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All You Need to know About Rajasthani Phad Painting

by Neha Agarwal on January 07, 2021

India reflects a rich or vibrant heritage of culture and We have managed to still keep it alive, the ancient influences or stories can still be witnessed in modern times. Painting has been an important part of our culture and an important source to learn about the culture or traditions. One such traditional painting is Phad painting.

What is Phad painting? 

Phad refers to religious scroll or folk painting which is practised in the state of Rajasthan in India. The long piece of cloth or canvas on which it is done is known as Phad. The narratives of folk deities of Rajasthan such as Devnarayan ( reincarnation of Lord Vishnu) or Pabuji ( a local hero) is conveyed in these Phads. These traditional paintings were carried by Bhopas or the priest singers who used to perform or sing the stories of their local deities.


Origin or History of Phad paintings of Rajasthan

Around seven hundred old legacies passed on from generations within a single family which was the Joshi family belonging to Chipa caste in Shahpura near Bhilwara, Rajasthan, adding uniqueness to the history of these folk art paintings. The priests used to give a commission to Joshi family for using their paintings in their performance (the tradition of storytelling by Bhopas is still alive in some villages). The traditional Phad paintings used to 30 feet long.


Characteristics of Phad painting

  • Extreme skills are required to create Phad, as it can take a few weeks to a few months to complete an art
  • For thickening the threads a coarse cotton cloth is used and it is soaked overnights, that handwoven Phad paintings can be created 
  • To give a sheen to the surface, it is stiffened with starch taken from rice or wheat flour, dried under the sun and rubbed with moonstone 
  • Natural fibres of natural paint from stones, plants or flowers are used to make Phad paintings reflecting a totally natural process
  • Typical colours which are seen in Phad paintings of Rajasthan are orange, green, blue, yellow, brown, red and black which are used for specific purposes for eg- yellow was used for the initial outline of for the ornaments and clothing, brown was used for architectural structures etc 
  • Another unique aspect of Phad paintings is that it does not face the audience rather it faces each other.

Traditions followed in the past

Entire process when it comes to these folk art paintings is steeped in rituals of traditions. The first brush stroke was made by a virgin girl of the artist family and the parts of the story were depicted by dividing the canvas into sections while the technique was taught only to the artist who remained in the Joshi family due to which the only daughter-in-law was taught this art and not daughters.


Revival and change in modern time

As this tradition was heavily guarded, the threat of it fading away was natural due to which Shree Lal Ji Joshi who is a renowned Phad painter and Padma Shree awardee, broke the tradition of the art being taught only in the family by setting up Joshi Kala Kunj in Bhilwara itself where artist outside the Joshi family was taught the art of Phad. The school was rebranded to Chitrashala from which over the time 3000 students have been trained. Since the Phad paintings mostly depicted narratives of folk deities like Devnarayanji and Pabuji, it started including stories and characters from Mahabharata, Ramayana, Hanuman Chalisa, Panchatantra and various mythological tales so that it appeals to a larger audience.

The size of the paintings was reduced to 2-4 feet keeping up with the demand and limitation of the modern home. Written text in the artwork was also introduced which was not seen in the traditional Phad painting.

But even after all the efforts, there are only a few artists practising this art form full time as it is not a lucrative profession

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