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Phad Painting: The Folk Craft of Rajasthan

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

India’s diverse folk art forms have narrated deep-rooted stories and cultures from many centuries. Whether it is the folklore dance forms or art forms that take the form of some painting, Indian Art has had a rich history. The modern art lovers today are taking to exploring the old art forms and bringing them back to life. One such art form that’s making its way into modern art galleries is the traditional art of Rajasthan: Phad Paintings! These paintings are not only conquering the hearts of art connoisseurs in the country but also slowing making a way in the global markets that have scope for traditional handicrafts of India. Here’s all you need to know about the Phad Paintings.

Phad Paintings in the Roots

Like any artform, Phad Paintings too are deeply rooted in Indian Art and Culture, dating back to many centuries. Finding its origins in Shahpura, Bhilwara in the state of Rajasthan, the Phad Paintings date back to a 700-year-old legacy! Phad in the local dialect of Rajasthan means “fold” gaining its name due to its nature of being folded or “scrolled up” as a message. These are scroll paintings, where the painting had a unique narration of the stories of local deities. These scrolls were treated as “mobile temples” or “traveling temples” where they were carried by the priest singers across towns, narrating the story of the tribe.

These priest singers were called Bhopas and Bhopis, and they performed stories of the local deity “Devnarayan Ji”, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and “Pabuji”, a local hero of the Rajasthani Tribe Rabari. These scroll paintings would be unrolled in the evenings by the priest singers and they performed their narrative plays into the night. That’s how the singing culture of Rajasthan flourished over time and it was a common practice for the Bhopas (male priest singers) to narrate the story while their wives (Bhopis) would accompany them, and bring the story to life by dancing and putting up a performance together, attracting all the villagers to the play.

Phad Paintings can take two to three weeks of time for completion depending on the complexity of each piece of painting. They are generally created on the handwoven coarse cotton cloth which is soaked overnight for the cloth to thicken up. They then smear it with rice starch or wheat flour liquid to thicken it furthermore to create a perfect canvas-like overlay. It is then smoothened by moonstone to rub off any extra starch before the Phad Artist starts illustrating his art on the canvas. The colors are organic and are naturally extracted from local flora like leaves, roots, flowers, herbs, and creepers. They mix these natural extracts with gum and water before they start applying it to the cotton fabric.

The present day Phad Paintings

Like many old art forms of India, the Phad Paintings were on the verge of being faded away in the sands of time too. However, the traditional Joshi family descendants took an active step to stop this artform from being extinct by opening art classes for interested artists and passing down the knowledge of creating beautiful Phad Paintings, which have now made their way to the traditional handicrafts of India sector.

They’ve also made a few modern changes to the painting, from the inclusion of chemically developed colors to drawing more widely known deities like different avatars of Vishnu, including Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, and their tales. A modern-day Phad Artist is skilled to narrate various interesting and captivating stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which have commendable artistic value!

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