CONTEXT + PROCESS // THURSDAY, SEPT 28  1:10-2:20PM (RM 210)

The Phar and Mata-ni-pachedi: Sacred Textile Arts of Rajasthan and Gujarat, India
Cindy Gould + Praveen Singh Rathore

Sacred images, symbols and art forms have long been used in religious rituals in India as aids to prayer and meditation, invoking the blessings of the Divine.

Indian art has a material dimension, an aesthetic dimension and a spiritual dimension. For the traditional Indian artist, the elements of design, such as color, line, and shape, the specific materials and techniques used, as well as compositional layout, are only the physical means of expression, not the main preoccupation. The art form itself becomes a sacred vehicle for connecting with the transcendent.

This presentation explores the close connections among spirituality, religious practice and art, focusing on two types of textiles specific to India, one of the oldest civilizations in the world. These age-old traditional textiles are known as a phar and mata-ni-pachedi.

There are similarities between the textiles related to their material and aesthetic qualities. Both are quite long and feature multiple bands of sacred images and symbols that are hand-painted using natural pigments. Both are used as a type of temporary temple, their long scroll-like forms unrolled and hung as a backdrop, the location thus becoming sacred.

The distinct difference between these two textiles is related to the specific societies and deities they are connected with. The phar depicts the epics of Pabuji, a Rathod Rajput chief who became a local folk hero and is worshipped as a deity in rural Rajasthan. A bhopa (priest singer) performs customary rituals and narrates the epics of Pabuji, as depicted on the phar. The mata-ni-pachedi depicts the epics of the “mata” or “Mother Goddess” and is an important religious textile for the Vaghri community in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Despite this distinct difference, both textiles share the same core purpose: connecting humans with the Divine.

This multi-media presentation is richly illustrated with photographic images and video clips taken by the co-presenters while on site in India, as well as actual examples of these religious textiles created by the artisans.


Cindy Gould received her BFA and MA from Iowa State University and her MFA from the University of Iowa. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Visual Culture, College of Design, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. She has been traveling to India for the past 20+ years, conducting field research, with a special focus on traditional textiles and their cultural significance. Her scholarly and creative research has been published and presented nationally and internationally.

Praveen Singh Rathore is an award-winning freelance film-maker, independent researcher, and Director of Music of Rajasthan. He lives in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. He is particularly interested in social issues and documenting the rich cultural heritage of his home country. Film and photography are the vehicles through which he creates awareness of these issues. Initially a self-taught film-maker and technician, Mr. Rathore subsequently received training in audio-video archiving at the American Institute of Indian Studies Archives and Resource Center for Ethnomusicology in New Delhi and in Scriptwriting for Film and Television by the Consortium for Educational Communication, New Delhi.