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Indian Art is the visual art produced on the Indian subcontinent from about the 3rd millennium BCE to modern times. Voluptuous feeling is given unusually free expression in Indian culture. A strong sense of design is also characteristic of Indian art and can be observed in its modern as well as in its traditional forms.
Indian art can be classified into specific periods each reflecting particular religious, political and cultural developments.
- Ancient period (3900 BCE-1200 CE)
- Islamic ascendancy (1192-1757)
- Colonial period (1757–1940)
- Independence and the postcolonial period (Post-1947)
Temple and sculpture art
Obscurity shrouds the period between the decline of the Harappans and the definite historic period starting with the Mauryas, and in the historical period, the earliest Indian religion to inspire major artistic monuments was Buddhism. Though there may have been earlier structures in wood that have been transformed into stone structures, there are no physical evidences for these except textual references. Soon after the Buddhists initiated rock-cut caves, Hindus and Jains started to imitate them at Badami, Aihole, Ellora, Salsette, Elephanta, Aurangabad and Mamallapuram.
Buddhist art first developed during the Gandhara period and Amaravati Periods around the 1st century BCE. It flourished greatly during the Gupta Periods and Pala Periods that comprise the Golden Age of India. Although the most glorious art of these Indian empires was mostly Buddhist in nature, subsequently Hindu Empires like the Pallava, Chola, Hoysala and Vijayanagara Empires developed their own styles of Hindu art as well.
There is no time line that divides the creation of rock-cut temples and free-standing temples built with cut stone as they developed in parallel. The building of free-standing structures began in the 5th century, while rock-cut temples continued to be excavated until the 12th century. An example of a free-standing structural temple is the Shore Temple, a part of the Mahabalipuram World Heritage Site, with its slender tower, built on the shore of the Bay of Bengal with finely carved granite rocks cut like bricks and dating from the 8th century.
The Chola period is also remarkable for its sculptures and bronzes. Among the existing specimens in the various museums of the world and in the temples of South India may be seen many fine figures of Siva in various forms, Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi, Siva saints and many more.
The tradition and methods of Indian cliff painting gradually evolved throughout many thousands of years - there are multiple locations found with prehistoric art. The early caves included overhanging rock decorated with rock-cut art and the use of natural caves during the Mesolithic period (6000 BCE). Their use has continued in some areas into historic times. The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, a World Heritage Site, are on the edge of the Deccan Plateau where deep erosion has left huge sandstone outcrops. The many caves and grottos found there contain primitive tools and decorative rock paintings that reflect the ancient tradition of human interaction with their landscape, an interaction that continues to this day. The oldest frescoes of historical period have been preserved in the Ajanta Caves from the 2nd century BCE. Despite climatic conditions that tend to work against the survival of older paintings, in total there are known more than 20 locations in India with paintings and traces of former paintings of ancient and early medieval times (up to the 8th to 10th centuries CE). The most significant frescoes of the ancient and early medieval period are found in the Ajanta, Bagh, Ellora, and Sittanavasal caves.
Researchers have discovered the technique used in these frescoes. A smooth batter of limestone mixture is applied over the stones, which took two to three days to set. Within that short span, such large paintings were painted with natural organic pigments.
During the Nayak period the Chola paintings were painted over. The Chola frescoes lying underneath have an ardent spirit of saivism is expressed in them. They probably synchronised with the completion of the temple by Rajaraja Cholan the Great.
Mughal painting in miniatures on paper developed very quickly in the late 16th century from the combined influence of the existing miniature tradition and artists trained in the Persian miniature tradition imported by the Mughal Emperor's court. New ingredients in the style were much greater realism, especially in portraits, and an interest in animals, plants and other aspects of the physical world. Miniatures either illustrated books or were single works for muraqqas or albums of painting and Islamic calligraphy. The style gradually spread in the next two centuries to influence painting on paper in both Muslim and Hindu princely courts, developing into a number of regional styles often called "sub-Mughal", including Kangra painting and Rajput painting, and finally Company painting, a hybrid watercolour style influenced by European art and largely patronized by the people of the British raj. Noted art historians working in the region include Professor Francesca Penty whose extensive work on Mughal Art has focused on the connections between the gensis of Hinduism, the caste system, and erotic imagery, and is considered by many in the field to be the seminal work on Mughal Art.
