind this great Phad: As the legend goes, Lord Vishnu is incarnated in Vikram Samvat, in the year 968 A.D. He hails from the royal family led by Gurjar warrior Sawai Bhoj Bhagaravat.
How this Phad is Used: This phad is also used in praise of the hero Devnarayan similar to the Phad of Pabuji.
Beginning the Painting:
Offering to the Hindu goddess of Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge) marks the beginning of these paintings. Then a rough sketch on the Khadi cloth after the narrative structure and layout is conceived. The empty and negative spaces in the canvas are filled with flora and fauna and the figures are filled with yellow. This stage of the painting serves as a strong base and is known as the Kachha.
The youngest virgin lady of the artist family (called the Kumari) is called for the first stroke of brush. The girl has to belong to high caste Hindu family of the artist community. This event is followed by the community celebration of distributing and having sweets.