By Soma Das for Hindustan Times
The stencil art of Sanjhi has its roots in Indian folk culture and is associated with Vaishnav temple traditions.
As an eight-year-old, paper artist Jaishree Pankaj Shah would watch intently as her grandfather made hand-cut paper designs or stencils to decorate the swing of Lord Srinathji. That was her first lesson in the Sanjhi paper craft.
Sanjhi is an art form rooted in the folk culture of Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, and later became an integral part of Vaishnavite traditions. It was patronised as a refined art form in the 15th and 16th century, and was practised by priests in Vaishnav temples.
“During the Bhadrapad (monsoon) season, the temple floor would often be decorated with banana leaves cut into various shapes and sizes. The art later evolved into paper stencils with floral and geometric designs,” says Shah. “Sanjhi artworks were used to decorate temples, nat-mandirs and kirtan sabhas during Vaishnav festivals such as Holi, Janmashtami and Jhulan.”
At an exhibition at Artisans’ in Kala Ghoda, Shah is showcasing 45 Sanjhi panels (some are three dimensional and as tall as 20 sq ft) depicting the Raas Leela, and inspired by the architecture of the Vaishnavite havelis and jharokhas of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The traditional art form was quite daunting as the paper cuttings were made directly without sketching or tracing.
To make a Sanjhi, Shah sketches a rough outline of the motif and then fills in the details while making cuts. She then glues the parts together on a coloured sheet of paper or silk before framing the work. “Each work is intricate, and it takes between a week to two months to make a panel,” she says. The traditional art form was quite daunting as the paper cuttings were made directly without sketching or tracing.
The art form of Sanjhi still manifests itself in places where Vaishnav culture flourished. “At Mathura, Vrindavan, West Bengal and Odisha — which are home to Vaishnav communities and Radha Krishna lore in visual and performing arts — you can find this art form reflected in various traditions that work with silhouette and stencil forms,” says Shah.