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Friday, July 12, 2024

Colors of Devotion

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WOW! speaks to Dr Anita Shah who expands on her book and influence of Pichwai tradition

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WOW! Interviews Dr Anita Bharat Shah in the backdrop of a huge embroidered Pichwai. A museologist and an avid
collector of Indian textiles and art objects, she is the author of, Colors of Devotion, that explores the history of the Pusthi
Margis. The community founded by Saint Shri Vallabhacharya, worships Krishna as Shrinathji and uses art and music as a
major pivot in devotion. The book showcases many rare private and public art. Anita’s family, who were bankers and
jewelers to the Nizams, migrated to Hyderabad in 1729.


The word Pichwai is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘Pich’ which means back and ‘Wai’ means hanging. They describe
the life events of Lord Krishna and are hung in Shrinathji temples behind the idol especially at Nathdwara. Over the years
the family collected many rare Pichwais which are now dispersed across museums in the UK, US and Japan.
Anita took over seven years researching for the book and says one of the most important reasons for it was to retain the
sanctity of Indian art. “There is a lot of trivialization when it comes to Indian art, especially by western writers. Their
nomenclature is limited and they fail to get the nuances right,” she says.


As a member of a family that has followed the tenets of Pushti Marg over generations, the author is uniquely placed to
offer an insider’s view of its philosophy. The book also throws light on the origin of the most important pre-Mughal
manuscript, Palam Dispersed Bhagavad Puran, written around 1520 and consisted of 300 pages. Today the book that
influenced the painting style from the 15th century onwards is spread across the world among collectors and museums.
Anita also sheds light on the little known Kalamkari Pichwais which incorporate the themes, motifs and colors of
kalamkari techniques into the robust palette and stories of Pichwais. She states, “I think some of my ancestors traveled to
the Coromandel coast and commissioned these artworks. They are certainly unique and there are a lot of unheard-of
motifs from the swordfish to the scorpion which tie them to the Coromandel Coast.”


In her beautiful art-filled home (full of Pichwais and miniatures), Anita has built a refuge for these artworks that fill the
soul with joy. An authority on rare Indian art, she has been feted at many international platforms and taught extensively
abroad. Currently working on her next book on the aesthetic theory of Indian art, the author is bursting with stories in a
city that barely notices them!
Dr Anita Shah will give a talk on Indian Pichwais on July 7, at Saptaparni

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