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History Of Phad-Art Is So Famous, But Why?

Updated: Mar 28, 2022

Phad-Art is one of the world's few remaining scroll painting art forms. This folk craft was started by a family (the Joshi Family of Shahpura, Bhilwara, Rajasthan) during the reign of Mughal emperor Shahjahan, and the art is now in the hands of their descendants. The scroll paintings are done on a long length of cloth called Phad (a specially prepared canvas), hence the name.

Phad-Artdiffers from other traditional art forms in that it depicts exceptional topics and stories in their entirety, flowing with a graceful rhythm and conveyed through melodious songs sung by the bhopas in front of the viewer. These painted ballads were accompanied by melodies performed by Rajasthani priest singers known as bhopas, and constitute a visual narrative of regious epic, folklore, legends of local heroes, and historical stories. These Bhopas move from town to town, narrating the stories in community gatherings with the use of this scroll and songs and music.

In the History Of Phad-Art when the Bhopas from Marwar (Jodhpur-Nagaur area) travel from village to village with their audio-visual paraphernalia, which includes painted Phadscrolls and their musical instruments, the Ravanahatha(Believed to be a precursor to the violin) and lyrical narration accompanied by dancing, it is a joyful occasion. These performances begin shortly after dusk and last all night. The scroll is gradually unfolded, and the prabcham(narration) acquires velocity as each event comes to life, and the mute audience, enthralled, savors the dramatic aspects of the legend. Except during the rainy season, when the deities are meant to be in slumber, the Bhopas perform all year.

Apart from being a fun and engaging activity for the villagers, these performances were also crucial to preserving history and folktales, as well as passing along traditions from generation to generation.

Origin, Themes & Traditions

Vijay Joshi teacing his kids Phad
Vijay Joshi teaching his kids Phad

The Shahpura School of Phad-Painting was initiated by the Joshi Family of Shahpura, even before Shahpura emerged as a princely state of Rajasthan. Descendants of the Joshi family are still the custodians of this 700-year-old art inheritance.

Phad Hanuman Chalisa
Phad Hanuman Chalisa

Traditionally, Shahpura Phad Paintings are divided into two categories based on their themes: devotional and historical. One is based primarily on religious tales and anecdotes from the lives of Hindu Gods and Goddesses such as Pabuji, Devnarayan, Ramdala (related to Lord Ram), Krishnadala (related to Krishna), Ramdevji, and Mataji ka chandwa (a depiction of Mother Goddess displayed at temples), as well as Hindu epics such as Ramayana, Hanuman Chalisa, Mahabharata, Bhagvat Gita etc.

Battle of Haldi Ghati
Battle of Haldi Ghati

The historical section depicts significant historical events in Rajasthan, such as Maharana Pratap's life & the Haldighati Battle, Prithviraj Chauhan's valour, Ghori vadh by the blinded Prithivaraj, Mahmud Ghaznavi's invasion of the Somnath Temple, and Rani Padmini's Jauhar (Jauhar is the Rajput tradition of a wife self-immolating to avoid being captured by the enemy), Sanyongita-Prithviraj Chauhan elopement, and the Gangor Sawari of Shahpura, etc.

The Bhopas engage traditional PhadArtists to create these classic Phad scrolls. The Bhopas rely on the artist to portray their views, whereas thePhad artist paints to meet the needs of folk storytelling. The Bhopas' phads are always signed, with the signature located near the largest central figure. Depending on the subject and purpose of the demand, these scrolls are 5x16 feet or 5x30 feet in size.

From the origin of the Phad Art, the work on the phad scroll for Bhopas, to inducting it to work, to disposing of it once it has lived its life(which is normally not less than 100 years), certain rituals are performed. On the auspicious day of Sarasvati Pooja, the painting begins with much flourish. The process begins with a coconut offering to Saraswati (Goddess of Learning), and the first stoke of colour is always applied by a young girl from the artist's family. Before being inducted by a Bhopa for display and presentations, these scrolls are prayed to on an auspicious day. On decommissioning of the scroll, Bhopas dip the Phad in Pushkar Lake with certain traditions after it has lived its life.

Techniques, Canvas & Colors

A traditional Shahpuraphad painting is normally painted on a big scroll of handmade khadi canvas, up to 5x16 feet or 5x30 feet in size, depending on the subject matter to be depicted. Artwork can take anything from a few weeks to a few months to produce, depending on the subject, story, and canvas size.

Phad Canvas Making Process

The entire process of making a Phad painting is completely natural, with the use of natural handmade canvas and stone-based natural colors.

The canvas preparation is an event by itself just like color preparation. This canvas is prepared with a hand-woven coarse khadi cotton cloth, which is soaked overnight to thicken the threads. It is then stiffened with starch from rice or wheat flour, stretched, and dried in the sun. This dried cloth is then rubbed with a moonstone to smoothen the surface and give it a sheen.

Phad Color Making

Specific Colors are obtained from the stones which are collected from nearby mountains & river-banks. The colour-making process is a tedious one and sometimes, it takes up to 2 months to prepare the colors from these stones. These stones are powdered and grinded with water in a mortar-pestle to make a smooth paste. These are mixed with natural gum and processed again to get the desired consistency and stickiness The non-stone-basedcolour is black which is obtained from lamp blacks. which is obtained from lamp-blacks.

Phad artists need to be highly skilled, abiding by the techniques taught by their ancestors. The colourscheme(which predominantly consists of red, yellow, and green), is decided based on the personality, appearance, and work role of the depicted character of the story, These rules & traditions are followed to date in the traditional themes. 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 the dress. The syahiis a delicate black outline that brings linear expressions to life. In addition, certain characters are always portrayed in a single colour. Similarly, the relative size of each character is predetermined.For example in Pabuji ki Phad, Pabuji will always be the biggest size and will have the red colour dress, and his horse will always be black.

These Phad Artforms have a long life span and can last for over 100 years because of these natural but time-consuming and tedious processes.

Phad in Modern Times

With the advent of cinema, television, and other digital platforms, the bhopa ballads have faded into obscurity and are now solely used for symbolic purposes. Thus, the most notable change for the artists in recent times is that they are no longer appointed by the Bhopas and Bhopis to create the Phads Artwork. Phad was given a fresh lease of life in the early 1960s, and it adopted new tales, sizes, and topics to appeal to a wider audience. This has given this art and its creator a fresh lease on life.Although artists still use handmade canvas and natural colours, they also use cotton/khadi silks and canvas nowadays. Synthetic colours have also made an appearance in this work of art.

These types of artwork are now created by presenting new subjects while also ensuring that the traditional approaches are not blocked. They've started painting smaller versions of these phads paintings that can be utilized as wall art. The Phad, which used to be over 30 feet long, has now shrunk to just 1-2 feet in length. isans are open to playing with different themes. Phad artists have also begun to dabble with newer topics. Phad Artist Vijay Joshi, a National Merit Awardee, has painted phads on the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Amitabh Bachchan. Artisans also make awareness posters on current social awareness-building subjects such as mask-wearing, vaccination drives, and other socially relevant topics.

There is a necessity in today's world to promote such great artistic traditions from the past. Apart from its aesthetic appeal, art forms like Phad retain history, folklore, and stories that have been passed down through the generations and reflect on India's rich culture, history, and traditions.

Kandarp Hadti in Phad Art
Kandarp Hadti in Phad Art

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