Pichwais of Nathdwara

Legend has it that in 1409 AD, near Govardhan hill in Mathura an image of Lord Shrinathji, the mountain lifting form of Lord Krishna, was discovered while a cow worshiped the lord with offerings of milk. A temple was promptly established at this site and was held in high reverence.

In the 17th century, during the oppressive rule of Mughal King Aurangzeb, who was against idol-worship, Hindu temples were being destroyed mercilessly. In order to protect the idol of Lord Shrinathji that was worshiped at Govardhan hill near the sacred city of Vrindavan, it was to be moved to Rajasthan, where it would be safe under the Rajputs. And so the journey of the idol began with the lord’s sevaks – the priests, halwais (confectioners), cows and their caretakers and Pichwai painters (who would paint the temple background art) in tow.

It was first taken to Agra for 6 months and then was taken further south. At one point during the journey through the state of Rajasthan, near the village Sinhad, the wheels of the cart that was carrying the idol got stuck in mud. Even after a lot of effort, the cart could not be pulled out. This was taken as a signal from the gods, and a temple of Shrinathji was established in this city of Nathdwara, meaning ‘the gates to the lord’.

But this city has more to offer than just the Shrinathji temple. This tiny city is also famous for its ‘Pichwai’ paintings, where the word pichwai literally means ‘that which is hung at the back’. These are a form of cloth paintings from the school of Nathdwara of Mewar style paitings. The central theme of any Pichwai is Lord Krishna, in various contexts from his life and always in the form of his childhood incarnation of Lord Shrinathji. Identified by characteristic features of large eyes, a broad nose and a heavy body, these were traditionally made for temples, to adorn the wall behind the shrine.

Different paintings are made for different occasions, seasons, festivals and so on. While some have pink lotuses signifying summer, some are night scenes with a full bright moon signifying the occasion of Sharad Purnima. Raas Leela, the festival of Holi, Annakut (Govardhan puja) are commonly employed themes by Pichwai artists.

Traditional paintings saw the use of rich embroidery or appliqué work with dark borders. The color palette is comprised of intense reds, greens, yellows, blacks and whites with heavy use of gold for decoration. Older paintings used pure gold that added to their value and charm, and stood as a testimony to the unparalleled charms of the beloved Lord Shrinathji!

Shop for a collection of Pichwai paintings and more here.

Images from here and here.

-  by Aditi Bhatia

Passing on a Precious Legacy: The Handloom School in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh

Among the many treasures of India, the heritage derived through a Handloom is one of the most exquisite.  This tradition has been celebrated in the past by kings and commoners alike, but the future looks sadly uncertain.

According to the 2011 Census data, nearly seven million families are involved in earning their bread through weaving by hand, making it the second largest income-generating activity in the country. Not unlike other traditions or even farming practices of the past, the natural beauty that lies in a wondrous handloom weave is threatened by modernity that has unfortunately aligned itself with mass production.

3In rural weaving clusters that have survived this onslaught, weavers find their glorious profession to be unworthy of being passed on to future generations. Poor remuneration and lack of market support has forced families to abandon their knowledge and skill to look for alternative means of livelihood, even though these are hard to come by.

4Recognising the need for structured skill development and to preserve the rich heritage of weaving traditions, WomenWeave, a Charitable Trust based in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh has “supported and developed the role of women in handloom weaving since 2002”. With Sally Holkar at the helm, the Trust has been working “to make handloom a profitable, fulfilling, sustainable and dignified income-earning activity particularly for women in rural areas of India”. Sally, a graduate of Stanford University, found her way to handloom when she married a member of the Indore royal family, traditional patrons of Maheshwari saree weavers. In 1978, she co-founded Rehwa Society, which she managed until 2003. She then established WomenWeave Charitable Trust to extend Rehwa’s philosophy.

