Pichoi / pichavi is a backdrop hung behind the Lord in the inner-shrine.
This comes from a Mongol / Persian tradition of having their best carpets displayed by being hung as backdrops to impress visitors. Turk, Afghani and Persian invaders brought this tradition to north India. During the Mughal rule, carpets were replaced by rich wall hangings, either embroided or painted, to represent landscapes, floral arrangements, or abstract designs. This fashion soon caught on as it was an easy and an effective way of changing the appearance of a room with minimal effort.
Due to its royal connections, the Gurukul at Gokul was also effected by the new fashion of using pichoies during darshans. Initially, there were a limited number of painted pichoies, depicting the generic auspicious themes such as cows or vrajvasies adoring their beloved Krishna. Plain or simple patterned cloth was often hung as a backdrop to complement a given shringar.
When the ShriNathji and other nidhi svaroops settled down in Nathadwara, a second flowering of artistic ideas and talents lead to new innovations in the Lords seva. Devotes gravitated towards the new temple town and many settle down in Nathdwara (Gateway to God) to stay near ShriNathji. Amongst these new settlers were some talented artists from far flung corners of India. They added a touch of artistic flare to the architecture of the sect by painting entrances, gates, doorways and even windows with beautiful paintings. Elephants, horses, guards and ladies bearing auspicious objects abounded and soon the haveliss were as colourful on the outside as they were on the inside.
Painters fulfilled the need of the pilgrims to remember their visit by taking back paintings of darshan they had at Nathdwara. For pilgrims, ShriNathji, Navneetpriyaji, Vitthalnathji and Dwarkadhishji became popular paintings to take back to their homes. Using fine brushes and organic paints, they brought miniature painting to a spiritual plane. Many such paintings became an integral part of the vaishnav’s seva as ‘Chitraji’.
With stability, leaders of the sect added new saj and shringar to the repertoire of seva. The use of pichoies increased and greater imagination was used to create dramatic effect by sometimes using complementary or contrasting colours. More painted and embroided pichoies came to be used, often commissioned by leaders of the sect or rich devotees who wanted to commemorate specific occasions. Painted pichois multiplied and new ones were commissioned to recreate the lush scenes of Vraj in the dry climate of Rajasthan. Painters, seeped in the lore of vaishnavism, brought to life several incidences from the SM Bhagvatam and poetry of the Astachap saints. Popular themes of go-charn (herding cattle), rasa lila (dancing with the gopies), dana lila (asking gopies for curds and butter), nikunj lila (having fun in the groves of Vraj), vivah khel (marriage ceremony) etc became popular themes to paint.
By their very nature, painted pichois that were hung in the haveli, are large and often needed a group effort to complete. Temple pichois are painted for an audience that is placed at least 15 20 feet away. Details are lost at these distances. To be visually attractive, they have to colourful and bright. Gold and silver paint was used to pick out details and make them sparkle in the inner sanctum lit only by oil lamps.
Initially the style of painting reflected where the painters came from – Kota, Bundi, Kishanghar, Jaipur etc. For a number of years, the Kota and Bundi style was prevalent and several large commissions are still extent in that style at Kakroli and Dakor. Over the years, the style evolved and there are some fine pichois in what I like to call the ‘company style’, with buildings and gardens that are distinctively Indo-European. European ideas of ‘perspective’ and ‘foreshortening’ are used to depict buildings in a simplistic form, retaining some of their ‘Indian-ness’ to them.
After the 1st war of Indian Independence, artistic styles changed and a more ‘realistic’ style was preferred by the Maharajas and the public. ShriNathji’s feet were now painted facing forward and not sideways as before. During the later half of the nineteenth century, new artistic styles and ideas gave a new direction to the use of pichoies and new themes were added to the traditional ones including the use of architectural features in pichoies to create substructures within the inner sanctum of the haveli. Eg- There is a wonderful late nineteenth century / early twentieth century pichoi used in the haveli of Shri Navnitlalji, depicting a regal pavilion with a rose garden. Flowering plants in terracotta pots line a central avenue in the pichoi. Extensive use of terracotta pots shows the influence of English or (East India) Company style of gardening. It also shows how a traditional rajput building now surrounded by a modern English garden !
