Located at a distance of about 40 kilometres from Udaipur in Rajasthan, in the Rajasmand district, is a small town called Nathdwara. The place is famous for the Nathdwara Temple where Shrinathji is worshipped.
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Most houses and buildings in this place are characterized by the presence of a traditional art form at the doorways. These Nathdwara paintings contain different animal images like peacocks, tigers, elephants with their mahouts, ladies dressed in conventional necklaces, and dresses.
The Nathdwara paintings symbolize expert draughtsmanship. There are different types, and each type of paintings denotes excellent artistry. The Manoratha paintings have the idol surrounded by the Goswamis. There are Krishna Leela paintings where the childhood of Lord Krishna is depicted.
The Nathdwara paintings symbolize the blend of different styles of painters. Since Nathdwara is one of the most sacred places for Vaishnavas, the traditional art form is kept alive due to the recognition and patronage received from the world over.
The temple too has some different art forms and paintings decorated along the verandas and courtyards. The temple that was built in the 14th century features the image of the Shrinathji holding the Govardhan Mountain in one of his hands. The temple was built by Raja Raja Singh of Mewar.
The place is today the epicenter of the Pushti Margiya Vaishnavite. This is the art form where the Haveli-style painting that includes Pichwai is practiced.
Today, different forms of textile-based paintings are made by students under the guidance of the chief painter. The paintings are mainly used as decorative for the temple rooms. The Nathdwara paintings developed and different forms of pichwai paintings, and murals evolved under the patronage of the chief priests of the Nathdwara Temple.
These paintings mostly cover the themes and mythological scenes from Lord Krishna’s childhood. The central character here is mostly Krishna or Shrinathji. The images are mostly of festivals, darshanas, bhogs, and so on.
While the traditional art form witnessed the use of natural and earth colours, and traditional brushes made from fine hair of animals like squirrels, and horses; today the artists use modern equipment like canvas, acrylic colours, and spray guns. Most artists today paint on a case-to-case basis by accepting a commission from individual art lovers.
And since the town is always at the center of the hustle and bustle from tourists all over, the practice of taking back souvenirs, of which the Nathdwara paintings are extremely popular, helps the ancient art stay afloat.
Some traditional artists still follow the ancient art form in its true essence who live in Nathdwara and Kankroli – those who have been trained by their fathers and ancestors, and who plan to pass it on to their next generation.
There is patronage of Nathdwara paintings but all art lovers can help keep this ancient art alive offering economic independence to the local artists here.