Sanjhi Art – Traditional Adornment Art of Braj Vrindavan

Sanjhi art is one of the many art fields in Braj, culturally rich.

As a cultural background related to Lord Krishna, Braj has been an important center of various folk styles since ancient times. Handicraft, music, architecture, sculpture etc. are prominent among them. Loknayak Lord Krishna’s name echoes in Karnas, a garden filled with vines, Yamuna river, his playground on the river’s arrow, the holy land of Braj, all visible to the Nain. The threads of the cultural and artistic ornaments of Braj come out from this sacred playground where the all-pervading form of God has become a source of inspiration for us for eternity.

Ashtabhuja Sanjhi in Vrindavan
Ashtabhuja Sanjhi in Vrindavan

In Braj, different components of art, music, dance, literature, visual arts, etc. of different genres are a very beautiful combination, without separate existence. This mixture appears to be alive as a homologous synthesis. During the Bhakti movement prevailing in the 17th century, there was a rapid progress in these art fields. The main reason for this was that the art lovers who were skilled in different art from different regions of India used to gather in Braj. In the bliss of love and devotion of Krishna, it became a major center of the devotees. Devotees had affection for Krishna at its peak. In the 16th century itself, Braj became a stronghold of various art styles and cultural traditions. One such art style is Sanjhi. This art form is basically related to the sacred texts related to Radha-Krishna.

What is Sanjhi?

The word Sanjhi is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Sandhya’. Sandhya, that dusk of the twilight when the cows return to the cowshed. It is considered to be the most sacred time for any ritual in Indian religious texts. According to Srimad Bhagwat, Radharani himself started the tradition of Sanjhi when he, along with the Gopis, created the unmatched figures of Sanjhi. To celebrate Rutha Krishna, he collected colorful flowers by going to the forest and made beautiful figures for them with those flowers on the ground.

Dung made of cow dung in Barsana village
Dung made of cow dung in Barsana village

This is the religious view of this tradition. To celebrate Ruthe Krishna is the main manifestation of Sanjhi. It is a depiction of the soft emotional state inherent in Radha-Krishna’s Ras Leelas. In other words, it is an ancient folk tradition settled in Rome, Rome, in Brij, which beautifully depicts a religious theme.

Celebration of kumaris

Initially, the unmarried girls of Braj used to make beautiful artwork of Sanjhi on the reefs with cow dung and flowers. After that, considering this Sanjhi as the goddess, she used to worship her with the wish of a worthy groom. The practice of creating Sanjhi by cow dung and flowers has been going on since ancient times in Braj. Sanjhi art is an inseparable component of the art and culture of Braj. Its original existence is embedded in the folk tradition of Braj.

In these words, Swami Haridas has described the shepherd girls, who make artwork of the Sanjhi on the reefs by dung and flowers.

“Kamdhenu ke dung so rachi sanjhi phoolan chiti”
This means, Sanjhi is made from cow dung, decorated with flowers.

Apart from Braj, this art is also prevalent in Vrindavan. This is the best example of incorporating components of folk art into religious traditions and giving it new heights. The Vaishnava temples of Vrindavan adopted the rural practice of designing, designing and worshiping these figures. Subsequently, this extraordinary aesthetic composition was developed in a very fine art style.

The religious traditions of Braj shared

In the temples, Sanjhi is depicted on the occasion of 15 days of Sharad Utsav which is celebrated from the full moon of Bhadrapada to the new moon day of Ashwin. According to the English calendar, this period is located between September to October. Vaishnava communities such as Pushtimarga, Gaudiya and Radhavallabhi of Vrindavan have a significant contribution in the auspiciousness of incorporating the Sanjhi art style into the temple traditions. He has made this contribution under his independent sect.

Earthen platform
Earthen platform

There was a time when all the temples of Vrindavan in Ashwin month used to create common artwork. But now only three temples of Vrindavan, 500 years old, follow this tradition. These temples are Radharaman Temple, Bhattaji Temple and Shahjahanpur Temple.

Creating common artwork in the temples of Vrindavan

The Brahmin priests trained in Sanjhi artistry create Sanjhi art in the temples of Vrindavan. These shapes are made using dry colors on an octagonal platform of clay. The octagonal stage impersonates the lotus of the eight petals.

Krishna Bhatt ji engaged in making sanjhi in Bhatt ji temple
Krishna Bhatt ji engaged in making sanjhi in Bhatt ji temple

There is a sanctum in the central part of the Sanjhi, similar to the architectural design of the temple. It consists of the divine couple of Radha and Krishna in Rasleela. There are several layers of artistically knotted ornate figures around the inner sanctum. These figures indicate the transmission of divine light in all eight directions.

Paper mold
Paper mold

Several layers of paper stencils are stacked one on top to form a complex outline of the joint. These nicrites, namely stencils, are made by highly talented paper-cutting artists who have a thorough understanding of Radha-Krishna images along with decorative figures. Which means Radha-Krishna resides in his hands and art. There was a time when stencils were cut at the same time according to the artisan’s mood.

Festive time

The time of celebration is when the girls of the village worship in common. This time also corresponds to another annual ritual, that is Pitru Paksha. That is, the favor of performing shraadh and tarpan for your departed ancestors. According to Hindu beliefs, no auspicious work is started in this favor. This time is considered inauspicious for any religious ritual or celebration.

