Gujarat is known for its rich history, beautiful beaches and its vibrant and diverse cultural heritage, which is reflected in its art forms. Gujarati art is a fascinating amalgamation of various styles and techniques, ranging from folk to contemporary art styles. The world of Gujarati art consists of a plethora of different styles of art – from the delicate and intricate Rogan art made with thickened castor oil to the simple but beautiful Mata ni Pachedi, portraying mythology and years of tradition on simple cloth, Gujarati art is a juggernaut that consists of vastly diverse art styles. One such art style is Mata ni Pachedi, a traditional Gujarati art style that has its origins amongst the nomadic tribe of the Vagharis, on the banks of the Sabarmati. The story of the origin of this art form is a simple but powerful tale of devotion and resilience.
History and Origins of Mata ni Pachedi
According to legend, the Vagharis, being nomadic tribes, were not allowed to enter temples and offer their prayers to the deities. Instead of knuckling under these restrictions, the people of the tribe found an ingenious way around them- they began to paint the mother goddesses in shrines on cloth and hang it up- and this would be their own altar, their own temple. This would also make it simple to bring down and fold, ensuring they weren’t caught offering their respects to the mother goddesses. Sometimes, multiple paintings would be hung up in sequence to simulate something that greatly resembled an actual temple. Thus began the tradition of making Mata ni Pachedi, translated to ‘behind the mother goddess’ amongst the tribe.
Themes and Style of Mata ni Pachedi
To simulate the intricate beauty of the temples and goddesses, the paintings must also be similarly intricate, and hence, the process of making these paintings is not an easy task. Mata ni Pachedi is an intricate art form- resembling the interiors of a temple exactly. The paintings consist of a central altar with the main goddess, which is surrounded by other subordinate and ancillary deities. The ‘walls’ of the temples depict natural and divine themes, resembling temple wall sculptures. Mata ni Pachedi has a distinct style – the paintings are traditionally coloured only in red and black. The process of making the Mata ni Pachedi painting is long and painstaking, both in terms of the preparation procedures and of the procedure of painting itself.
Process of Mata ni Pachedi
The process starts when members of the artists’ community begin to prepare the cloth (starting at 4×4 metres), which is typically made of cotton. The cloth is soaked for a long time, and then washed, to destarch and clean it thoroughly. Then, the cloth is treated with a water – based solution of Harda. Then, the process of painting begins. There are two ways to make the outlines for the paintings – which are always done in black. This can be done using a bamboo pen freehand, or using wooden blocks for printing the intricate motifs on the cloth. Both methods were practised traditionally, but the freehand method is more difficult and requires a lot of skill.
Once the outline is finished, the colour is filled in- traditionally red. However, a solution of alum and tamarind seed powder mixed with a temporary yellow dye is painted on the cloth first, using bamboo brushes- this ‘paint’ will only become red when the cloth is treated with alizarin solution with Dhawda flowers in it as well. The yellow dye is mixed in to keep the solution visible- so that it doesn’t cross outlines. Then, the painting is washed and dried by the artists to remove any excess dye. After this, the cloth is treated in a solution using alizarin as a mordant, to fix and seal the dye. The yellow colour magically transforms to a deep, gorgeous red as it boils in the crimson solution. This visually spectacular transformation exhibits the profound knowledge of chemistry the ancients had.
Recognition for Mata ni Pachedi
Mata ni Pachedi has gotten some recognition in the recent past- having been awarded a GI tag in 2023. Besides this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented Mata ni Pachedi as a present during the G20 summit in 2022, popularising the art in the media and India for a short while. However, this still has not changed a lot for the artists.
Present State of Mata ni Pachedi
Today, like many other traditional art forms, the tradition of Mata ni Pachedi is fighting to stay alive, with the decline of interest in traditional arts and crafts. Since few are now interested in buying traditional artforms, especially large and elaborate ones like Mata ni Pachedi, the artists have had to evolve to the demands of the modern market. The artists have tried to stay as close to the traditional art as possible, but some of them have now introduced more colours to make them more attractive to the modern buyer. The artists have also diversified to creating similar works on a smaller size or with uses in daily life. For example, the artists have now begun to create smaller versions of the original art, to be displayed as wall art. Since the pandemic, they have also begun making reusable masks with Mata ni Pachedi on them, and they have gradually expanded to textiles as well. While this is a good step on their part, it is unfortunate that they had to resort to such methods to keep this art alive.
Mata ni Pachedi is a beautiful art form, representing centuries of tradition of artistry passed down from generations. It also symbolises dissent against oppression and restrictions, and of devotion. The values it stands for, the long standing tradition of artistry and its sheer beauty make the art form worth preserving in this age of industrialisation and globalisation. It is high time we realise the value of such ancient arts and make efforts to preserve them.