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Pabuji Phada: New Information on Rajasthani Storycloth

By Mary Ann Fitzgerald, former Curator



HLATC: #P.D.I.1626 Phada (storycloth), by R.G. Joshi, Bilwara District, Rajasthan, India, 20th century


Phadas are large cloth folk paintings carried from village to village by bhopas (storytellers) of the Nayak tribe in Rajasthan, Northern Gujarat and Western Madhya Pradesh. Phadas depict legendary tales of famous persons who have usually attained divine status and are given the respect and honor due a divinity. The bhopa narrates his tales at nightfall, singing, dancing and playing his ravanahattha (stringed instrument). His wife uses an oil lamp to spotlight the storyteller and appropriate sections of the phada which is stretched on bamboo poles. The format of the entire phada seems chaotic, but when viewed at night only small spotlighted areas are seen. The central section of the cloth focuses on the main story, with other tales occupying the borders. Good dominates the center and evil toward the edges. Listening to the auspicious stories is thought to give protection against disease and misfortune.


Phada painting is a hereditary profession for the Joshi clan of the Chhipa caste of the Bilwara and Chittorgarh districts of Rajasthan. Phadas are not produced during the monsoon season when the folk heroes are asleep. Coarse cotton is prepared with a barley and gum paste and later polished with wood or a stone for smoothness. On an auspicious day, a ritual offering to Saraswati, the Goddess of learning and fine arts, prepares the cloth for a kumari (virgin) to make the first brush stroke. Sketching is done with a non-pemanent yellow pigment followed by saffron for the faces and bodies. Other colors follow and the black outline is applied last. The artist signs the piece in the central section where the legendary figure, the largest figure, is painted. The eyes and the bhopa's name and date are painted only after the cloth is given to the bhopa.



Detail of HLATC: #P.D.I.1626 Phada (storycloth), by R.G. Joshi, Bilwara District, Rajasthan, India, 20th century


This phada depicts the story of, a legendary 14th century Rajasthani hero who wards off evil and illness as a divine protector. The basic story follows: "Pabuji stole some camels from King Dodo Sumaro as a dowry gift for his niece. On the way, he was involved in innumerable adventures through all of which he was supported by his friends, the thoris, and his black mare, Kesar Kalmi. The supernatural mare had been given to Pabuji by the deity Viravari (Charani Deval), who in return asked him on the day of his wedding to help rescue the cows that Jirav Khici, ruler of Jayal, had stolen from her. Pabuji died regaining the cows, and his wife Phulavanti committed sati, a widow's ritual suicide" (Nabholz-Kartaschoff 1986:207).


In the phada, Pabuji is seated in an architectural framework with his companions to the right and his mare, Kesar Kalmi below. Between the mare's head and the lower right corner of Pabuji's throne are three recognizable images: a Brahmin with an offering; Pabuji's nephew Jhararo with the head of Jidav Khici, his uncle's enemy; and a thoris disguised as a sadhu (holy man) in order to steal the camels. On the far lower left, Pabuji leads the stolen camels over the Indus river. Above him, two thoris fight King Dodo Sumaro (in the form of Ravana). Pabuji's bride Phulavanti rides in a wedding cart next to him. Also shown here are parts of the Phulavanti's palace and garden of Umarkot. Above this to the right you can see Pabuji on his mare riding to Umarkot palace to meet his future father-in-law. To the right of him is a battle between the warriors of King Jidrav Khici, and Pabuji and the thoris. Pabuji's nephew, Jhararo, is beheading a ferocious tiger, one of Jidrav's guardians (Nabholz-Kartaschoff 1986:208).




Hartkamp-Jonxis, Ebeltje 1979. "Some Explorations in the Visual Organization of Scenes on Rajasthani Cloth Paintings in the Honour of Pabuji." In South Asian Archaeology 1975, Papers from the Third International Conference of the Association of South Asian Archeologists in Western Europe held in Paris, J. E. van Lohuizen-de Leeuw, ed. Leiden, Netherlands: Pp.175-187.


Nabholz-Kartaschoff, Marie-Louise 1986. Golden Sprays and Scarlet Flowers: Traditional Indian Textiles from the Museum of Ethnology. Basel, Switzerland: Museum of Ethnology.


Talwar, Kay and Kalyan Krishna 1979. Indian Pigment Paintings on Cloth. Historic Textiles of India at the Calico Museum, III. Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India: Calico Museum.