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Carrying on legacy of recreating folklore on canvas

Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:27 IST
Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:27 IST

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Rajasthan is famous for its Phad paintings-the long scroll on cloth-depicting chivalrous tales of folk deities of the state. Hailing from Bhilwara in Rajasthan, Kalyan Joshi carries forward a 700-year old legacy of colourful Phad painting. Through his superb artistry, he has made Phad paintings a most sought after art form.  Joshi, 40, has inherited the talent from his gifted father and Shilpaguru Lal Joshi. If his father well nurtured the family tradition, Kalyan has gone a step further by taking it across the seas and experimenting with contemporary style and innovative themes.

Joshi's room in his Bhilwara home is like an art gallery, full of beautiful paintings made by him and his father, carefully rolled canvas in one corner, whole set of colours and small bowls to mix them around his working desk and a comfortable mattress with masnad (back pillow) where his father would sit and observe his talented son producing beautiful specimen one after the other. The octogenarian Joshi can't draw much owing to his diminishing eyesight but he still has the finesse to enhance the beauty of a painting with just a stroke or two with his experienced hands.

Phad painting is the ancient form of folk painting done on a sturdy cloth to depict the heroic deeds of revered folk figures, Joshi told Deccan Herald. Bhopas (folklore singers) move from village to village singing paeans of these popular folk deities by narrating the whole life sketch etched on the Phad painting. Most popular ones are Pabuji and Dev Narainji ki Phad recreated on scroll cloth with vegetable dyes, mixed in a fixed order, he elaborates.

He says the origin of Phad probably began with graffiti on temple walls. In cloth form, the subject of a Phad painting has fixed images and characters. The use of colours is highly significant since the Bhopas singing the tales are by and large illiterate. It is easy for them to identify the characters through colours, he says.

Phad paintings, once an object of narrating folk tales only, is now also a part of interior in homes and hotels, Kalyan says. He paints the Phad on order for his high-profile clients but it gives him immense satisfaction and pleasure to do it for a Bhopa. It is a kind of a religious ordeal then. The painting is started at an auspicious muhurat, with a pious sentiment. We request small girls to draw the first symbolic line on the scroll and she in turn is offered jaggery or sweets for her favour. When the painting is ready, the Bhopa would come to collect it in a group of five, a number they consider as auspicious. "We complete the painting in all respects but make the eyes only after the arrival of the Bhopa. For the folklore singers believe, the moment you make eyes on a painting, it becomes alive," Joshi said.

The fee would range from a token amount of Re one to Rs.21,000 but for hotels, the more ornate Phad painting may cost upto Rs one lakh.  Bhopa's Phad is simple while Joshi has to work into finer details for fancy Phad paintings. "We would use attractive borders for commercial paintings while in traditional Phad, the borders are simple," he explained. Each Phad painting would also have the year of making, artist's name, client Bhopa's name, village and the token amount given to draw the Phad.

The paintings are 13.50x16.50x18 ft in size. The largest Pabuji  Phad  he made was 18 ft while Dev Narain ki Phad was 36 ft, he recalls. If the artist works single handedly for about eight hours a day, it takes nearly one and a half months to work on Pabuji ki Phad. It takes a month longer to complete Dev Narain ki Phad, he says.

 The preliminary job of preparing canvas is quite tedious. The hand woven thick cloth is washed, starched and polished on Onyx stone to make it smooth. It is quite strenuous. Then it is mounted on mica sheet for small paintings and large cloths are laid on a stone surface/table to draw. The male artists of the family sketch the forms and daughter-in-laws of the family fill up the colours. There's been a curious tradition in the Joshi family that they bestowed the art to their bahus but kept the betis deprived of the talent. "But my father broke the tradition despite opposition by other family members," a proud Kalyan Joshi says.

Founder of Ankan Kala Sansthan, Kalyan has so far trained 3,000 students in the traditional Phad painting style. He has held a number of exhibitions and workshops at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, British Council, Chennai, Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal, IIT, Mumbai, Chitrakala Parishat, Bangalore, and New York, Philadelphia and San Fransico, to name a few.

He is experimenting on themes from Ramayana and Mahabharata, Geet Govinda, Durga Saptashati, Hanuman Chalisa and a special Panchtantra Phad for children. He doesn't have a professional fine arts degree but he is a born artist whose paintings win wide acclaim wherever he goes. He takes his inspiration and guidance from his father, Sri Lal Joshi, who has been his real Guru.

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Published 26 June 2010, 18:41 IST

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