It is an uncanny moment when you receive a book in the mail that is titled Gates of the Lord and the full moon is settling itself in the night sky. Sharad purnima is auspicious and epic in terms of religiosity. The showering of Bhakti Raas on the sharad purnima night by Lord Krishna on gopis and Radha has been a main theme for poets and philosophers, and still continues to attract the fantasies of common man. Mapin’s book is a confluence of visual and verbal aesthetics in the unravelling of the Krishna legacy of pichvais—large paintings on cloth designed to hang in temples—and the Nathdwara lineage.
Images small and big, intense and soft, full of equipoise and expressive entendre, meet your gaze as you leaf through pages of puissant bhakti. Writer and curator Madhuvanti Ghose does a magnificent job of collating the essays by eminent writers and collectors.
The unique, highly aestheticised veneration of Shrinathji, an aspect of Krishna as a child who is the chief deity of the temple town of Nathdwara in Rajasthan, has long fascinated scholars and artists, as has the extraordinary legacy of miniature paintings created to record such worship. This book showcases centuries of pichvais and miniature paintings that have been created by and for the Pushtimarg—a Hindu sect established in India in the fifteenth century—in devotion of Krishna as Shrinathji.
We are given a bird’s eye view of life in Nathdwara, and the daily veneration of Shrinathji characterised by the changing of seasons and a bustling festival calendar. You can begin the book from anywhere because the reader is rewarded with an amazing yet ingenuous range of pichvais used as backdrops for Shrinathji in his shrine, each uniquely suited to a particular season or festival. The accompanying miniature paintings offer further insight into the Pushtimarg sect: its private and intimate mode of worship, rich history, and important priests and patron families. We are given a peek of probing intensity into the sacred, cloistered practice of the Pushtimarg.
This is why Ghose states pertinently, “This sect of Hinduism is little known, even within India, due to its very closed and private devotions. Even today, phones and cameras are not allowed within the precints of its main temple at Nathdwara. Thus, outside of the sect, there is little appreciation of its unique traditions that have been strictly preserved and elaborated upon since the 16th century.”
The Pushtimarg possesses a unique culture in which art and devotion are deeply intertwined. This important volume, illustrated with more than a hundred vivid images, offers a new, in-depth look at the Pushtimarg and its rich aesthetic traditions, which are largely unknown outside of south Asia.
What adds to the visual impact is the gravitas of the essays by eminent scholars of Indian art focusing on the style of worship, patterns of patronage, and artistic heritage that generated pichvais as well as other paintings for the Pushtimarg. In this expansive study, the authors deftly examine how pichvais were and still are used in the seasonal and daily veneration of Shrinathji. Gates of the Lord introduces readers not only to the visual world of the Pushtimarg, but also to the spirit of Nathdwara.In terms of academic and scholarly research and aesthetics, it is the essay of artist and collector Amit Ambalal that reads with robust vitality and fervour.