The Indian subcontinent has the longest continuous legacy of jewelry-making, with a history of over 5,000 years. One of the first to start jewelry-making were the people of the Indus Valley Civilization. Early jewelry making in China started around the same period, but it became widespread with the spread of Buddhism around 2,000 years ago.
Folk and tribal art
Folk and tribal art in India takes on different manifestations through varied media such as pottery, painting, metalwork, paper-art, weaving and designing of objects such as jewelry and toys.These are not just aesthetic objects but in fact have an important significance in people's lives and are tied to their beliefs and rituals. The objects can range from sculpture, masks (used in rituals and ceremonies), paintings, textiles, baskets, kitchen objects, arms and weapons, and the human body itself(Tattoos and piercings). There is a deep the symbolic meaning that is attached to not only the objects themselves but also the materials and techniques used to produce them.
Often puranic gods and legends are transformed into contemporary forms and familiar images. Fairs, festivals, local heroes (mostly warriors) and local deities play a vital role in these arts.
Folk art also includes the visual expressions of the wandering nomads. This is the art of people who are exposed to changing landscapes as they travel over the valleys and highlands of India. They carry with them the experiences and memories of different spaces and their art consists of the transient and dynamic pattern of life. The rural, tribal and arts of the nomads constitute the matrix of folk expression. Examples of folk artists are Warli and Gond.
While most tribes and traditional folk artist communities are assimilated into the familiar kind of civilised life, they still continue to practice their art. Unfortunately though, market and economic forces have ensured that the numbers of these artists are dwindling. A lot of effort is being made by various NGOs and the Government of India to preserve and protect these arts and to promote them. Several scholars in India and across the world have studied these arts and some valuable scholarship is available on them. A noted art historian, Dr. Jyotindra Jain, has contributed greatly to this cause.
The folk spirit has a tremendous role to play in the development of art and in the overall consciousness of indigenous cultures. The Taj Mahal, the Ajanta and Ellora caves have become world famous. The Taj Mahal is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Art in the British period
British colonial rule had a great impact on Indian art. The old patrons of art became less wealthy and influential, and Western art more ubiquitous. Abanindranath Tagore (1871–1951), referred to as the father of Modern Indian art introduced reworked Asian styles, in alignment with a developing Indian nationalism and pan_Asianism to create a new school of art, which is today known as the Bengal school of art. Other artists of the Tagore family, such as Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) and Gaganendranath Tagore (1867–1938) as well as new artists of the early 20th century such as Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941) were responsible for introducing Avant garde western styles into Indian Art. Many other artists like Jamini Roy and later S.H. Raza took inspiration from folk traditions.
In 1947 India became independent of British rule. A group of six artists - K. H. Ara, S. K. Bakre, H. A. Gade, M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza and Francis Newton Souza - founded the Progressive Artist's Group, to establish new ways of expressing India in the post-colonial era. Though the group was dissolved in 1956, it was profoundly influential in changing the idiom of Indian art. Almost all India's major artists in the 1950s were associated with the group. Some of those who are well-known today are Bal Chabda, Manishi Dey, V. S. Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta, K. G. Subramanyan, A. Ramachandran, Devender Singh, Akbar Padamsee, John Wilkins, Himmat Shah and Manjit Bawa. Present-day Indian art is varied as it had been never before. Among the best-known artists of the newer generation include Bose Krishnamachari and Bikash Bhattacharya. Another prominent Pakistani modernist was Ismail Gulgee, who after about 1960 adopted an abstract idiom that combines aspects of Islamic calligraphy with an abstract expressionist (or gestural abstractionist) sensibility.
From the 1990s onwards, Indian artists began to increase the forms they used in their work. Painting and sculpture remained important, though in the work of leading artists such as Nalini Malani, Subodh Gupta, Narayanan Ramachandran, Vivan Sundaram, Jitish Kallat, they often found radical new directions. Bharti Dayal has chosen to handle the traditional Mithila painting in most contemporary way and created her own style through the exercises of her own imagination, they appear fresh and unusual.
The increase in discourse about Indian art, in English as well as vernacular Indian languages, changed the way art was perceived in the art schools. Critical approach became rigorous; critics like Geeta Kapur, R. Siva Kumar,Shivaji K. Panikkar, Ranjit Hoskote, amongst others, contributed to re-thinking contemporary art practice in India. The last decade or so has also witnessed an increase in art magazines like Art India, Art & Deal, Indian Contemporary Art Journal and Art Etc. complementing the catalogues produce by the respective galleries.
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