Know Your Handicrafts : Phad Art & Phad Painting

phad art

Phad painting or Phad Art is a style religious scroll painting and folk painting, practised in Rajasthan state of India.This style of painting is traditionally done on a long piece of cloth or canvas, known as phad. The narratives of the folk deities of Rajasthan, mostly of Pabuji and Devnarayan are depicted on the phads. The Bhopas, the priest-singers traditionally carry the painted phads along with them and use these as the mobile temples of the folk deities. The phads of Pabuji are normally about 15 feet in length, while the phads of Devnarayan are normally about 30 feet long. Traditionally the phads are painted with vegetable colours.

phad art painting
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The Joshi families of Bhilwara, Shahpura in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan are widely known as the traditional artists of this folk art-form for the last two centuries. Presently, Shree Lal Joshi, Nand Kishor Joshi, Prakash Joshi and Shanti Lal Joshi are the most noted artists of the phad painting, who are known for their innovations and creativity.

Noted examples of this art are Devnarayan Ki Phad and Pabuji Ki Phad.


Phad Painters usually prefer the hand–woven and hand–spun (Khadi or Reja) coarse cotton cloth which is believed to be stronger. It is processed to make it good for the purpose. The artist prepares a mixture of wheat/rice flour and boils it with water till it turns in a thick fine paste. This process is called “Kalaph Banana”

kalaph -banana

He then applies the paste of boiled wheat/rice flour and gum on the cloth. It is called “Kalaph lagana”.

Phad painting & Phad art process
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The cloth is stretched and dried well in hard sunlight. This is called “Sukhana”.

Phad painting online buy
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and then rubbed with a stone device (Mohra) to make it smooth and shining. This is called “Ghotana”. The cloth is now ready and works as well as canvas.

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phad painting designs
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The artist prepares his paints from gum, powdered earthen colours, water and indigo. They keep a grinding stone on which the colours are ground with gum and water. This process is called “Rang Banana”. Earthen colours are used to give the tempera effect. Indigo, a colour obtained from a plant, is still used for blue.  They use sea-shells to keep colour.

phad painting color
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The Phad painting begins on an auspicious day with the ritual offering of a coconut to Sarasvati (the Hindu goddess of learning and fine arts). The first stroke of brush is always made by a virgin girl belonging either to the painter’s family or to a higher caste.  The painter first of all divides the entire scroll into a number of sections and sub-sections, then he prepares rough sketch of the whole painting in light yellow colour. This is called “Kachi likhai Karna”

phad painting stories
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As the rough sketch is ready, the artist starts using colors in layer pattern from lighter to darker value, Orange for limbs or torso of figures, Yellow for ornaments & general clothing & designs, Green for trees & vegetation, Brown for architectural structures, Red for Royal clothing & flags and blue for water and curtains. This is called “Rang Lagana”.

phad paintings images
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The subtle black lines give the final touch. The forceful linear expressions become lively after “Shyahi kadhana ( Application of Black Color) is put on the phad painting.

how to make phad painting
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On an auspicious day the painter completes the phad. The artist signs in the central part of the scroll where the largest figure of Devnarayan/ or Pabuji is painted. He writes his name, as also the names of the Bhopa and the patrons together with their addresses and the date of signing.

Technique of preparing Phad

The procedure of making Phad is as follows :-
1. A long piece of hand spun and hand woven cloth.
2. All Khadi or Reji cloth is starched with rice or wheat flour.
3. Cloth is then rubbed with a moonstone to impart stiffness and a luminous glow.

