These watercolor paintings, done on cloth, enjoyed a great popularity from the 16th century onwards. They began as illustrations, both miniature (manuscript) and mural size, of romantic and religious Mughal and Hindu religious epic poems. They were popular not only as an art of the nobility, but also among the general populace. Travelling art galleries mounted on wheeled carts moved around the countryside, from which the storytellers illustrated their verses.
In the 17th century, Jahangir period, nature, animals, birds and flowers were given greater prominence instead of being merely subordinate elements. Richer backgrounds, often in dark green or turquoise were used and the tendency to idealization increased and continued.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, both provincial schools under the patronage of nobles and imperial schools of the courts existed, creating even greater diversification. Each school specialized in a different technique and subject matter. In the 18th century, emphasis on the female body and romanticism increased.
Pichawai paintings done in the 20th century are a synthesis of these many schools. The ever shrinking groups of artists that do them are direct descendants of the original masters. Their works are truly collector’s items, as they and their paintings continue to dwindle in number.