Traditional Sanjhi of Shri Radharaman Temple
Traditional Sanjhi of Shri Radharaman Temple

However, Sanjhi is considered to be beyond worldly auspicious and inauspicious arguments. This celebration of love is higher than all worldly beliefs. It has embodied transcendental faultlessness that goes beyond all types of worldly bonds. Although no concrete evidence of this festival is found in the Puranas and mythological literature, this folk tradition is contextually incorporated into Vaishnava theology. In the Vaishnava scriptures, Sanjhi is included in such a way that it becomes difficult to distinguish between folklore and scripture.

Various styles

Sanjhi’s subtle and complex design demands the artist’s utmost time and considerable effort. But only time and labor are not enough. With this, the highest level of skill in the artist is essential. In simple common color, colored powders are used. Special types of common works are done on the water surface and water level. Use of flowers is also in vogue in Sanjhi.

Floating dusk
Floating dusk

Just as the gates are closed at the time of the Lord’s bath and ornamentation, in the same way, the common artwork is also made across the closed gates throughout the day. Throughout the festive period, a new artwork is created each day. After spending the full day, they create this exquisite artwork which is displayed for public viewing at the time of evening worship.

Songs of sanjhi

The religious rituals of Vaishnava temples are incomplete without proper devotional songs. Song-music is also performed at the time of display of common artifacts. There is a long list of songs related to each festival. The lyrics of these songs speak of the spirit, worship and typical practices related to that festival. According to the most well-known Vaishnava belief, Radha and gopikas collect flowers, create unmatched artifacts from them and worship Goddess Sandhya.

Underwater sharing
Underwater sharing

Sri Gallu Ji Goswami of Radharaman Temple composed this devotional song for Sanjhi and this festival:

Sriraadharamanlal Pyari’s personal thoughts

A simple disguise is a ritual of happiness.

Other songs are based on the spirit of backward love of this festival, which is basically the inspiration of this festival. Overall, the expression of divine love is reflected in each art form. Sanjhi’s unmatched creation reflects an exquisite pattern of artistry, which is an excellent expression of the artist’s creative intelligence and understanding. Hence, the second phase of the devotional songs is based on the basic theme of the evening.

Whatever expressions and postures of the divine play are displayed in the middle of Sanjhi, the scene inspires the singers and they sing songs based on that Leela. By combining these songs with the original devotional songs of Sanjhi, they create such a musical atmosphere that the beauty of the festival quadruples. The entire atmosphere transmits energy to the devotees. The visual atmosphere of divine existence brings this musical atmosphere to the peak of love and devotion in the audience.

Offering

As soon as Sanjhi’s figure is completed, he is offered traditional enjoyment. Just as the offering is offered to the Vaishnava Devas, the same is offered to Sanjhi. The common figure is drawn in front of the sanctum sanctorum so that the visitors have the opportunity to connect with God in two ways, one by their idolatry and the other by their artistic expression. Visions of common artwork begin in the evening. Visions of them are stopped at night. Aarti of Sanjhi is done again in the morning on the second day. Thereafter, the divine colors used in the common figure are collected and offered to Yamuna. All this is done before the sun rises. New day starts as soon as sunrise. With this, the plan of new shape of Sanjhi also starts.

Bhajan evening
Bhajan evening

Sanjhi Kala is a unique combination of various performances of devotional expressions. In this art style, Raslila of the divine couple of Radha-Krishna is artfully displayed by intricate figures. It is not just an art form, but it is a beautiful expression of the old tradition of Vrindavan. Here folk traditions related to Krishna find an important place in the daily rituals of the temple. The priests of the temples learn this art from their ancestors under the Guru-disciple tradition. The priests of the temple have kept it alive till date, furthering this art. It is hoped that generations to come will also keep this art style for eternity.

Guest edition

This is a guest edition provided by Sushant Bharti.


Sushant Bharti is a patron architect. He has received postgraduate and graduate degrees in architecture from New Delhi’s School of Planning and Architecture and Architecture Academy College of Architecture respectively. He has a special interest in various cultural dimensions of India. The diversity of architecture is the main subject of his study. ‘Cultural Heritage of Braj’ and ‘Architecture of Indian Temples’ are his major areas of research. Presently, he is working as a Research Assistant in the Indian Museum Institute of the Indian Museum, located at Janpath, New Delhi.

Read these other editions of Sushant:
Braj’s flower bungalow tradition
Rasikapriya – Geet Govind of Bundelkhand


Translation: Madhumita Tamhane

About Peter Rhody

"Loving India is a passion of mine. I have enjoyed several long journeys to all corners of the sub-continent, completed my B.A and M.A in Asian studies, studied languages such as Hindi, Urdu, and Sanskrit, written on the Hari Krishna movement, lectured on Indian culture and history in university, advised others on their trips to India all the while preparing my next visit to India. There are so many places in India I love and want to always go back to but my favorite destination has to be the holy city of Varanasi. Here you can feel the living pulse and the beating heart of the center of religious India with its overwhelming spirituality and history and just for being a true microcosm of India itself "

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