Pichhwais represent a unique form of textile art which originated at Shrinathji temple in Nathdwara a little over three centuries ago. Nathdwara is some 48 km northeast of Udaipur in the Rajsamand district of Rajasthan.
The temple dedicated to Lord Krishna was named Nathdwara because Lord Krishna is also known as ‘Nath’ and ‘Nathdwara’ means ‘Gateway to God.’ Nathdwara is believed to be one of the richest Hindu temples in India next only to Tirupati Devasthanam in Andhra Pradesh.Pichhwais are large devotional cloth hangings which form the background for Lord Krishna’s icon in Pushti Marg temples. Pichhwai literally translates to ‘at the back.’ Traditionally, pichhwais were painted on woven cotton cloth. The cloth used to be coated with a mixture of gum Arabic and rice floor to create an even surface. Colour pigments obtained from vegetables and minerals were then applied on them with a brush
Pichhwais usually depict 24 scenes from Lord Krishna’s life related to some festival or holy day. At the centre of these pichhwais is either a stylized image or a symbolic representation of Lord Krishna. Dark clouds, dancing peacock, Kadamba tree etc. symbolize Lord Krishna in these paintings. The pichhwais are changed from time to time depending upon the day, season and occasion to create different moods and ambience.
Lord Krishna is the most loved of the nine incarnations of Lord Vishnu for his childhood antics and pranks; his stories of love, friendship and fight against evil forces during his adolescence as a cowherd; and, his philosophical discourses and political manoeuvres as the charioteer of Arjuna, one of the greatest warriors of Mahabharata fame.
Lord Krishna’s personality was so popular and powerful that everything associated with him has been immortalized in art, literature and culture of India. Butter, flute, peacock feather, cows, cowherds, milkmaids—literally everything associated with Lord Krishna has left an indelible mark on our culture.
Srinathji is the presiding deity of the Pushti Marg sect which worships Lord Krishna in the form of a child divinity. The Pushti Marg was founded in the sixteenth century by Vallabhacharya (1479-1531) who was also known a Mahaprabhuji. Pushti Marg means “The Path of Grace.” It is a vaishnavite sect whose cult figure is Lord Krishna. The Pushti Marg sect worships Lord Krishna as a living child divinity.
Together with Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya and Nimbarkaracharya, Vallabhacharya was one of the five main acharyas of the Bhakti movement which led to the resurgence of Hinduism in India in the medieval period.
The black stone image of Shrinathji in Nathdwara was originally consecrated by Vallabhacharya in Mathura which is the birth place of Lord Krishna where decorative clothes were used as backdrop for the image.
Fearing vandalism by Aurangazeb in 1691, the Pushti Marg sect in Mathura decided to shift the image of Shrinathji to a safer haven. The image of Shrinathji was sent to Udaipur (the capital of Mewar in Rajashan) which was believed to be a safe sanctuary for the image. Mewar was the only region in northern India which did not yield to Mughal onslaughts.
However, the wheels of the chariot carrying the image sank into the ground at Nathdwara about 48 km northeast of Udaipur. No matter what the custodians of this image did, the wheels of the chariot would not move. Taking this as a divine signal, Srinathji’s temple was raised at the same spot where it stands to this day. Before construction of the temple this place was called Sihar.