Mata ni Pachedi: Tales of the Goddess told on fabric
Natural dyes keep art everlasting
An ancient traditional form of textile art dedicated to the goddesses, Mata ni Pachedi is practiced by the Vagharis nomads who live along the banks of the Sabarmati River in Gujarat.
Mata ni Pachedi means “behind the mother goddess” in Gujarati. Pachedi is a religious textile folk art derived from the Kalamkari painting style, featuring the central mother goddess and her stories, the remaining fabric is then filled with images of devotees as well as flora and fauna.
The art, which is said to be over 300 years old, is so unique to this region that the government has already requested the award of the Geographical Indication (GI) label for Mata ni Pachedi textile art form. The origin of this art form is said to be linked to the geopolitical history of Gujarat, which has been one of the key elements from which foreign rulers have traditionally invaded India over the centuries. As the raids also sometimes led to the destruction of temples, the nomadic community thought of a way to keep their beliefs intact and prevent the invading forces from committing sacrilege by transferring the idols of their gods and goddesses to a fabric easier to save from desecration. .
So, the story goes, the Vagharis made their own art depicting dozens of goddesses and their legends, in mobile temples. Centuries later, as the invasions ended, the art form has survived. Belonging to the Vaghari community, Kiran Chitara is an eighth generation artist based in Vasana, Gujarat. He says his whole family traditionally practices Mata ni Pachedi art. He says that since his childhood he has helped his father fill in the colors on the textile and accompany him to the river to wash the fabrics. Chitara says that over the years, he and his siblings began to learn this art from their father. Years later, Chitara has mastered the art to an extent which has been decorated with a national award by the Indian government for excellence in the art form.
“My father was paralyzed, so my brother and I were always helping him. We started by adding colors in the design, but ended up doing everything ourselves ”, Chitara who practiced Mata ni Pachedi art for almost 35 years, says India Media Group.
But Chitara doesn’t just win the national award. He says he has taken enough steps for his son, Om, to follow in his footsteps as well, to keep the art alive and continues to be passed down from generation to generation as it has for centuries.
“Since my childhood, I have seen my family do Mata ni Pachedi art, and our own home is filled with these works of art. I also wanted to continue this noble art and want to create a new dimension to make it a little unique. We have no other job apart from this one, ”explains Om Chitara who has now become the ninth generation artist in his family.
Art created by the finds of the Chitara family adorns places of worship during festivals and, they say, helps communicate a vital cultural heritage to worshipers.
Creating a Mata ni Pachedi is a complex and delicate task, which involves painting mythological stories and usually represents the manifestation of goddesses.
Cotton canvas is the canvas of this art. The rag is first freed of any starch by soaking it in water for 24 hours and then drying it in the sun. The dry, starch-free cloth is again soaked in the solution of harda (Terminalia Chebula) and again left in the sun for drying. It takes two full days to prepare the canvas.
Make Mata ni Pachedi art, artists say they take a step-by-step process. Once the canvas is ready, an outline of the creation is drawn on it in black color, which is a natural, homemade color like all other colors used in art. The artists say they keep a mixture of jaggery, iron rust, and water in a completely covered pot for almost 15 days to achieve the natural black color. Then they add tamarind seed paste to make different colors.
Mata ni Pachedi is painted using Kalamkari techniques. Bamboo sticks are sharpened to draw the outline and they also serve as a brush to paint different colors on the fabric.
“We draw the image of the Mother Goddess as framed in a shrine or temple in the center and pictures symbolizing her worshipers, and then it is described using kalam, says Chitara.
This art involves freehand drawing. The canvas is painted with a stain made from a solution containing alum and iron and it appears to be yellow as a non-permanent stain is mixed to make it visible during application.
Chitara explains that the main reason for using natural dyes as paint is to keep this art everlasting. “Mata ni Pachedi Textile art can be seen in several temples in Gujarat, most of which were very old, but there is still a new piece left due to the natural dyes used there. But if we use chemical colors, they will be gone soon, ”said Chitara. India Media Group.
Chitara says that each color has its own meaning. While black indicates the evil eye, brown indicates the color of Mother Earth as well as blood which is a sacred feature during Mother Goddess worship, and white indicates purity.
“After filling in the colors, the painted fabric is washed under running water, to remove dust and unwanted colors. Even sometimes due to chemicals mixed in the river water, the whole room deteriorates and the color smears all over it. The major problem is that we do not have adequate facilities to make this art, ”explains Chitara.
After the painted fabric is washed, it is boiled in water, adding Dhawda flowers and alizarin solution to bring out the colors and fix the dyes. After that, the last piece is dried in the sun.
Chitara says that in addition to the technique which involves entirely hand-painted paintings using Kalamkari, another technique used to create the art involves wood block printing. The use of wood block prints is a combination of freehand paints and a block printing process.
“The uniqueness of this art and because it is our own ancient traditional art and dedicated to the goddess, it takes days of patience and dedication to create a work of art. Nowadays, some artists have introduced a lot more colors due to market demands, ”says Om Chitara.
The challenges of selling Mata ni Pachedi
The artists say that even though they’ve gone out of their way to keep art as traditional as it has been over the centuries, current market conditions and declining numbers of buyers have forced some of them to use wood block printing, which is easier to do and cheaper for the buyer.
“Wood block designs are cheaper than handmade designs, which range from INR 500 to over INR 1,000,000. The price depends on the size of the art, ”explains Chitara.
Mata ni pachedi textile art is revered by all and used in many places, due to its sacred nature it is often referred to as sacred cloth. It is used as a temple wall hanging as well as a fabric to adorn the idols of gods and goddesses.
Despite the difficulties in finding buyers, the Chitara family say they are taking all measures to ensure that the art not only stays alive but also spreads, trying to bring new artists into the world. art. The Chitara say that they regularly organize workshops for those interested in learning the art and often they also bring in students who come to their home to learn all the techniques of art. Mata ni Pachedi. But they say they need support to expand the conservation effort.
“Mata ni Pachedi indeed deserves preservation as there are only a handful of artists now. This is the main reason why we participate in workshops to broaden the artist base across the country, ”says Om Chitara.
Elder Chitara says he’s optimistic about art and its future as the boom in social media as well as e-commerce and digital media has opened up new platforms for them to market art and find buyers as well as potential artists far beyond. Gujarat.
“To make art takes several months and selling it was an even more difficult task for us a few decades ago. Our names were on the artisans list and we usually received letters from the arts department for art exhibitions and sales, and we traveled a lot to sell our art. But now the digital boom has completely changed the whole process and given a new way to sell our products all over the country. It is quite an easy task and more and more people are now able to learn about these types of traditional art, ”says Kiran Chitara, beaming with optimism.