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Bards of Rajasthan


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A 15 ft by 5 ft religious scroll depicts the entire life story of a local deity, Pabuji. Made in the folk art form, the paintings reflect both the fact and myth of this Rajput chief. He is a legend. Before I set off to explore this craft, I was talking to my carpenter(who hails from Rajasthan) about Pabuji. He told me that Pabuji protects all the cows in his village. A small Puja (prayers) to Pabuji cures them of any illness.

Pabuji is the Rajput chief of Rajasthan in the 14th century, who is extolled as an incarnation of Hindu God, and worshipped by the Rabari tribals of Rajasthan. The nomadic bard priests, known as the Bhopas (who belong to the cult of Pabhuji) are specialists in narrating the story of the Pabuji in their sartorial best through the medium of the Phads used as a portable temple, all over the desert lands of the Thar in Rajasthan.

Narrating the Phad is a religious phenomenon. The ground is cleansed with a Pooja before the Phad is displayed. The Phad is used as a backdrop while narrating the story. The whole narration along with the musical accompaniments take 9 whole nights to complete. The narration starts at dusk and ends at the break of dawn.

Painting the Phad is done by a different community. Well known painters belong to the Chipa caste and have the ‘Josi’ surname. The long scrolls take months on end to be painted. Only a young virgin girl is allowed to draw the first stroke of the painting. The colors used are natural and are used in a particular order. Orange is the first color, followed by yellow, green, red. Blue and black are the last colors used for the paintings.The images in the painting are arranged logically. However, iconographically it is considered as ‘extremely complex and intricate’.

Pabuji’s life is depicted as one with a lot of adventures. He travels to Umarkot in Sindh to find camels for his favorite niece and on the way, he falls in love with a princess and marries her after a lot of persuasion. He fought a battle with Mirza Khan from Patan who was killing cows (a sacred animal for the Hindus) and saved the honor of the womenfolk. He had a black horse, who is believed to be a re-incarnation of his mother. Pabuji is the central character in the Phad and all the stories revolve around it.

Prakash Joshi belongs to a well known family of Phad painters. Barely 31, he is a master craftsman who has won a lot of awards. Owing to declining demand from Bhopas, whose audience prefer other forms of entertainment like television and movies, Prakash has started painting other forms of paintings. He has switched over to fine art (very different from folk art) and is catering to the demand.

The brightly colored Phad has been adapted to suit changing needs. Black and white forms are very popular, especially with the urban audience.

My carpenter was very kicked about my interest in the Phad. He promised to get me a CD (yes, those are available!) of one of the performances.


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