Pigments Used in Phad Painting

Pigments are grounded by hand and mixed with water and gum. The colors used in Phad painting are:-
1. Light yellow (pila/hartal) – It is made from yellow orpiment. It is used to sketch all figures and structures.
2. Orange (mundo-bharno) or saffron (kesari) – It is used to paint faces and flesh is made by mixing red lead oxide (sindur) with some yellow powder (orpiment – hartal) available in market.
3. Green – It is made from Verdiris (jangal), acetate of copper. It is used to sketch the villains.
4. Red – it is produced from vermilion (hinglulal), by pulverizing chunks of cinnabar (mercury sulfide) and the main characters are painted with this color.
5. Black – It is made either by burning coconut shells or by collecting lampblack from burning edible oil. It is used to outline the details of all figures. After the cloth is ready and the light yellow pigment is pre-phaded, the painter sketches the entire program. This is a called making a map (naksha banana) or giving an out line
(Chankana) during the sketching process, the total program is defined. Next, the successive application of colours begins. Each colour is applied one at a time directly from its bowl to all the places where it occurs throughout the painting. Colouring starts with filling in faces (mundo bharno). When applying this saffron color, the artist carefully leaves a place for eyes and maintains proper body proportions. Yellow, green, brown, and red are applied one after the other. By applying the lighter colours first, and using. increasingly darker colours with each application, the artist progressively read just the boundaries between other colours and the background. In this way, the form of the figures is perfected.

The most laborious task is applying the black outline. This takes days because of the detail required for every figure the black outline is completed, the black and blue surfaces are filled in.When the Bhopa who ordered the painting comes to collect his piece, the Phad is signed, during this short ceremony the Phad is unfurled to expose the cartouche in front of the central deity and the pupil of the main deity is painted, symbolizing the giving of life (pranpratistha) to the Phad.

Only 13 Phad Painting artists remaining in India

Joshi ji founded Chitrashala, a pioneer institute for training in different styles of paintings of Rajasthan and especially for Phad painting (Mewar Style) more than fifty years ago. The art itself is more than seven hundred years old. There was a time when the secrets of Phad painting were confined to the Joshi family. However, when Joshi ji felt that the art form was slowly dwindling away, he felt the need to establish ‘Joshi Kala Kunj’, now ‘Chitrashala’ in 1960 to develop new artists other than the Joshi family. He virtually challenged all orthodox ideas for the sake of art. He took upon himself the task of revitalizing this art, even at the international level.

Artists at work

phad painting & phad chitra
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He conducted workshops, approached media and spoke to masses in India and abroad about Phad paintings. He guided both his sons Kalyan and Gopal Joshi in adding new dimensions to this art.

Kalyan Joshi Ji explains, “Phad paintings originate in our family. Initially even the daughters in the family were not taught its secrets. As a result of the practices of keeping the art within the family, our ancestors started noticing that it was losing its popularity. Hence, we took up the task of bringing it back. Me and my brother, under our father’s guidance and blessings, also started a formal school for institutionalizing Phad art learning, fifteen years ago. I regularly conduct workshops. I visit schools to give live demonstrations so that he coming generations can learn about the art and what’s so special about it. There are only 13 remaining Phad artists in India. This traditional art can only live if it is learnt and practiced correctly. For example, there is a method to make natural paints. We make our own colours and first test them before painting. Only then can one ensure the long life of a painting. We have paintings as old as 200 years!”

Jewels of India’s Phad art

Kalyan Ji has taken up this mission with brother Gopal Joshi and is happy to see some of the artists that his father had taught winning national awards for the art. He is motivated, and humbly so, every time he meets a new audience to speak to, about this wonderful art. He also can’t help but praise the artists because so much hard work goes into Phad paintings; sometimes it can take almost 2 months to finish one painting. Kalayan Ji speaks highly of some well known artists, who have excelled in this profession, “Pradeep Mujherjee, a Bengali artist, learnt from my father back in the 1970s under the guru-shishya parampara.

He won the National Award in 1985. There is also Rameshwar Singh, in Jaipur who later devised his own unique style, using modern touches to enhance Phad art. He won the LKA award. The interesting part is that every painting has a story. So, by preserving this art, we also preserve stories that have traversed thousands of years by word of mouth and hearsay, from our ancestry.”

Welcome to the world of Phad painting by Kalyan Joshi 

While those born in the Joshi family started learning the Phad traditions in their early years, the children of today’s times suffer from an overload of information and may never know about the wonder of Rajasthan’s most cherished art form. It is this fear and a strong determination to overcome it that has led these Phad artists to pursue greater goals. In the age of communication technologies, all one can hope for is that this art can reach out to all those who have an appreciative eye and who love India for its true glory.

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