Mata Ni Pachedi
For the last 300 years, a wandering tribe, called the Vaghris have been keeping a tradition of sacred painting alive. This tradition of painting narratives of the Goddess Durga, in her various incarnations is called Mata Ni Pachedi, which in English translates as ‘behind the idol of the Goddess’. The painting originated as a temporary altar for the community that was constantly on the move. Ironically, its seems that soon after the Vaghris settled in Ahmedabad, the tradition of painting has struggled to stay afloat and may soon find itself lost in it’s contemporary adaptations.
Mata Ni Pachedi or Mata na Chandarvo is now restricted to the state of Gujarat and most of the practicing artists live in Ahmedabad. The ‘Mata’ signifies the Goddess Durga in her various avatars (incarnations), sometimes as the boon giving peaceful Goddess and sometimes as her violent and popular form as Kali, where she overcomes evil. Whatever her avatar maybe, Goddess Durga finds an important place in the Gujarati society, as the locals believe that she is their primary protector. Their love and worship can be seen during the 9-day Navratri festival that is organized every year, where thousands of devotees come and dance around her idol.
According to the Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga has 64 known avatars, which is termed as Chausath Yogini’s (64 Yoginis), though it is very rare to find all sixty-four incarnations painted today. As the traditional use of the Pachedi declines and it adapts itself to various contemporary designs, the chance that one will ever see all the incarnations together is quite less. Many of the artists may not even know all the incarnations and would need to do some homework as well.
The painting is a usually a rectangular narrative scroll, which is divided into 7 or 9 parts, each part containing a stand- alone story of the deity or a local narrative from that society. You may even see a narrative, which contains the life of its commissioner. Some narratives also show the local priest, called the Bhuva, leading a goat for a sacrifice, which is a tradition of the Vaghri tribe.The image of the Goddess, which sits on top of its vahana (vehicle) takes the central position, usually much larger than surrounding imageries. The border of the paintings is a very bold one.
The material undergoes a few ‘facelifts’ before it can be painted upon. The material is first freed of starch, soaked in water and then dried in the sun. It is then soaked in a mixture of cow dung and salt and boiled, following which it is immersed in a mixture of castor oil and caustic soda. After this process dries up, it is again soaked in a mixture of castor oil and Harra (myrobalan) and left to dry, before it can be used.
The artists usually use wooden blocks to first outline the main drawing on the cloth. These blocks are made of rusted iron, which are soaked for a week in a sugar solution and a paste of tamarind seeds. This, when mixed with Harra (myrobalan) produces black. After the outline is done, the colours are applied with a ‘Kalam’, a bamboo stick with a cotton swab at one end. Thus, it is no surprise that this style is also called as Kalamkari of Gujarat.
A traditional Mata Ni Pachedi would only use three colours- maroon/ red, which represents the colour of the earth, black, which wards off the evil eye and white, which stands for purity. The white is usually the background of the material while the other colours are vegetable dyes. After each colour is applied, the material is boiled in alizarin solution, which brings out the colours and then washed in running water. Due to environmental changes, the tradition of washing the cloth in the Sabarmati river has dies out and the artists now use other pigments, which are cheaper than vegetable dyes.
Mata ni Pachedi has adapted itself to changing times, but I feel that this traditional is slowly dying out. The artists have moved beyond the three colours to broaden the palette to suit demands. A few themes have also changed and mostly a selected number of Mata’s are depicted. I guess it’s time that we do our best to preserve this tradition!
(I am not a textile expert and have written this post from the sheer love of the textile, thus, if there are any discrepancies in the information provided above, please email me at email@example.com. The photographs are of textiles, mostly new, available with many artists of the community. I thank all the information I have found online, which has assisted me in compiling this post.)