From The Background To The Foreground : The Divine Beauty Of Pichhwai

Article of the Month - Jan 2023

This article by Prakriti Anand

(Viewed 412 times since Jan 2023)

Attired like a young prince, dark-skinned, with one hand raised above his head and the other tucked on his waist elegantly, reminiscent of the lifting of the mount Govardhana- this divine roopa of Sri Krishna has been popularized the world over as “Srinathji”, the living Lord or Thakurji of Nathdwara (Rajasthan) and the tutelary deity of Pushtimarg or Vallabha Sampradaya. Expression of devotion to Srinathji was given a concrete form of “Seva” by Vitthalnathji, the son of Sri Vallabhacharya, who is also credited with propounding the philosophy of “Shuddha Advaita” or pure non-dualism.

“Seva Vidhi” or the methods of service to Srinathji include- a) Raag or music developed by the devotional poets singing the praise of Krishna, b) Bhoga or food offerings to nourish the deity, and c) Sringaar or ornamentation of Srinathji and his haveli (temple). It is for the Sringaar of Srinathji that the Pushtimargis developed the art of Pichhwai (पिछे back, वई- hanging) - wall hangings that adorned the background of Srinathji sanctum sanctorum, giving the devotees the experience of witnessing the divine Lilas and roopa (forms) of Sri Krishna.

                                                                                   Shri Krishna Lifting The Govardhana Mountain

Path of Lord’s Benevolence- Pushtimarg

Originating from the non-dualistic philosophy of Hinduism, Pushtimarg essentially believes in the ultimate union between the deity and the devotee, which occurs through the kindness or Pushti of Krishna. “Sri Krishna Sharanam Mama” (श्रीकृष्ण शरणं ममः) - “I take refuge in Sri Krishna”; the mantra used to initiate members to Pushtimarg underlines the emphasis on Krishna’s omnipresence acknowledged by the ideals of Bhakti. Lilas or divine plays of Sri Krishna are celebrated throughout the year by his followers as 24 Varshikotsava (annual festivals) and 8 Nityotsava (daily festivals), where Srinathji is bedecked to make attendance in front of his devotees who gather eagerly in the haveli of their Lord to catch a glimpse of his transcendental beauty. To supplement and ornament each Darshana, the celebratory appearance of Varshikotsava and Nityotsava is accompanied by an artistic wall hanging or Pichhwai.

As flocks of devotees began traveling from faraway regions, the art of Pichhwai which was earlier focused on adorning the walls of Nathdwara extended to cater to the needs of itinerant devotees, who wished to carry the divine swaroopa of Srinathji for their household shrines. Heavenly paintings depicting Lilas, forms, and the life of Sri Krishna, deities from the Vallabha Sampradaya, and Gurus (teachers) of Pushtimarg were created in different sizes, with a variety of materials, all of which today form the corpus of visual treasure we call Pichhwais.

Making A Pichhwai

The aesthetics of Pichhwai paintings are unique and it takes focused and trained hands and minds to bring Sri Krishna on these awe-inspiring tapestries. The practice of Pichhwai making, much like any other school of Indian painting is based on Guru-shishya (teacher-student) Parampara (tradition), where the skills, methods, and themes are taught to a small group of students who live and learn with a master, often in his workshop which is an extension of his home. The transmission of knowledge here is completely through the oral medium, thus it is the honor of a seasoned artist to take students under his wing and train them thoroughly before they begin producing Pichhwai artworks independently. 

A Pichhwai artwork can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to be completed. The artisans employ different techniques and materials to come up with a variety of Pichhwais, each one more stunning than the other. The basic and most popular Pichhwai painting is the painted one, where the artist takes a theme, draws it on a scroll of cloth, and fills it intricately with natural colors. Pichhwais are also embroidered, using vibrant threads, Zari and zardosi, and stonework for decorations of Srinathji and his surroundings. Artistically elaborate applique work is preferred by artists when they want to add splendid details to the Pichhwai. Substantially sized and rich in detail Pichhwais are also decorated with gold leaves, especially on the garments and jewelry of Srinathji, giving him a kingly appearance. The cloth picked for making a Pichhwai is chosen according to the season- heavy, dark color clothes with woven patterns and brocade work are preferred during the winter season to give the haveli of Srinathji a warm appearance and decoration. Similarly, light clothes such as cotton and vibrant colors are employed in the summer. 

Varities Of Pichhwais Paintings

Based On Regional Styles

The popularity of Pichhwai soon transcended the borders of Nathadwara and reached different regions, where the art form was nourished with the styles and aesthetics of local artists. Noteworthy innovations in the traditional Nathadwara school of Pichhwai painting are-

  1. Deccan Pichhwais, where gold leaves are used in abundance, gives them a distinctive effect.
  1. Kota-Bundi style of Pichhwai paintings is rich in the fluidity of expressions and colors used on the scroll.
  1. Kishangarh Pichhwais, which are lesser in number and show a clear influence of medieval miniature paintings.

