Vikram Goyal, the award-winning product designer known for breathing new life into India’s traditional crafts, is the moving force behind an extraordinary, 192-page, limited-edition book, Shringara of Shrinathji. Featuring miniature paintings of Shrinathji from the collection of Goyal’s grandfather, the late Gokal Lal Mehta, it displays 60 works that have been reproduced for a wider audience for the first time. The foreword is by Goyal’s mother, Vanmala Mehta, who writes that the paintings form a bridge that connects the family to one another, to their ancestors, and to their faith. The accompanying essay, written by noted artist and scholar Amit Ambalal, explains that the paintings are from the Nathdwara school—named after the deity in the Nathdwara temple in Rajasthan—and depict Shrinathji, a manifestation of Krishna, as he is worshipped through the various seasons and festivals of the year. The collection comprises miniatures handed down to Goyal’s family by their ancestor, Rai Pannalal Mehta (1843– 1919), the progressive former prime minister of the erstwhile state of Mewar (now Udaipur) who served four maharanas and is considered a beacon of reform in the region. His portrait was painted by Raja Ravi Varma.
Many of the paintings in Goyal’s family collection are by Sukhdev Kishandas Gaur, the chief artist of the Nathdwara temple, under Tilkayat Govardhanlalji, and “the first of the Nathdwara artists to adopt a photographic perspective in painting”, writes Ambalal. The paintings celebrate worship through loving devotion, as seen through the eyes of the Pushtimarg sect in the 16th century, followers of Vallabhacharya, a pillar of the Bhakti movement that arose across India. Goyal’s family were major patrons of this sect. “These Nathdwara paintings have been inspirational to my work,” explains Goyal, recalling that when he started Viya Home 20 years ago his main objective was to create a modern design language, a space where he could work with local materials and artisans and draw upon India’s strong craft skills. He chose to work with brass which is a material long associated with India and turned to pichhwai paintings and their motifs—the lotus, cow, and peacock—for creative stimulation. Working with highly skilled artisans, Viya Home has fashioned decorative and functional products—tables, sculptures, door handles, lights, chandeliers, washbasins—that are the definition of a contemporary Indian aesthetic that respects heritage but isn’t bound by it. Its metal artisans have referenced Nathdwara cloth pichhwais to create their own versions, hand-carved in metal using the repoussé technique. The result is jaw-dropping.