Paintings from the Nathdwara School occupy a special place in Indian art. Many are in the form of pichvais, which were created to be hung behind the idols in the temples of Nathdwara in Rajasthan. Each pichvai painting is considered to be a seva or offering to Srinathji, the seven-year-old balaswarup or child manifestation of Lord Krishna. The artists paint with a sense of deep devotion. The paintings usually depict scenes from the life of Srinathji, expressing the moods of different seasons and festivals.
Their deceptively simple style hides layers of spiritual significance and symbolism. Using basic colours, concepts and compositions, these paintings show how the whole world, including all living creatures, birds and animals, is Lord Krishna’s leela. It is imperative to trace the historical development of the Nathdwara School of Painting and study the factors responsible for its distinctive imagery, holds eminent contemporary artist, scholar and author Amit Ambalal. Delivering the Tasveer Foundation Lecture, he points out the importance of delving into cultural background, the philosophy of the sect, its colourful rituals, festivals and legends.
Nathdwara literally means the gateway to Lord Srinathji. According to legends, the idol of Lord Krishna was transferred in the 17th century from Vrindaban to protect it from the destructive wrath of Emperor Aurangzeb. When the bullock cart transporting the idol reached what was then a tribal village in Rajasthan, the wheels sank deep into the soil and could not be budged. This was taken to be the Lord’s chosen spot, and a temple was built there. Since then, Nathdwara has been home to Srinathji, the chief deity of the Pushtimarga sect. The Pushtimarga sect (The Way of Divine Grace), founded by Shri Vallabhacharya in the 16th century, is based on Bhagwata Purana scriptures.
Pushtimarga does not stress on asceticism, and holds that the way to spiritual salvation is through a celebration of earthly life.
To devotees, the idol of Srinathji is not a stone image. It is a living, vivacious divine child, who is regularly fed, bathed, dressed, sent out to play, and gives darshan to devotees eight times a day. The haveli is symbolic of Braja, and places all around it in Nathdwara are named to symbolise places important to Lord Krishna. Thus, Govardhan Chowk symbolises Govardhan Mountain. All the areas and dimensions of the temple complex are built as a miniature palace, so that child Krishna can feel at home.
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