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TREASURE HUNT: Experts can’t estimate value of Hindu ‘pichwai’ painting from reader’s photo

DEAR HELAINE AND JOE: I bought this piece about 40 years ago in San Francisco and wonder if it is worth anything. It is silk and appears to depict an Indian groom getting ready for his wedding. Can you comment?

Thanks in advance,

— F.A.

DEAR F.A.: Once again we are teetering upon the deep end of the pool, where we do not swim well. But we will jump in and try not to metaphorically drown.

True understanding of this painting requires a deep knowledge of the Hindu faith — and that we do not have. So, before we begin we apologize to those of the Hindu religion we might offend by our lack of perception and appreciation of nuance.

We believe this painting on cloth is called a “pichwai,” which refers to a style of painting that originated more than 400 years ago in the town of Nathdwara in Rajasthan. The name “Nathdwara” means “Gateway to Shrinathji.””Shrinathji” as we understand it is a manifestation of the Lord Krishna as a 7-year-old child.

Shrinathji/young Krishna’s principal shrine is in the town of Nathdwara, and the site, according to the sources we found, was chosen when the bullock cart carrying an idol of Lord Krishna was bogged down in mud while it was being transported to protect it from Mughul ruler Aurangzeb. The interpretation of this event was this was where Lord Krishna wanted to reside and a temple was built on the spot. This temple is sometimes called the “Haveli (Mansion) of Shrinathji.”

We feel the central figure in the painting is probably Shrinathji, and not a bridegroom getting ready for marriage. The women depicted surrounding him are — we think — Gopis, which in the Sanskrit language means “female cowherdesses,””wife of a cowherder,””milkmaid” or “guardian.”

According to Hindu mythology, young Krishna would play his flute and the Gopis would come and dance. In simplest terms, this may be what is depicted here, but we do not see a flute depicted. We do see two Gopis offering Shrinathji something. This suggests either a harvest celebration, or perhaps the Gopis are celebrating the occasion of young Lord Krishna’s elevation into being a seasoned cowherd.

The assertion that this piece is on silk leaves us with some doubts. Most pichwai depicting this sort of scene are rendered in ink and color on cotton or textile, not silk. But with that said, we did find a few pichwai on silk, but these tended to be either late 19th century or late 20th century.

We cannot suggest a value for the piece because we do not know the size, which is probably quite large. Small versions of late 20th century pichwai (say 2-by-3 feet) might sell in the low hundreds, while antique larger sizes (maybe 6-by-8 feet or larger) can bring prices into the low thousands. Tourist quality pieces can sell for less than $100. Size, age and quality of the artistry are all important factors in determining the value of any pichwai, and some of these factors are best determined in person.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a focused, high-resolution photo of the subject with your inquiry.

Images are for reference only.Images and contents gathered automatic from google or 3rd party sources.All rights on the images and contents are with their original owners.

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