Shringara Coffee Table Book of Shrinathji: Faith and Small Masterpieces

Shringara by Shrinathji features a museum-worthy collection of 60 miniature paintings

Sometimes chance encounters lead to lavish results. Such was the case when product designer Vikram Goyal found himself dining with Bipin Shah of Mapin Publishing, the pasha of coffee table book publishing. What started as a casual conversation in early 2020 turned into a foreclosure project, culminating in a 192-page hardcover limited edition that’s a collector’s item. Shringara of Shrinathjiwritten by renowned artist and scholar Amit Ambalal and conceptualized by Goyal, features 60 miniatures of Shrinathji, a manifestation of Lord Krishna, from the collection of Goyal’s grandfather, the late Gokal Lal Mehta.

Book cover

Cover of the book “Shringara of Shrinathji”

Reproduced for the first time, the museum-worthy collection was passed down from their ancestor, Pradhan Rai Pannalal Mehta (1843-1919), the former Prime Minister of the former state of Mewar (now Udaipur), a champion of education, development and philanthropy. Pannalal attributed his fortune to Shrinathji and amassed an extensive collection of ornate miniatures, now accessible through this visually striking volume. Thumbnails document sringara (dressing, ornamentation) of the lord over the seasons and festivals. Goyal’s mother, Vanmala Mehta, writes in her foreword: “For us, these paintings are more than just works of art: they are a bridge that connects us to each other and to our ancestors, and to our devout faith in Shrinathji.

A painting from the book

A painting from the book

Priests and paintings

The artworks are from the Nathdwara school, so named after the deity of the Nathdwara temple in Rajasthan. As Ambalal writes in an extensive essay accompanying the illustrations, the miniatures featured in the book were made under the patronage of Tilkayat Govardhanlal (1862-1934), one of the temple’s chief priests. It was during his period that these paintings reached their greatest heights, in terms of quality and detail.

Daily devotion

  • The paintings are rooted in the Pushtimarg culture (the sect founded by Vallabharchya, a leader of the Bhakti movement born in the 16th century in India). He de-emphasized devotion in an ascetic way, in favor of the joys found in everyday life: sringara, bhog (food and drink) and kirtan (devotional songs).

Additionally, he attributes the Mehta family paintings to Sukhdev Kishandas Gaur, the mukhia (chief artist) of the temple. “Sukhdev was the first of the Nathdwara artists to adopt a photographic perspective to painting,” writes Ambalal. “The high quality of execution, such as the immaculate attention to detail, the refined portraiture and the color tones in the artwork, these 60 paintings could be attributed with certainty to Sukhdev.” Indeed, looking at the works, many of which are enlarged for ease of viewing, it is amazing to see the photographic nature of the art.

Vikram Goyal (inset) and a work inspired by the Nathdwara school

Vikram Goyal (inset) and a work inspired by the Nathdwara school

love in the details

Despite their age, Goyal emphasizes how contemporary many of the backgrounds, color palettes and patterns found in the work are. Stripes, solid colors including black backgrounds, and circular patterns continue to look as fresh today as they would have when first painted. “The book is an extension of my contemporary take on traditional arts,” says the designer (and co-founder of wellness brand, Kama Ayurveda). His own designs, for example, include repoussé panels inspired by picwai paintings.

The miniatures bear witness to the talent of the artists. This meticulous attention to detail and refinement of creation stems from excellence and a singular love of divinity. They were, after all, doing God’s work.

From Mapin Publishing, the book (priced at ₹9,500) is available online at shringaraofshrinathji.com and amazon.co.in. Or call 9987536039.