← Hearing about the history of Sanjhi from Mohit Maral Goswami
After a fortnight of the display of the culture of the miniature grandeur in the different temples of Vrindavan, the Sanjhi festival ended on Amavasya. The devotees visited the temples with much curiosity to see what was the next lila being depicted in the ‘Sanjhi art’. The ‘lilas’ or the pastimes of the Divine Couple were not only depicted with flowers and paints; the lilas were also sung and celebrated in the temples.
The word ‘Sanjhi’ was derived from the word ‘Sanjh’, which means ‘evening’ in the typical Braj language. Therefore the ‘Sanjhi’ festival is celebrated in the evening only. According to Shri Mohit Maral Goswami, the sevait of Radha Ballabh Mandir, “Sanjhi shouldn’t be misunderstood as Rangoli. Sanjhi involves devotion, faith, dedication and tradition, whereas Rangoli is just a simple drawing, which can be drawn anywhere at any time.” “Sanjhi is invoked through the rituals of fasting, sanctity etc. Every day a new Sanjhi is drawn, and the old Sanjhi is immersed in the river,” added Shri Goswami.
There is a saying, “Man Vanchit fal paiye, jo keejai ihi sev, Sunau kunvri Vrishbhan kee Yaha Saanjhi Saancho Dev”, which means that. ‘if you serve Sanjhi, your wishes are fulfilled’. The Radha Ballabh Temple celebrates this festival for the entire fortnight. For the first seven days, the Saanjhi is made with flower petals and, for the rest of the days, after Ekadashi, it is made with colored powder.
Sanjhi is a folk tradition that often used to be celebrated by the unmarried girls in Northern India during the evenings of the Pitrapaksha – a fortnight period for paying homage to the ancestors. Over the last few weeks, girls in the rural areas of Braj have been making ‘Sanjhi’ on the walls with cow dungs, soils etc. This art is disparate and every day the theme is changed with shapes and sizes.
It is believed that this tradition exists since the time of Lord Krishna, when the gopis used to wait eagerly in the evening for the Lord’s return from tending the cows. The Gopis decorated the path with ‘Sanjhi’ made of different flowers.
While the tradition continued in the villages of Braj from the time immemorial, it was introduced to the temples a few centuries back. The temple priests kept on introducing innovations and rituals in making the Sanjhi. Radha Ballabh Mandir, Madan Mohan (Bhatt ji) Mandir, Radha Raman Mandir, Shahjahanpur wala Mandir are the major attractions for sanjhi art.
Recently, a new chapter was added in the history of Saanjhi as the Shyam Sundar Mandir also began celebrating the festival. A Saanjhi fair is organized at Brahma Kund, where different artists display their mastery of this art. The temples don’t use the cow dung and soil, but use flowers and colors to display this brilliant artform.
Sanjhi on water
Sanjhi in Braj developed as an art with a variety of styles of flower sanjhi, color sanjhi, Jal Sanjhi (sanjhi on water). The Sanjhi art flourished during the time of Maharaja Sawant Singh of Kishangarh, who was later known as Nagari Das. The King who became a saint in his later life and lived in Vrindavan was a great fan of the Sanjhi work.
Nagari Das was an eminent poet of Braj bhasha and had much interest in the art and culture. The miniature art and paintings were developed and flourished in the court of Maharaj Sawant Singh, who was an ardent devotee of Krishna. It was his devotion to Lord Krishna that in 1762, King Sawnat Singh along with his wife Bani Thani came to Vrindavan not return back to his kingdom. He bought a big piece of land and built a temple on the bank of Yamuna near Seva Kunj. The area is called Nagri Das ghera.
Raja Sawant Singh and his wife’s tombs were built on that land, which can be visited even today. It was the benevolence of the king for art that in his times he sponsored many Sanjhi fairs outside temple premises on open grounds. These Sanjhi fairs organized under the guidance of great Sawant Singh gave a platform of motivation for the early Sanjhi artists, singers and poets of Vrindavan in this period. The poems authored by Nagaridas were the foundation of the Kishangarh miniature paintings.