A Pichhvai of Annakuta (Festival of Fifty-Six Offerings)

Nathdwara, Rajasthan, mid 19th century
Pigments on cotton, heightened with silver and gold
195 x 133 cm

This fine pichhvai depicts the sanctum of the Srinathji temple at Nathdwara during the festival of Annakuta. Held during Kartik, the eighth lunar month (October-November), it commemorates the time when Krishna persuaded the villagers of Vraj to offer their harvest to Mount Govardhan, the source of their fertile soil, rather than Indra, the king of the demigods. As a result a furious Indra rained torrential storms upon the villagers, causing Krishna to lift the mountain to shelter them.

Annakuta is the largest annual festival at Nathdwara, with devotees bringing a feast of their harvest to the temple sanctum. A mound of rice if placed at Srinathji’s feet, as seen in the present painting, symbolic of the mountain and topped with five sweet cakes (gunja) representing Vishnu’s head and his four weapons. Goswamis (priests of the Pushi Marg) gather before him for darshan and women sit below, their heads covered with richly coloured shawls. Vallabhacharya, the founder of the Pushti Marg, stands on the left of the icon and performs aarti. Brightly coloured hampers are lined up at Srinathji’s feet and further scenes of festivity are depicted at the bottom of the textile. A border made of individual depictions of the twenty-four utsavas (festivals) of Srinathji runs around the central composition.

Srinathji is joined by his other forms (swarupas), pictured as small icons placed alongside and beneath him. This refers to the time that the famous priest Dauji (1797-1826) brought all seven swarupas from their respective temples to Nathdwara. The ‘tree of life’ embroideries that hang behind Srinathji, encrusted with diamonds and pearls, were given to Dauji on this occasion and from then on became customary for the Annakuta festival.

This painting is an extremely fine example of the classic Nathdwara style. It demonstrates the quality of draughtsmanship and pigments that were employed at the highest level of pichhvai production. The realism of the portraiture and the fine figure drawing is equivalent to that of miniature paintings, with a highly burnished surface and jewel-like pigments. The faces are sophisticated and developed, with soft modelling and smooth, elegant lines. Its fine condition allows the viewer to appreciate these details and to experience the sense of wonder that such a painting would have inspired in the heart and mind of the ardent devotee. Amongst this vivid landscape of ritual worship and festive celebration, Srinathji’s eyes pierce through vibrant orange and indigo blue, hypnotic and enchanting.

The Gujral Collection, Germany.

Krishna, Kalyan. In Adoration of Krishna: Pichhwais of Shrinathji. Surat: Garden Silk Mills, 2007.

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