Phad is an audio-visual performance of folk narratives in Rajasthan. Phad or scrolls are painted stories. It is a large cloth scroll on which the legend of Pabuji & Devnarayan or other folk heroes is painted. The performance signifies Phad Bachna “Narration of the legend”. These folk paintings on cloth are a part of rich cultural legacy of India. These paintings have the mammoth task of representing a complex and a full blown folk epic, which it achieves through a very specific style of representation, filled with figures & pictorial incidents.
These paintings form a kind of dramatic backdrop to epic story telling performances.
Since they depict the different episodes, these paintings are customarily opened or unrolled only after sundown, in conjunction with the all night performance. This could be one reason for these paintings to be called Phad. Which means folds in local dialect. The word Phad is may also be derived from Sanskrit word patt. The painters who traditionally engage themselves in the profession of Phad painting are known as Phad painter. They are painted by the Chipa and Joshi castes of Shahpura, near Bhilwara based on the subjects like Bhagavad purana or other popular folk stories. The origin of Phad paintings is traced to western India.
The principal subjects for the paintings are the life of two legendary Rajasthani heroes-Pabuji & Devnarayan ji- who are worshipped as the incarnation of lord Vishnu & Laxman. Each hero-god has a different performer-priest or Bhopa. The repertoire of the bhopas consists of epics of some of the popular local hero-gods such as Pabuji, Devji, Tejaji, Gogaji, Ramdevji.The Phad also depict the lives of Ramdev Ji, Rama, Krishna, Budhha & Mahaveera. The iconography of these forms has evolved in a distinctive way. All Phads, no matter which hero-god they present, have certainly similarities.
Every available inch of the canvas is crowded with figures. Another similarity is flat construction of the pictorial space. While the figures are harmoniously distributed all over the area, the scale of figure depends on the social status of the character they represent and the roles they play in the story.
Another Interesting feature is that the figures in the paintings do not face the audience; rather, they face each other. These paintings are very wide to accommodate the numerous episodes of the complex stories.
With the help of painting exposition and explanation of the painting to the audience is done through the songs, dances and instrumental music. The whole performance is an intricate ritualistic affair to which many rituals of performance are attached.
The painting involves the use of a coarse white cloth, which is starched and smoothened with a wooden burnishes. The initial sketch is executed with a non-permanent yellow color, followed by application of colors in the order of green, brown, vermilion, and sky blue. Finally, black color is used for outlining the figures.
Traditionally, natural colors derived from vegetables and minerals were used but today the use of synthetic colors has also become popular. When the painting is completed, it is given to bhopa (a singing artist) who performs during night to the accompaniment of the instrument. In olden times, the phada artists do not paint the eyes of the main character till the time the painting was not handed over to the bhopa. However, time has changed now.
The stories in Phadas sometimes appear to overlap. The central portion depicts the main story while the puranic tales are illustrated on the border areas.
Pabuji Ki Phad
The Bhopas use paintings as visual aids while singing and dancing to illustrate the legend of their hero Pabuji.These paintings have very strong religious and community connotations.
They have a symmetrical composition, as they are meant to be placed in the house shrines for meditation. Pabuji ki phad depicts incidents from the life of Pabuji, a prince who lived in the early 14th century.
Dev Narayanji Ki Phad
A legend Devnaryan is eleven hundred years old and this is a tradition of seven hundred years of continuity.This oral epic, one of the oldest living Indian traditions, narrates the story of Devnarayan, a legendary king who is believed to have been an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. .
The epic and its recital are part of the lives of the Gujjar community in Rajasthan and north-western Madhya Pradesh, who worship Devnarayan. The entire story of Devnarayan is recited by Bhopas(singer priests) in the nights during the months November to July.