Phad paintings are horizontal large-scale paintings created on cloth, showcasing the heroic lives of the local demigods. Since they portray different incidents, and events, these paintings are traditionally opened, or unrolled only after sundown, in synchrony with an all-night performance. This could be one rationale for why these paintings are called Phad, which means ‘folds’ in Rajasthani vernacular.
“The Phad is highlighted on a broad canvas that is about 30 ft long and 5 ft. wide, and is geared up by members of the Joshi tribe. The color palette is made up of bright orange, red, yellow, black, blue, and brown, using derivatives of stones, and minerals. The paints are primed by the women of the community, while the groundwork of the canvas through applications of starch and kheriya gond (indigenous glue) and ghotana (burnishing) is done by men.”
Deeply linked to performance art, the primary form of worship consists of all-night narrations of the demigod’s actions by the nomadic priest-bards of Rajasthan known as bhopas. These renditions are held in front of the Phad, which are decorated narrative scrolls that function as transportable temples of the deity, and as pictographic aids. Helpers standing behind the bhopa unfurl the scroll as the narrative proceeds, and the showman spots the relevant portrayal as he sings, and mimes. The recounting is accompanied by the Ravanhatta, a violin- like instrument. The Phad is created in square panels, each exemplifying a particular episode of the demigod’s life.