In the 18th Century, ShriNathji was painted blue, in 19th a dark black and in early 20th century he was often painted dark grey. Painters from 1860s painted in the new indo-European style, using European chemical colours. 20th Century saw a new phase in the development of art and particularly paintings that came from Nathdwara. Pichois by Sukhdev and Ghashiram are some of the best examples of the new ‘naturalistic’ style. Animals, plants and even human figures were painted with an amazing degree of realism. Paintings, big and small, now included faces of Goswamis and patrons with photographic accuracy. As printing and calendar art became more affordable, the painters transferred some of these original paintings to the new medium.
Evolution of style and fashion were apparent in the new pichoies of the time. For example, a pichoi from ShriNathjis inner sanctum shows a very realistic cow chewing cud on the banks of a very naturalistic bank of Shri Yamuna. These are a million miles from the earlier stylised depiction of human, animal and landscapes from the styles of Kota, or Kishanghar.Having electric light also made a difference and more subtle colours schemes could now be used and still make the pichoi ‘visible’ to the vaishnavs standing over 20 feet away.
In the last century, a new large format of painted pichois, several feet wide, became popular with vaishnavs. They wanted to take back a vision of the darshan during a popular festival and in the border of the painting, have miniature version of ShriNathji’s shringar during popular festivals through the year. Typically, the central painting was of Raas, Annakut, Janmastami or Hindola festival. These paintings often depict the Vallabhkul – Shri Vallabh, Gusaiji and their seven sons in attendance of Thakorji. Painted on cloth, they are easy to transport and make a nice visual impact when displayed. By their very nature, these would be scrutinised by vaishnavs at close quarters and hence had to be very detailed. These large pichois are a miniature painting on a mega scale.
Painters of Nathdwara train under their elders. Working for main years under different experts of different aspects of paintings – eg Shri Nathji’s face, jewellery, architecture, human and animal shapes etc. As vaishnavs, the painters regularly visit the haveli and have an eye for detail as they observe various items of saj, shringar and Thakorji in the inner sanctum. When vaishnavs ask for a Chitraji of a specific festival, they can refer to temple records on what saj and shringar were offered on that particular day, thus providing a an accurate detail of exactly what the darshan would have been. They also have access to the pichois stored in the havelis and can render them faithfully in paintings sold to vaishnavs.
Chitrajis vaishnavs usually buy are of postcard size as they are easy to transport and easy to worship. Chitrajis of this small size are miniature paintings showing only ShriNathji and not the rest of the inner sanctum. Now a days, most people also want to buy bigger paintings that is at least 1” x 1”, made on layers of hardboard and cut out to represent a 3D version of ShriNathji. They want this to be painted with gold and punctuated with diamante – more the better. This does not reflect on the original darshan in the haveli, but this is what ‘sells’ at the moment.
Within the haveli of all Nidhi svaroops, the romantic, exotic and regal air of various painting styles used in their pichois mix effortlessly and highlight the continuity of the sect over the last 500 years. Each pichoi contributing to our understanding and appreciation of the evolution of the sect, and its philosophical ideas.
Currently, pichoies are used in all the havelies of Pushti Marg. Usually, they are simple plain cloth or patterned cloth that matches the mood or bhava of the darshan. Painted pichoies are used on special occasions or during festivals. Antique pichoies are hard to come by, as they are not well preserved. Soft-furnishings were never meant to stay forever, especially in Indias hot and humid climate. Typically, being constantly brushed against other furniture in the room (throne, tables, steps etc), being exposed to flower (pollen), perfumes etc and being folded and stored away for long time wears out a pichoi. Constant renewal was the theme and so apart from painted pichois, patterned cloth was regularly changed.
In the modern world, antiques are highly valued for two main reason.
1) Because artistic styles change as frequently as seasons, and so, we appreciate things that were done differently by our predecesors.
2) because the westerners value anything older than 50 years and are willing to pay a lot of money for it ! As a result, a number of fine old pichois have left the havelis of Pushti Marg and ended up in the havelis of the (foreign) rich !
One of the best books on this subject is the book by Amit Ambalal - Krishna As ShriNathji.
This book is so wonderfully inspirational, after reading it, I spent over a month at Nathdwara, trying to understand and learn more about our great religion.
Click here for a link to some of the pictures from Amit Ambalal's book.
example of an embroidered pichoi during Annakut in a new haveli at Alkapuri, Baroda, Guajarat
Summer pichoi of net / woven
Painted pichoi used during Raasa / Purnima in Bundi style.
Simple red pichoi. Most days the pichoi is usually plain and painted ones are used during festivals.
(Please visit our shop for pichois to buy)(Please visit the galleries of the Lord)
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