To further the cause of preserving weaving traditions in the country, WomenWeave established The Handloom School (THS) in Maheshwar in January 2013. The school is a unique project that intends to provide a rigorous, non-traditional education for students who possess traditional weaving skills but no access to a conventional academic education. Through this school the skills and rich heritage of handloom weavers can be utilized, while further training enables them to pursue new opportunities for their future.

5A common malady ailing handloom weavers across the country is the lack of market insight and entrepreneurial skills that can help further their goals as weaver-businessmen who have to survive and thrive in the dynamic marketplace catering to ever-changing customer needs. Through a specialized curriculum in design, textile technology, business, and sustainability, The Handloom School aims to make skilled craftsmen into custodians of the resources and processes of handloom, which allows them to preserve, develop and evolve their unique knowledge of the craft for generations to come.

Earlier this year, the President of India, outlined in a speech that the crafts sector showed a 30 per cent growth during an economic slowdown, the only sector to do so. And yet this segment has seen little in terms of sustained support on the ground. The responsibility of passing the baton of this precious legacy to future generations has long rested with and is likely to continue to be with individuals and organizations that are committed to celebrate the rich heritage of this country.

-          By Manika Dhama

Image Courtesy: http://www.womenweave.org/

Treasured Travelogues: India through the eyes of Artists Thomas and Willam Daniell

India has bewitched many an artist who has found such beauty in the landscape and its people that it has prompted them to translate some of the experienced charm onto the canvas.

The late 18th century saw an English uncle-nephew duo, Thomas and William Daniell, setting sail to India, arriving in Calcutta in 1786.

Upon arriving in the rapidly expanding city, Thomas Daniell, a landscape artist in his late thirties, published a proposal for engraving twelve views of the city. Given the scale of construction being undertaken in Calcutta at the time, he probably expected its European inhabitants to be willing to buy engravings depicting new buildings. Both he and his sixteen year old nephew William were inexperienced engravers and began working on their project by enlisting Indian craftsmen. Together they completed the set in November 1788 and it sold well among the European populace.

Following this initial encouragement through reception of their engraving work, they continued their journey in August 1789 past Murshidabad to Bhagalpur in Bihar, where they stayed with Samuel Davis, an employee of the East India Company, who happened to be an amateur artist. They continued on to Kanpur, travelling further overland to Delhi, visiting Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Mathura along the way. The following April they took on an adventurous tour to Srinagar, Uttarakhand and Garhwal in the Himalayas. During this time they created vivid aquatint renditions of sights along the way.

At the end of 1791 the duo was back in Calcutta, where they held a lottery of their completed work. Using the proceeds to fund a tour to South India, the ongoing Third Mysore War prompted them to create oil paintings and drawings of the areas in which the conflict was taking place. They duly visited various hill-forts on the way, along with richly carved temples at Madurai and Rameshwaram. Back in Madras they held another lottery of their work, which could fund their excursion to Western India. They arrived in Bombay in March 1793 where they met James Wales (1747–95), an artist engaged in drawing the area’s cave temples. With him the Daniells visited Elephanta, Karli and Kanheri, among other places.

After eight years of travelling and etching different corners of India onto their exquisite canvas, the Daniells returned to England in September 1794. William Daniell had maintained a diary of their travels over the period 1784 to 1794, which is now preserved at the British Library. Upon their return, Thomas Daniell established a special reputation as a landscape artist of the Indian scene, a much sought after skill given the interest in the region at the time. The Daniells’ great work on India, Oriental Scenery, was published in six parts over the period 1795–1808 and comprised a total of 144 coloured aquatints and six uncoloured title-pages.

Today the largest collection of their work is present at the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta and their exquisite art continues to celebrate the glory and romance of India to this day.

-          By Manika Dhama

References: Wikipedia.org

Images: http://www.victoriamemorial-cal.org/

Shop for Lithographs of Thomas and William Daniell Originals here.

Shadow and Light.. a little black a little white..