Based On Themes

One can alternatively categorize Pichhwai paintings based on the themes and subjects displayed by them. Broadly, we can group these artworks into- a) paintings of Srinathji and Krishna Lilas and b) Pichhwais devoted to the members of Pushtimarg including Sri Yamunaji, and saints of Vallabha sampradaya. The divine plays of Sri Krishna have captured the devoted consciousness of Indian artists from ancient times. In Pichhwais, we see the continuation of the Hindu tradition of celebrating the mysticism and meaning of Krishna’s innocent and mischievous acts, performed by the dark-skinned Lord in Mathura and Vrindavana.



                                                                                         "Annakuta" Festival : Various Forms Of Shrinathji Worshipped | Pichwai Art

Annakuta (mountain of Anna or foodgrain) is a prevalent festival celebrated by Pushtimargis and Krishna devotees across the world. This commemorates a young Krishna’s victory over the pride of Indra, whose wrath, pouring as the rain was defeated when Krishna lifted the mount Govardhana on his little finger. Pichhwai paintings of the Annakuta festival show Srinathji in this characteristic posture of lifting the mountain, surrounded by offerings of Bhoga( food offerings), and being serviced by priests.

Rasa Lila


                                                                                   Shri Krishna Raasleela With Shrinathji In Frame | Pichhwai Art

Maharasa or Rasa Lila is an episode from Krishna’s time as the beloved of gopis (milkmaids of Brija), where he is described as dancing in a Mandala (circle) with all of them in a dynamic festival of devoted affection. Rasa Lila Pichhwai paintings visualize Krishna and Gopis in the grooves, encircled by dancing peacocks, with some gopis dancing in the circle, others playing musical instruments, each one of them savoring the emotion of being close to her Lord.


                                                                       "Gopashtami" or Festival of Cows Pichwai

Krishna’s love toward his cows is deified through Gopashtami Pichhwais, which present the festival of Gopashtami being celebrated, with herds of cows painted beautifully and adorned with ornaments, and Srinathji as Gopala (protector of cows) standing in the center of the scene.



                                                                             "Dana Lila" God Shrinathji Being Offered Tax (Dana)By Gopis | Pichwai Art

Daan-Lila festival of Srinathji commemorates Krishna’s mischievous deeds, especially how he demanded Daan or donation as a tax from the gopis, in return for a safe passage to their home. Gopis who were charmed by the dark-skinned Lord, hid their joy behind the veil of complaints, ultimately obliging to this loving demand. The episode is infused with delicate emotions of Prema (love) and Bhakti (devotion) and is recreated by the makers of Pichhwais, showing Gopis gathered with their pots of Makhan as toll, and Krishna as Srinathji.

Sandhya Aarti


                                                                       Sandhya Aarti: Krishna with Balaram and Cows welcomed by Maa Yashoda | Pichwai Art

The welcoming of Sri Krishna, Balram, and other gopa (cowherds) in the evening after they had collected their cows is illustrated on Sandhya Aarti Pichhwai paintings, which often show Krishna and his friends standing at the gates, with Maa Yashoda and other female residents performing aarti joyously.

Krishna Nestled In Kadamba


                                                                          Vrikshachari Pichwai : Gopis waiting for Krishna in Grooves

Pichhwai paintings where Krishna is absent from the canvas, and symbolically present as the Kadamba vriksha (tree) are known as Vrikshachari Pichhwais. The paintings depict Gopis standing together in the grooves, in the anticipation of the arrival of their beloved Krishna. 

Morakuti Pichwai

Morakuti Pichhwai paintings recreate the magnificence of dancing peacocks in the village of Sri Radha, which was also called Morakuti. Under dark clouds, peacocks, symbols of love, stand with their feathers forming eye-catching semi-circles behind them, reminding the devotees of the nourishing feeling of love between Srinathji and Radha ji. 

Pichhwai Paintings In Modern Interiors

The allure of traditional Indian artworks and how they majestically stand out in modern spaces can never be overemphasized. These pieces of art are your way to remain in touch with the deep roots of Indian religiosity and aesthetics while patronizing the artists who make these masterworks and being a part of preserving a living tradition. Indian paintings, including Pichhwais, are divine images as well as heritage gems, and worshipping one in your home Puja ghar or displaying a Pichhwai masterpiece on your walls will instill in your home the heavenly vibrations of Srinathji. Explore Exotic India Art’s selection of heavenly Srinathji Pichhwais and Sri Krishna Lila Pichhwai paintings, and welcome the Lord of Nathadwara into your home.



1. The Arts of India (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

2. Textiles: Binding Threads Between Cultures (National Museum Collections)

3. Google Arts and Culture

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