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Project ‘Virasat’: Reviving The Legacy Of Pichvai Paintings Of Nathdwara

Project Virasat, an endeavour of Enactus SRCC, a student-run organisation, aims to revive the legacy or the virasat of languishing art forms of India. Project Virasat, in a joint initiative with Dr Madhuvanti Ghose (Alsdorf Associate Curator, Art Institute of Chicago, USA), strives to help the Pichvai artists of Nathdwara; practising a divine 400-year old art form of painting Pichvais. 

Pichvai is not only art for these artists of Nathdwara; it is a belief system, celebration, and devotion to Shrinathji. Surviving throughout centuries, Pichvai is indeed an exemplification of India’s rich and varied heritage.

Team Enactus SRCC with the artists of Nathdwara
Team Enactus SRCC with the artists of Nathdwara

Nestled in the Aravalli hills, on the banks of the Banas river in the Rajsamand district of present-day Rajasthan lies the town of Nathdwara. Nathdwara is famed for its temple housing the deity of Shrinathji, depicting the Hindu God Krishna as a young boy. It is acclaimed for its temples and the small group of traditional artists who arrived there in the seventeenth century, along with Shrinathji (an aspect of Krishna), the principal image for the Pushtimarg sect. 

Nathdwara and its artists are extraordinary, even in India, which has seen the endurance of numerous imaginative customs from an earlier time. Rich artistic practices like using excellent fabric compositions known as Pichvais were created around the reverence of Shrinathji and other svarups (living pictures). 

Indeed, even today, the hereditary artists of Nathdwara driven by their head (the mukhiya) perform seva (devotional service) for Shrinathji by embellishing the walls of the entire temple complex with fresh wall paintings at the time of Diwali; and they still make the Pichvais for which the town was once so renowned.

The shrine of Shrinathji and the other svarups of the Pushtimarg sect are adorned with many exquisite objects and wall hangings. The Pichvai serves as the backdrop to the svarup and has evolved into a spectacular art form. Pichvai, literally meaning “displayed at the back”, is a painted or decorated cloth that is suspended behind the Krishna svarup in a Pushtimarg haveli. They can be painted, printed, woven or embroidered as well.

The distinctive style of the Pichvai Paintings
The distinctive style of the Pichvai Paintings

Pichvai is one of the most spectacular and ancient art forms which has survived for over 400 years. However, the visual and performing arts which are still a part of daily life in Nathdwara are under incredible strain today. The artistic traditions are on the verge of being lost. 

The life of this 400-year old art form is under threat as the authentic designs are copied and sold in the market at cheap prices, which have made it difficult for these artists to capture the market. There is no sign of authenticity that differentiates these traditional paintings. Preservation of their heritage continues to be a big challenge.

Project Virasat aims to help these artists by enabling them to keep up with modern times, establish market linkages, and build a brand by establishing an online platform — The Artists of Nathdwara website — thus, addressing the problem at the grassroot level. With this, Nathdwara’s artists will be able to draw upon the creativity and inventiveness that has helped them stay relevant for centuries. 

With an aim to expand the customer base for Pichvai beyond the city of Nathdwara and expand its sanctity to every corner of the world, Project Virasat launched the website with the support of Dr Madhuvanti Ghose. With the launch of this website, we seek to expand the market for Pichvai paintings. 

Additionally, it will help the artists in managing logistics, accounting, delivery and payment mechanisms. We proudly say that Project Virasat’s intervention will directly impact the lives of 30 artists and their families, which in turn will impact the entire community of Nathdwara. This website is for the artists, by the artists and of the artists, and is empowerment in the truest sense.

The website launch on 18 February, 2021 was a landmark event that will go a long way in reviving the legacy of Pichvai. We at Enactus SRCC aim to make project Virasat a launchpad of craft revival and our efforts towards the same will never halt. 

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