The Mystical world of the Goddess Devotee-Artists of Ahmedabad

Ayi giri nandini, nandhitha medhini, Viswa vinodhini nandanuthe,
Jaya Jaya Mahishasura mardini, Ramya kapardini, shaila Suthe.

Daughter of the mountain, joy of this earth, rejoicing with the universe, daughter of Nanda, Victory to thee! Slayer of the evil demon, Mahishasur! With wild, enchanting hair, daughter of the Himalayas.

India is one of the last remaining corners of the world where pagan goddess worship is practiced in all its unabashed, primeval glory. Nothing says it better than Navratri, also celebrated as Durga Puja in various parts of India. Tis’ the season to be… gory… it seems?? Navratri is when Indians around the country worship the Divine Feminine in Her most fierce aspect – a destroyer of demons, a veritable warrior, a frightfully violent goddess that all the gods put together don’t dare contend with. Rare and beautiful art forms like Kalighat painting and Mata ni Pachedi capture the symbolism and ethos of this festive period of the year perfectly.

 Goddess Durga ready for battle and atop an armoured cow while devotees of all sorts – asuras, devas, etc – flock to her

Ayi satha kanda, vikanditha runda, Vithunditha shunda, Gajathipathe,
Ripu Gaja ganda, Vidhaarana chanda, Paraakrama shunda, mrugathipathe,
Nija bhuja danda nipaathitha khanda, Vipaathitha munda, bhatathipathe,
Jaya Jaya Mahishasura mardini, Ramya kapardini, shaila Suthe. 

Victory to you, Daughter of the mountain, Goddess who breaks heads of ogres into hundreds of pieces,Who cuts the trunks of elephants in battle, Who rides the majestic lion,Who tears the heads of elephants to pieces, Who severs the heads of her enemies with her own arms,Victory to thee! Slayer of the evil demon, Mahishasur! With wild, enchanting hair, daughter of the Himalayas.

In this Mata ni Pachedi, Durga is seated on a cow and she is readying herself for battle, while devas, asuras, and devotees cheer her on and throng to her side. This is a typical theme and display for a Mata ni Pachedi, where the goddess is central to the painting and dominates it completely. Blood red is auspicious for all Indians as it symbolizes wealth, fertility, the earth, and divine powers. When Mata ni Pachedi was first born as an art, red and black were the only two colours used. Black was believed to have the power to ward off the evil eye. Today, yellow and blue are also being used creatively.

The first Mata ni Pachedi artists emerged some 300 years ago in a small village, which is today part of Ahmedabad. A tribe of nomads, known as the Vagharis, were forbidden from entering temples because they were ‘devipujaks’ or untouchables who only and exclusively worshipped the Mother Goddess. Consequently, they hung a painting – the Mata ni Pachedi, which literally translates to mean ‘Behind the Mother Goddess’ – and hung it behind the temple where they would gather and worship Her. Thus, was born a unique artform, also known as the ‘Kalamkari of Gujarat’ because of the similar techniques to the artform of South India – painting on cloth, use of bamboo sticks or “kalams” as pens, and use of organic dyes.

The Divine Feminine is Terrifying and Beautiful at the same time; here she is depicted as Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Abundance – Delicate, Feminine, Romantic, and Nurturing

The Mata ni Pachedi artform is a labour of love requiring anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months for a 50-inch by 90-inch painting depending on the detailing entailed. Blocks for printing the motifs were traditionally fashioned out of mud, but today wooden blocks are the more popular choice of the artists. First, the artists de-starch and mordant rectangular-shaped cotton fabric and then treat it with a paste called ‘harda,’ which makes it easier for the cloth to absorb the vegetable dyes. Red is derived from tamarind seeds and black is derived from a mixture of jaggery and iron. The artisans use a combination of block-printing and painting on the cloth, which is neatly organized into a grid consisting of 7 to 9 columns; this it easy for the artists to fill in details.

Finally, the fabric is soaked in salt and cow dung before being boiled in alizarin, which deepens the hue of the colour. After this, the painting is sprinkled with castor oil and then rinsed in the Sabarmati River; this practice is critical because only running water can remove the excess water without staining the painting.Dhanu ranushanga rana kshana sanga, Parisphuradanga natath katake,
Kanaka pishanga brushathka nishanga, Rasadbhata shrunga hatavatuke,
Kritha chaturanga bala kshithirangakadath, Bahuranga ratadhpatuke,
Jaya Jaya Mahishasura mardini ,Ramya kapardini, shaila Suthe.

Victory to you, Daughter of the mountain, Goddess bedecked with ornaments,
With muscular limbs for the field of battle, Who readies her bow for war,Goddess, Destroyer of her enemies, Who kills them with a shining sword,Who braced herself beautifully, To face a four-fold enemy on the battlefield,And charge forth with screaming soldiers by her,Victory to thee! Slayer of the evil demon, Mahishasur! With wild, enchanting hair, daughter of the Himalayas.

‘Shakti’ the divine energy derived from the Divine Feminine, which assumes hundreds of forms or “avatars” across India and in the Indian peoples’ imagination

Mata ni Pachedi is not simply an artform; it is a ritual. Entire families get involved in the creation of the painting from preparing the fabric and applying colour, to washing and drying. Once completed, the artists involved gather together, conduct aartis and pujas and sing bhajans. Attendees to the pujas include a “bhuvo” or priest who oversees the rituals, “jagorais” or bhajan singers who describe the scenes in the pachedis in their songs, and the “chitaras” or artists themselves who conceived and executed the paintings. Their work schedule is busiest in the run up to Navratri, the 9-night festival ending in Vijaydashami.

Sihasn is honoured to collaborate with National Award-Winning Artist, Kirit Jayantibhai Chitara for its Mata ni Pachedis

Kirit Jayantiben comes from a “chitara” family or traditionally artist family in Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad is one of few places where Mata ni Pachedi chitara families now remain. There are a handful of families and, apart from Ahmedabad, they live in Girnar (Junagadh), Jahula (Palitana), Dhrangadhra (Surendranagar), and Ambaji (Koteshwar). These are all towns in the state of Gujarat which has received Geographical Indicator status for the production of Mata ni Pachedi. The chitara families have dwindled in number over the centuries as the interest in, awareness of, and support of the art form gradually waned, and younger generations of chitaras no longer wanted to carry on the craft traditions of the family. Kirit is a rare example of an artist who graduated from college and returned to the craft to revive and reinvent it. His father was a famous Master Craftsman who displayed his works and gave lectures at renowned universities across the country such as NID and NIFT, and also hosted visiting artists from Germany, USA, Japan, and Australia.