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Reviving the lost art of Pichwai tapestries

Anshu Khanna

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He is an embroidery master, an artist who creates art through the rendering of his needles and threads. Dhruv Dhir, the artist commissioned by Shanti Banaras to revive the lost art of Pichwai tapestries, is bringing alive an art that was part of the fabric of India’s spiritual art heritage.

A beader for brands and couturiers, Dhruv realised that it was futile “to enrich an ensemble with such rare embroideries only to be discarded by the wearer after one or two wears. Instead I wanted to take embroidery to the realm of art and convert it into a perennial possession that is yours for a lifetime.”

He got drawn towards Pichwai art that depicts Krishna and his wondrous world. He created a body of work and shared it with Shanti Banaras, a weaver’s brand based in Varanasi that adopted it on a whim. “The mastery of the craft is in creating facial expressions of the Gods through embroidery. It’s so easy to paint a large smile across Lord Krishna’s face, but creating it through needle and thread is a rare skill,” shares Priyanka Shah, Shanti Banaras, explaining why they decided to invest in its revival.

 Their first body of work in fact got hand-picked as the VVIP gift by the Ambanis for their son’s wedding. “I got an order of fifty tapestries of Har Shringaar where Lord Krishna is with Radha in a mystical garden. We had 30 days to deliver a body of work which otherwise takes three months. But I gathered embroiderers from Varanasi, Lucknow and Bareilly and we worked night into day to deliver on time.”

Dhruv Dhir

Every temple in Marwar and its neighbouring kingdom houses a Pichwai painting as its central piece. Nathdwara, Udaipur, Kishangarh and Jaipur, each school adding its own little touches to the art. Like the lotus-shaped aquiline face of Kishangarh’s Radha or the very geometric appeal of Pichwais from Udaipur.

 Interpreting each of these forms as embroidered masterpieces, Dhruv creates life-size art pieces that are 5-6ft. He adopts the dying craft of hand-embroidered tapestries, flushing each texture of Lord Krishna with over 300 colours rendered by a hundred knots.

Crafted from resham-do-taar and embellished with the finest crystals and semi-precious, the art is revived under the foundation called ‘Arras by Shanti’. And this design foundation creates the imagery of Lord Krishna and his sacred world through the dexterous interplay of a wide range of coloured threads.

An art piece by Arras entails the crafty creation of a painting that works as the outline to be filled in with hand embroidery. A tiny piece of the work often uses at least 300 colours and over a thousand hand stitches.

Through the universal language of art, Arras by Shanti is reviving the tradition of design in wondrous tapestry of celestial paradises, legends, and heroic tales, taking you on a journey of art, craft and culture.

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Uday Pratap Singh

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