As in the painting, in the real life too this public appearance of the village womenfolk, a bit better dressed up and ornamented, was a colourful transformation of the monotonous and tiring daylong routine of village life and afforded some respite to breathe in open air; perhaps, the basic character of Indian culture which sought in routine things, though themselves labour-involving, colours, gaiety and festivity. Here they had occasion to talk out their pains or to seek pride in someone’s achievement : broadly, a meeting ground where pains were breathed out, and pleasures inhaled, where problem were discussed and solutions sought. Here dumb mouths realised that they had tongues within, and tongues uttered the minds. This painting portrays one similar aspect of India’s village life : four Paniharins – water fetching women, with pitchers on their heads, the two turned homewards and two reaching the river.
In hot climatic conditions a good amount of water was every household’s need. Everywhere, more particularly in areas with short rainfall such as Rajasthan, Bundelkhand, Gujarat, Saurashtra… as also with ample water resources, responsibility of fetching water, from a river, pond or well, lay primarily with womenfolk of the household. Not merely the State’s job, the most pious act which a rich donor could do was construction a well, dug-well or baori – a stepped well or even a reservoir. For facilitating the passers-by too, such public dug-wells were usually constructed on the outskirt of the village. Obviously passing across the entire village habitation necessitated the water-fetching women to go in groups and to dress up reasonably well. Now most villages equipped with bore-wells, hand-pumps and tapped water facilities these phenomena are rare, till a few decades back groups of colourfully attired women-folks with pitchers on their heads heading towards a well, pond or river, or treading back was a country-wide phenomenon, which at least in remote villages, more so in water scarcity areas, still prevails.
Obviously, the painting represents the evening hour. Birds, back in their shelter on the tree, winged insects, swarming all around, dull-looking lotuses swooning over the water’s surface and the entire space from the earth to the sky bathed in orange hue, all suggests that the sun has set though its glow yet lurks in the sky and with it blooms the evening. Costumed gracefully, as sensuous imagery is not the folk-art’s theme, in colourful lehangas, blouses and odhanis and sufficiently bejewelled two of the four ladies with stylistic water-pots on their heads are drawing close to river, while the other two are going back. The artist has portrayed those going back in profile, while the other two are front-facing. The bare-footed womenfolk afforded the artist ample scope for portraying the beauty of their ornamented and coloured feet, their gait as also the diversely patterned, designed and coloured costumes.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.