When balladas are
captured on canvas in vivid hues and immortalized for posterity, the
effect is stunning and it is termed as the phad painting. These
paintings depict the various folklores on a scroll of canvas, scene
by scene, with utmost clarity. The nuances of each scene are
explained by professional narrators, known as Bhopas. The study of
had seeks to explore narration in its totality, that is, the oral
art, with visual components, like painting. There has been a long
standing tradition of professional narrators and singers of folklore
in Rajasthan and the use of paintings and other artifacts as aids for
their narratives is legendary. The art of painting the phads is
approximately 700 years old and it originated in Shahpura, a princely
state, 35 kilometeres from the district of Bhilwara in Rajasthan.
The continuous royal patronage gave a decisive impetus of the art,
which has survived and flourished for generations.
It is moment of joyous
recreation when the Bhopas who hail from Marwar (Jodhpur-Nagaur
area), arrive in the village, along with the audio-visual
paraphernalia, which includes the painted scroll and their stringed
musical instruments, called the ravanahatha. Believed to be a
precursor to the violin, it is simply made with a bamboo props and
the lyrical narration, accompanied by dancing, continues throughout
the night. Each event comes alive, as the prabcham (narration) gains
momentum and the mute audience, transfixed, savours the dramatic
details of the legend. The Bhopas perform all the year round, except
in rainy season when the deities are supposed to be in slumber.
A close interaction
between the painter and the singer is but obvious. The Bhopas depend
on the painter to give expression to ideas and demonstration of his
skill whereas, the painter paints to fulfill the requirements of folk
The phads that display
the heroic exploits of goods and many Rajput warriors are generally
of five kinds namely Pabuji, Devnarayan, Krishna, Ramdal (Ramayana)
and Ramdevji. Of these, the most legendary and popular is that of
Pabuji, who is considered a demi god in Marwar, even today.
Pabuji, is revered as a
great hero and adulatory verses are sung in his praise by the Bhopas.
The phad that shows as entire sequence of events from his birth to
death, has crowded scenes and innumerable figures full of movement,
but, that of Pabuji, astride the Kesar kalimi, a beautiful black
mare, is most prominent.
The Devnarayan phad,
which is also equally popular, has a religious appeal.
Another type of phad,
that has now been abandoned was that of the Goddess Kali. Painted
for a particular caste of the untouchable Bhopa, it was distinctively
different from the rest, as it was done in the batik style, using
A traditional phad is
approximately thirty feet long and five feet wide and the material
used is local khadi or canvas. Primarily only vegetable colours were
used, which remained fast and fresh for a long duration. Scarcity of
these colours, however, would have ultimately led to a virtual
stagnation of the craft, so the artists were compelled to make
innovations. Thus the usage of water-proof earthen colours evolved.
These colours are made by pounding the natural earthen colours with
gum, water and indigo.
The painting commences
with great flourish on the appointed auspicious day, when the Bhopas
arrive. The ritual offering of a coconut is made to the Goddess
Saraswati (Goddess of Learning). A free hand sketch is then made on
the canvas, where various postures of human and animal figures are
perfected. Floral trees adorn the piece filling up the empty spaces.
The figures are the painted in a light yellow colour initially,
known as kacha.
The first stroke of
colour is always made by a virgin girl from the artists family
or from another family of high caste. The artist uses only one
colour at a time, filling it in wherever required. The colour orange
is used for limbs and torso, yellow for ornaments, clothing and
designs, gray for structure, blue for water and curtains, green for
trees and vegetation and red, prominently for dress. The subtle
black outline that brings the linear expressions alive, is the syahi.
The phads that are made
for the Bhopas, are always signed the signature being near the
largest central figure. The price of the phad however, is determined
prior to beginning the paintings.
After continuous usage
for many years the phad was immersed in Pushkar Lake. But now with
the gaining popularity in India and abroad, this practice had been
virtually abandoned. The inflow of tourists from outside the country
have provided a new lease of life to folk paintings and to their
creators, who even paint tukras (small pieces of canvas), on popular
demand, where sometimes only one figure is highlighted. No longer
are the themes restricted to the afore mentioned, Udaipur and
Bhilwara, are found phads that depict scenes even from the
Mahabharata, with many variations.
As a layman buyer is unable
to tell the difference between the vegetable and earthen colours,
very often new pieces are sold as old and large sums procured (an old
piece sells for as much as Rs.10,000/-). Because commercialization
has spiraled the cost to a great extent they are bought not only for
ornamentation but also as an investment.
Phads were discovered by
scholars of Rajasthan in the early 60s and even after a period of 30
years this exotic folk art seems to hold a perennial appeal and
continues to remain predominantly popular.