Nathdwara Paintings as Poignant Objects
It has only been within the past six years that I have amassed a small but interesting collection of about one-hundred Indian miniatures. They vary from large and intricate to extremely small and simple, yet each has a meaningful place in my heart. I am not an academic, but an artist, so my criteria is always more visual than historical, and I admit that I tend to shun away from “perfectly preserved” pieces. The rough edges, tiny flakes of paint, and even the burn marks from incense sticks and the grime of oil lamps only adds to my appreciation. A few tiny holes caused by the gnawing of a cockroach? No problem. It is the history of these very vernacular acts of Indian normalcy that lend these works their charm. One can imagine them on humble altars in family “god rooms” that many Rajasthani homes maintain.
Prathan Milan from the Collection of Waswo X. Waswo
Take for example the Prathan Milan from the 1950s, which depicts Vallabhacharya after he had climbed Govardhan Hill to meet the Lord Shrinathji himself. This meeting is thought to have much significance among the devotees of the Pushti Marg, as Vallabhacharya is himself believed to be an incarnation of Krishna. The small amounts of grime and wrinkling on this painting does little to distract from its emotional meaning and spiritual power, brushed with simplicity and grace.
Bhil Raid after the Govardhan Puja, Shrinathji Mandir, Nathdwara, from about 1930.
Or take the ritualized Bhil Raid after the Govardhan Puja, Shrinathji Mandir, Nathdwara, from about 1930: the perfect complement to the Govardhan Puja painting which I collected first which is complete with a mountain of food offerings, and from around the same period. Once I had bought one, I knew I had to buy the other. Such is the way of a collector, as collecting is its own type of storytelling.
Shrinathji with Gosainji and Cows. Kotah School from around 1880
Shrinathji with Gosainji and Cows from the Kotah School from around 1880 depicts the essence of what we have come to know as the Pushti Marg tradition that makes Nathdwara such a blessed place in the hearts of all Rajasthani peoples and the Hindus in India. As small and worn as this work is, one can obviously feel the fact that it has seen the glow of many an incense stick and flickering diya. A small object of worship that once held pride of place in the God Room of a small haveli now finds a place in both my home and my heart. The much larger Gosainji’s Seven Sons (Nathdwara, late 19th century) is a masterwork of colour and composition, yet just who brushed this art to life we will probably never know.
Gosainji’s Seven Sons , late 19th century.
Miniature paintings hold hidden histories that extend well beyond what they actually depict. There are a myriad stories connected to each: of pigment grinders, brush makers, artists and clients, and families that passed them down from generation to generation. Such stories are hinted at in the imperfections and roughened conditions of the works, and it is as such that they become not just historical and sacred, but poignant objects.
Waswo X. Waswo
Artist and Collector, Udaipur