What do you do when you cannot reach the one you revere? What happens when the powerful stop you from practicing your beliefs? What will you do when you do not have the resources to challenge them? Across the world, the answer is revolution. Only that the Vaghri community revolted through art.
Thus begins the history of Mata Ni Pachedi. The lower caste Vaghri community wasn’t allowed inside the temples. The upper castes kept them away from their Gods. While the not-so-affluent community could have shouldered yet another blow, they decided to bring the Goddess outside the temple. Mata Ni Pachedi was born through this practice. And with it, came the stories. The stories of how the Goddesses triumphed against all odds, how divine intervention could solve the toughest of problems. The Goddess is always on the side of the vanquished, the weak, protecting them from much bigger forces. And that the meek shall inherit the earth.
The central theme of every Pachedi is a Goddess. The artisans are adept at painting all the 99 forms of the Goddess that they believe in, each distinguished by the animal vehicle they ride on and stories that they are a part of.
The process of making a Pachedi is that of Kalamkari, an art form that originated in Persia. Kalamkari means ‘art using a pen’, a literal reference to the outlines created using a bamboo stick fashioned as a pen. The other famous Kalamkari cluster in India is in Andhra Pradesh. While the technique and materials remain the same, the visual language and the themes are very different
The earlier rendition of this craft was made of a simple palette of red, white and black. White cotton cloth, locally known as ‘madherpaat’, is soaked in a mixture of tamarind seed powder and water. The tamarind seed powder acts as a binder and preps the fabric to take in the colours. Once dry, the outlines are then drawn with a black colour using a bamboo stick tipped with a piece of cotton. The black colour is made by boiling jaggery (molasses), rusted iron scraps and tamarind seed powder. The goddess is drawn in the centre and the rest of the areas are covered with the other details from the story. The composition is highly detailed and includes very little negative space. The gaps in this composition are filled with a mixture of water, alum and the tamarind seed powder. This preps the composition to take in the red colour. Once dry, the fabric is washed in the river, where the running water washed off the excess colour leaving behind a thin uniform film.
The fabric is then boiled in a solution of alizarin (derived from the root of the madder plant) which acts as the mordant, causing a reaction with the alum to create the red colour. Locally sourced Dhwada ka phool is added to retain the white areas. The fabric is dried on the banks of the river where they are supervised to ensure that no human or animal steps on the sacred cloth. The piece is used as a backdrop for the Goddess sculpture and is used for worship or as a gift to the Goddess for blessing the family.
The new Pachedis have taken inspiration from the other Kalamkari cluster in Andhra Pradesh. They use colours like blue, green, pink and grey, all derived from natural sources. Along with new colours, new themes that are neutral in depiction are also made today. The business has grown from catering to their community to a global audience that appreciates the finesse and sustainability of this craft. In the end, the vanquished have come out successful, after all.