Holi revelries in traditional Indian paintings

Holi revelries in traditional Indian paintings

Headline: Holi revelries in traditional Indian paintings madhubani phad pichwai pahari painting pattachitra Mughal art radha krishna 30stades

One Indian festival that has seen the richest outpouring in paintings for centuries is Holi. The festival is known by different names in different regions – Vasanotsav in the North, Phag or Phagotsav in Rajasthan and adjoining areas, Rangpanchami in Maharashtra, Dol Yatra in Bengal, Odisha and Assam and Kamadahana in the South.

Be it Bihar’s Madhubani art, Odisha’s Pattachitra, Himachal Pradesh’s Pahari paintings, Rajasthan’s Phad and Pichwai, the Mughal art, and the emergence of Company art under the Europeans, all have found exquisite ways to capture and depict the revelry and festivity of the festival of colours.

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Most of the traditional or folk Indian painting forms are based on the epics of Ramayana, Mahabharata and other mythological stories.

The festival of colours is an integral part of these tales. While Holi finds a mention in religious scriptures, in literature, references are also found in Kalidasa’s plays – Kumarasambhava and Malvikagnimitra.

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But it was in the medieval period in the courts of Mughal kings and in Rajputana, the hill states and in South India that Holi came alive through paintings.

The Holi played in Vrindavan, the area in the Braj Bhoomi region where Lord Krishna is said to have spent most of his childhood, is famous the world over. It is here that Krishna, his consort Radha and gopis (milkmaids) spent days and nights singing and dancing.

Women playing Holi in a painting from the Pahari school of art (Kangra style). Pic: British Museum 30stades
Women playing Holi in a painting from the Pahari school of art (Kangra style). Pic: British Museum

In Vrindavan, Holi is a celebration of the divine love between Radha and Krishna. Painters have been recreating the playfulness of the couple, the cows and the gopis through their paintings for ages.

Rajasthan’s Pichwai art is no exception. Pichwai means backdrop and the paintings are used as a backdrop to adorn the wall behind Lord Shrinathji at the temple in Nathdwara, about 350 km south of Jaipur.

“These paintings are hung behind the idol of Shrinathji at various festivals like Holi, Teej, Janmashtmi, Nandotsav, Gopashtmi, Govardhan Puja, Rakhi, Annakuta and Diwali,” says artist Dinesh Soni, adding that Holi paintings are among the most in-demand from customers.

National award-winning Phad artist Kalyan Joshi and his family from Bhilwara, Rajasthan, have been the custodians of the art form that dates back some 900 years.

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Phad painting by Kalyan Joshi depicting Holi revelries at the court of 19th century Mewar ruler Fateh Singh. Pic: Courtesy Kalyan Joshi 30stades
Phad painting by Kalyan Joshi depicting Holi revelries at the court of 19th century Mewar ruler Fateh Singh. Pic: Courtesy Kalyan Joshi

He shared two of his Holi paintings with us. The first painting shows Holi revelries at the court of 19th century Mewar ruler Fateh Singh. It shows the Maharana and his nobles astride elephants, playing Holi. The women are shown behind screens from where they are using pichkaris to throw water and gulal at the menfolk.

“The 6×6 feet painting is hanging at the Exim Bank in Mumbai,” Joshi says.

The second painting shows Radha and Krishna along with a gwala (cowboy) and a gopi playing Holi. “The figures and the bright colours are as per the traditional Phad style. The painting measure 8×12 inches,” “Joshi says.

We bring you a selection of paintings from various Indian art styles depicting vivid Holi celebrations here:

Kalyan Joshi's Phad painting shows Radha and Krishna along with a gwala and gopi celebrating Holi. Pic: Courtesy Kalyan Joshi 30stades
Kalyan Joshi’s Phad painting shows Radha and Krishna along with a gwala and gopi celebrating Holi. Pic: Courtesy Kalyan Joshi

Also Read: Pattachitra: Odisha’s Raghurajpur turns hub of recycled art as artisans combine 12th century craft with sustainability

Emperor Jahangir celebrating Holi with ladies of the zenana. Mughal art (Awadh style). Pic: Wikipedia 30stades
Emperor Jahangir celebrating Holi with ladies of the zenana. Mughal art (Awadh style). Pic: Wikipedia
Radha-Krishna playing Holi with gopis in Odisha's art form Pattachitra. Pic: Flickr
Radha-Krishna playing Holi with gopis in Odisha’s art form Pattachitra. Pic: Flickr
Holi celebrations in a Pichwai painting. Pic: Flickr 30stades
Holi celebrations in a Pichwai painting. Pic: Flickr

Also Read: Pithora art: How Jhabua’s Bhuri Bai broke centuries-old taboos with a brush & colours

Mughal Art miniature painting depicting Holi. Pic: Wikipedia
Mughal Art miniature painting depicting Holi. Pic: Wikipedia
Another depiction of Holi through Pichwai painting by artist Dinesh Soni. Pic: Courtesy Dinesh Soni 30stades
Another depiction of Holi through Pichwai painting by artist Dinesh Soni. Pic: Courtesy Dinesh Soni
Madhubani or Mithila painting from Bihar showing Krishna playing Holi with Radha. Pic: Flickr  30stades
Madhubani or Mithila painting from Bihar showing Krishna playing Holi with Radha. Pic: Flickr

Also Read: Maharashtra’s Chitrakathi painting: keeping alive the legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s spies

Krishna targeting Radha with his pichkari. This is a painting from the Pahari School of Art. Pic: Wikipedia 30stades
Krishna targeting Radha with his pichkari. This is a painting from the Pahari School of Art. Pic: Wikipedia

(Lede pic is Bihar’s Madhubani or Mithila painting showing Radha and Krishna playing Holi. Pic: Flickr)

Also Read: In pictures: From Sindhi gheeyar to kanji vada & bhabhra, traditional Holi food as colourful as the festival

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