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In Indian climatic conditions water in good quantity was everyone's need. Everywhere, more particularly in areas which did not have good rainfall or ample water resources, such as Rajasthan, Bundelkhand, Gujarat, Saurashtra women folks were the traditional water fetchers since ages. State was duty-bound to develop water resources tanks, ponds, wells The most pious act which a rich donor could do was construction a dug-well or baori, a stepped well. Usually such public dug-wells were constructed on the outskirt of a village, which necessitated the water fetching women to go in groups and, being outside, presentably dressed. Till recently, groups of colourfully attired women with pitchers on their heads heading towards a well Panaghat, or back was a country-wide phenomenon, which at least in remote villages, more so in water scarcity areas, still prevails. Except the effluent hardly a few in the entire village, water fetching was one of the essential functions of all village women. Usually, when the day cooled and the sun headed westward, groups of women would set out to fetch water singing a ballad, a folk song, humming a tune, or conversing, the theme being usually from around them. Here class disparities dissolved; castes were rendered largely ineffective; religions did not come in between; and, age factor didn't work. Not merely that numerous medieval romances and 20th century Indian films centred on Panaghat, Paniharins and passers-by stopping on the Panaghat for quenching their thirst, but were also marketed many commercial products, cooking mediums and garments in special, using Panaghat and Paniharin as their brand names.
The painting represents five Paniharins garbed in characteristic Rajasthani lehanga, odhani and choli proceeding homewards after fetching water. Instead of capturing their front pose, as most artists and cameramen would do, the painter has caught on his canvas their back view which has not only dramatised his theme but also shifted to it complete focus and at the same time utterly simplified it. The front pose would have engaged the eye to the beauty of face and figure, their modelling sensuous or otherwise, anatomy and similar other things, not the theme that the artist aimed at rendering, or barely the class of the portrayed women Paniharins as they are, which beyond their individual identities he wished to underline. Here he has ample scope to portray the beauty of their feet, their gait and above all their diversely patterned, designed and coloured costumes. It is only to have in focus only the figures of Paniharins - his theme, that he has not diversified his background lest forms distracted the viewing eye. Opaque pale background without a discernible form, except the shadows of the women, suggests that the sun has set though its glow yet lurks and with it blooms the evening, and that a distance has been covered but their homes are yet far off.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.