Golden Pichvais from the Deccan

Golden Pichvais from the Deccan

Seth Jagjeevandas and his descendants, and a few other Gujarati merchants settled in Hyderabad in the Deccan, began the tradition of an impressive artistic and religious patronage that has baffled art historians. The pichvais, richly patterned fabrics embellished with gold and silver, are distinct in their aesthetics and completely different from their painted counterparts from Rajasthan. They are known as the Deccani Golden and Kalamkari pichvais, created by Deccani and Hyderabadi artists. 


Golden pichvai from the Deccan, late 18th century, stenciled and painted with opaque colours and gold on deep indigo dyed cotton. 248 x 194 cm. TAPI Collection (T.99.1412), Surat. Photo courtesy: TAPI Collection.

The golden pichvais are like visual poetry expressing the bhava that the ashtachaap poets wrote of the love of the gopis (milkmaidens of Vraj) who were totally enchanted by Krishna. The tenth chapter of the Bhagavata Purana celebrates the bhakti of the gopis, symbolizing selfless loving devotion towards Krishna. It narrates how the melodious sound of Krishna playing the flute entranced the gopis, who left their homes, their duties, husbands and children in the middle of the night to heed to the call of the flute. Leaving everything behind, they rushed to meet their beloved in the groves of Vrindavan. 

The golden pichvais were used during the festival of Navratri. The madhurya bhava or the esoteric love of the milkmaids of Vraj forms the central theme of the Navratri festival, which expresses the Pushtimarg philosophy of Nav Vilas as proposed by Sri Harirayji (1591–1716), great grandson of Sri Vithalnathji. Sri Harirayji conceived the Nav Vilas, which emphasizes the emotion of the main nine gopis, who symbolize the nine shaktis or powers of prakriti (nature). Pushtimarg devotees celebrate the bhava or emotion of the gopis for Krishna during Navratri.

According to the conception of Nav Vilas, Krishna calls the gopis by playing his fluteon the nights of Navratri to meet Him in nikunj, a heavenly grove in the forest of Vrindavan. Heeding the call of the flute, the gopis rush to meet Krishna expressing an unconventional and unconditional love for Krishna. Eight main sakhis or gopis are invited by Krishna on the first eight days; on the ninth day of Navratri, Krishna invites Sri Radha to the forest of  Vrindavan.

The defining feature of the Deccani pichvais is its opulent use of gold and silver foil on mainly red or black muslin or silk cloth. In the making of these golden pichvais the artist uses stencils to trace the gopis and trees onto the cloth; then the designated area is covered with a glue made from tamarind seeds and the gold foil is applied on it. The gold foil after being stuck in the desired area is further embellished with painted floral motifs or patterns. These golden foil embossed pichvais with gopis as the main theme were used during the Navratri festival in the personal house shrines of the Gujarati merchants settled in Karwan Sahu, in Hyderabad and also in the temples of the gurus that they patronized. 

By Dr. Anita Bharat Shah, Hyderabad, India