A colourful and divine vision of Krishna

A colourful and divine vision of Krishna

Nathdwara school of painting

A colourful and divine vision of Krishna

One of them is the little-known but deeply venerated Banas River which flows just a little northward from Udaipur, the fabulous city of palaces and lakes. The banks of the Banas have been sanctified for centuries because one of India’s most loved temples — that of Shrinathji in Nathdwara — stands on its banks. Every month, especially on the full moon day, lakhs of devotees of this deity — the boy Krishna presented in the Pushtimarg (path of grace) proscribed by the seer Vallabhacharya — visit this temple to have a brief but soul-elevating darshan of the deity. Millions all over India who follow the Vaishnava path to divinity worship Krishna in this ‘child’ form.

Shrinathji specifically refers to the story in the Bhagavat Purana wherein Krishna lifts the Govardhan Hill to protect the people of Vrindavan from a stormy downpour of rain. The black-stone idol of Shrinathji therefore is shown with his right hand resting at his waist and his left hand raised above as if to hold up the mountain to protect his devotees. This bejeweled form of Krishna has not only mesmerised devotees, but also inspired artists who paint his form on artworks known as Pichchwais as well as jewelled paintings. Over the last hundred years, Nathdwara has become a bustling town where Pichchwais or large cloth paintings with exquisitely-painted scenes from Krishna’s life are commissioned by wealthy devotees and a fast-growing number of connoisseurs.

Well-known master painters live in this quaint town and their works travel the whole world to the homes and collections of prominent families who are devotees of Shrinathji. Among them are the Ambanis, Varsha and Dinesh Thakkar and the Hiranandanis.
Apart from traditional artists in Nathdwara like Mohanlal Khubiram Sharma, nationally known modern artists like Chetan Sharma also create jewelled paintings of Shrinathji. Says Sharma, “Rich patrons love Krishna paintings of the Nathdwara School because each one is a joyous expression of devotion and its presence in a home is auspicious and fortunate because Krishna is a symbol of spiritual beauty and perfection.”

Nathdwara is the main centre for the art of Pichchwai paintings as they are used commonly as hangings behind the idol in this temple as well as other temples of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Pichchwais are also used in a different form in many Jain temples of the two states. Pichchwais and Krishna paintings of the Nathdwara School are painted with real gold and gemstone colours. The common motifs are various episodes of Krishna’s life, including his childhood in Gokul as a cowherd, gamboling in the Yamuna with the gopis as well as dancing the raasleela and swinging on the traditional jhoola. Earlier, these paintings, in various sizes, were a ritual art form in brilliant colours  — and sometimes set with precious stones — and were offered to the deity as an act of devotion on festive days. But their growing popularity in the art market has given Pichchwais a distinctive presence which sets them apart from other contemporary schools of paintings.

There are heritage Pichchwais and paintings on the Krishna theme as well as modern ones and a discerning buyer can access both varieties in Nathdwara. There are many famous painters in Nathdwara and the villages around who specialize in this art. Some paintings are very expensive due to the detailed miniature work. Inexpensive paintings are done by artists using the latest high-tech machines to colour the paintings.
The history of the Shrinathji cult is equally interesting. Tradition says that this divine form of Krishna as a young boy lifting the Govardhan manifested himself from the mountain Govardhan or Giriraj approximately 500 years ago.

Legend says that in 1408, near a village called Anyor at the foothills of the Govardhan mountain near Mathura, cowherds noticed a Krishna-like face emerge in the mountain ridge and began worshipping it. This continued for 70 years until Mahaprabhu Vallabhacharya, the founder of the Pushtimarg path of grace, visited Govardhan and saw the entire image of Krishna as it emerged from of the mountainside. The seer travelled the length and breadth of India for 18 years to propagate his Shuddhadwait School of philosophy and Pushtimarg, a path of grace to reach godhood.

In 1498, the Acharya constructed a temple of Shrinathji on the Govardhan mountain and prescribed specific rituals of worship according to his Pushtimarg philosophy.  The idol of Shrinathji, cast in black stone and decorated with priceless jewels and silk garments, was brought to Mewar in Rajasthan during the reign of Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb to protect it from the widespread destruction of Hindu shrines. Legend says that as the idol was being carried into Rajasthan in a chariot, its wheels got stuck in the soil of Mewar and hence the temple was constructed there with the permission of the Rana of Mewar.
Later, the present beautiful, opulent temple of Shrinathji was built in Nathdwara near Udaipur in 1728 and continues to draw millions of devotees every year.