I see a rustic courtyard in dappled light,
     with thatched roofs,
and ageing terracotta figurines…

     I see a woman in white cottons,
     with dark eyes
     and quaint silver rings…

I see an old tree dancing,
     to the tranquil notes of an iktara
playing in the background…


I see old clay pots,
dark with soot,
from all those years…

there’s old linen,
heavy with texture,

I see a glint of color,
it’s the feet of that woman,
painted the customary red…


And we’re off again,
to dreamland..
only this time we bring back
some beautiful finds,
just for you..

Click on the product images to shop.

All product images from Jaypore, all others from here, here and here.

- text by Aditi Bhatia

Second Skin

She is beauty,
she is grace,
she is elegant in every step.

She is gentle,
she breathes passion,
she is life in every thread.

She is ancient,
she is timeless,
she turns at each whisper of her name.

From time long past,
and into the future unseen,
she will hold countless stories,
within the folds of her skin.

- Text by Manika Dhama

Images from Life Magazine, 1945

Home Diaries: With Anuradha Varma of MyDreamCanvas

Thrilled to showcase a home tour of the lovingly decorated home of Anuradha Varma, blogger extraordinaire and creator of one of our favorite blogs, My Dream Canvas.

For the last 8 years she has gradually and painstakingly built a beautiful abode that reminds her of home ten thousand miles away. Today’s feature not only showcases a fabulous home but also spreads the deeper message of keeping your roots close to your heart, no matter where you are in the world. Anu Varma moved to the US 14 years ago. Today she has a beautiful home and a beautiful family in Seattle, WA on the west coast of the United States; that is pretty much as far away from India as one can possibly be. Yet, her home has a unique freshness and cultural warmth that is rarely found even in Indian homes these days. It goes to show how rooted Anu and her family are, a quality I applaud knowing how hard it is to maintain cultural roots and ties in a foreign land where not many understand the significance and depth of your heritage.

Dotted through the house are heirlooms from her parent’s home that remind her of her childhood. There are relics from her travels to exotic lands with strong cultures, just like her own. Although culture oozes from every corner of her beautiful home, Anu’s home is not traditional. It does not conform to any one culture – in her own words, it is a global home with Indian touches.
jay (1)Her most treasured possessions are the silver pieces inherited from her mother; her favorite being the old nakshikari powder puff box, that features proudly on the header of her fantastic blog. Another beautiful story is of the delicately displayed wine glasses dating back to the 1920s that her great grandfather handpicked in England, had shipped to India that later made their way, yet again, into their current apt manifest all the way across the world. The warmth of the home is multiplied manifold by exotic textiles, rugs and souvenirs from travels around the world.
Anu’s home is an ever-changing canvas with a few permanent comforting elements that are always constant. While talking to her about the journey with her home I couldn’t help but draw some comparisons to life. Life too is an ever changing canvas with a few permanent comforting elements like family, friends and home, is it not?
All images courtesy of http://mydreamcanvas.blogspot.com


Organic Cotton breathes a new life in Fashion

Summer comfort is defined by light, airy fabrics that breathe. This role often rests on the shoulders of the simple yet sophisticated cotton that is often referred to as “the fabric of our lives” and for good reason. We come in contact with it in varied forms in our daily lives and it has remained the fabric of choice for millions across the globe.

chetna-1Five to seven decades ago, most of the cotton cultivated in India was short staple indigenous (swadeshi) organic cotton with little or no use of toxic chemicals in its production. Even today, there are many pockets in India, where it is produced without the use of agrochemicals.

However, the more widespread chemical methods of cultivation have posed serious environmental threats to workers and end users, prompting the resurgence of organic forms of production and increasing the demand for organically cultivated, eco-friendly or ‘green’ cotton.

Cotton and the Environment

In many countries like India, cotton is still hand-picked; therefore anyone working in cotton fields is exposed to extreme amounts of toxic chemicals. The chemicals can also affect others in the community once these have seeped into the water supply. With so many products made from cotton, we are all exposed to these chemicals at some point. The health risks of pesticide exposure include birth defects, reproductive disorders and weaker immune systems.

