The beautiful images of Lord Krishna in His Form as Sri Nathaji have become famous due to the worship of devotees of the Vallabha sect, one of the four main Vaisnava sampradayas. Their worship of Sri Nathaji is always offered to that of the Lord in His blackish Form with one arm extended upwards, holding Govardhana Hill.
Sri Nathaji resides in Nathadwar, which lies in the Aravalli hills of Rajasthan, where He maintains an opulent temple. The artists there paint exquisitely detailed images called pichhavais, which are rectangular backdrops that show the Lord in various pastimes.
Over the course of the day, eight offerings are made, as follows, and these Pastimes are typically found in pichhavais paintings:
Mangala (waking of Krishna in the morning)
Gwala (Krishna leading the cows to graze)
Rajbhoga (midday meal)
Utthapana (awakening from midday nap)
Bhoga (afternoon meal)
Sandhya (Krishna leading back the herds at twilight
Sayana (putting Krishna to sleep)
The temple activities require a space similar to that found in a Rajput court, and the havelis, or temple spaces, are designed accordingly. A series of courtyards with many rooms leading off are used for festivals and special occasions. There are also storehouses, kitchens, living apartments for the pujaris and attendants, etc.
In the main temple area, various items on the altar are covered or adorned with cloth coverings, which are changed in sets like sringara paraphernalia. A complete set (safa) of these textiles include a canopy, coverings for the throne, steps, table and stools, along with a large background cloth, or pichhavai. The pichhavais sometimes have a center space that is cut away, in which case they're called pithaka.
The images which have become most familiar are the large pichhavais depicting special festival scenes. These painted pictorials generally have a detailed adornment around the border, often comprised of ornamental cows or lotus flowers.
The center images may include a wide range of scenes
called Dana Lila, in which a sequence of events are depicted, or Giri Kandara, in which Radha and Krsna appear in a cave on Mount Govardhan. In some, Sri Nathji is seen sporting among the lotus-filled waters of the Yamuna River, or holding a garland, as Yamunaji.
In the series ahead, we'll explore 24 of the major festival themes in which Sri Nathaji is adnorned by pichhavais of particular note. Many of these are described in elaborate detail in Rajasthani Temple Hangings of the Krishna Cult by Robet Skelton.