Chemical cotton is cultivated on 5% cultivable land and consumes 54% of total pesticides used in Indian agriculture, and in some pockets, the rates are higher than this, leaving immense ecological and human hazards as reported by World Health Organisation.

Use of chemicals at such scale causes environmental pollution, damage to soil health, agro-ecology and poor profitability in cotton farming.

chetna-2Genetically engineered Bt Cotton – The cruelty seed and a death trap for farmers

The region in India with the highest level of farmers suicides is the Vidharbha region in Maharashtra, with 4,000 suicides per year, 10 per day. This is also the region with the highest acreage of Monsanto’s GMO Bt cotton. Monsanto’s GM seeds create a suicide economy by transforming the seed from a renewable resource to a non-renewable input which must be bought every year at high prices.

The new Green Revolution is genetically engineered crops, and these are causing even greater damage. Renowned scientist and environmentalist Dr.  Vandana Shiva of Navdanya explains, “The areas where (genetically engineered) Bt cotton is the most concentrated is where there are the highest rates of farmer suicides. From 1997 to 2007, more than 182,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide due to crop failures and excessive debt from purchasing expensive pesticides and GM cotton seed. Bt cotton is also destroying soils” says Dr. Shiva, citing a statistic highlighting that it has destroyed 26% of microorganisms in the soil.

cotton3Organic vs BT

Indigenous cotton varieties can be intercropped with food crops. Bt-cotton can only be grown as a monoculture. Indigenous cotton is rain fed. Bt-cotton needs irrigation. Indigenous varieties are pest resistant. Bt-cotton, even though promoted as resistant to the boll worm, has created new pests, and to control these new pests, farmers are using 13 times more pesticides then they were using prior to introduction of Bt-cotton. And finally, Monsanto sells its GMO seeds on fraudulent claims of yields of 1500/kg/year when farmers harvest 300-400 kg/year on an average. High costs and unreliable output make for a debt trap, and a suicide economy.

organic-cottonSeed Saving gives farmers life

Corporations prevent seed savings through patents and by engineering seeds with non-renewable traits. As a result, impoverished peasants have to buy new seeds for every planting season and what was traditionally a free resource, available by putting aside a small portion of the crop, becomes a commodity. This new expense increases their debt burden, pushing them even further down into poverty. Farm proceeds are inadequate for paying off debts and farmers are then compelled to sell a kidney or even commit suicide.

The suicide economy of industrialized, globalised agriculture is suicidal at three levels – it is suicidal for farmers, for the poor who are deprived of food, and at the biodiversity level as it destroys natural capital of seed, soil and water on which our biological survival depends.

Seed monopolies rob farmers of their livelihood and life. Seed is a common resource and we have to protect it for future generations.

For Snippet 1Going Organic

Organic Cotton is a non-allergic, comforting, 100% plant-derived, soothing fiber with high absorbent properties. This non-irritant fiber has wide medical and industrial uses, is healthy and environment-friendly. Even the Organic Cotton Seed Oil, a byproduct of Organic Cotton, has wide uses in snacks and as feed for livestock. Additionally, organic cotton farmers enjoy the benefits of better working environment in small-scale settings and not having to spend on large amount of pesticides. Farmers who switched to growing organic cotton earn nearly ten times more than they did growing Bt cotton, according to research conducted by Dr. Shiva as part of her work at Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE).

As farmers continue to avail the multifarious benefits of cultivating organic cotton, it is now upto the design conscious consumer to lend their support to environment-friendly practices by inviting this fabulous fabric into their wardrobe.

-       by Gunjan Jain, Vriksh Designs





For Top BannerThe Desi Organic Kumbha collection by Vriksh is a small attempt to initiate a dialogue on healthy and environmental alternatives for clothing that India’s indigenous and rural communities have offered for centuries. 

Shop for this collection on http://www.jaypore.com