Indian painting

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Fresco from Ajanta caves, c. 450–500
Raja Ravi Varma Shakuntala (1870) Oil on canvas.

Indian painting has a very long tradition and history in Indian art. The earliest Indian paintings were the rock paintings of pre-historic times, the petroglyphs as found in places like Bhimbetka rock shelters, some of the Stone Age rock paintings found among the Bhimbetka rock shelters are approximately 30,000 years old.[1] India's Buddhist literature is replete with examples of texts which describe palaces of the army and the aristocratic class embellished with paintings, but the paintings of the Ajanta Caves are the most significant of the few survivals. Smaller scale painting in manuscripts was probably also practised in this period, though the earliest survivals are from the medieval period. Mughal painting represented a fusion of the Persian miniature with older Indian traditions, and from the 17th century its style was diffused across Indian princely courts of all religions, each developing a local style. Company paintings were made for British clients under the British raj, which from the 19th century also introduced art schools along Western lines, leading to modern Indian painting, which is increasingly returning to its Indian routes.

Indian paintings provide an aesthetic continuum that extends from the early civilisation to the present day. From being essentially religious in purpose in the beginning, Indian painting has evolved over the years to become a fusion of various cultures and traditions.

Sadanga of Indian painting[edit]

Around the 1st century BC the Sadanga or Six Limbs of Indian Painting, were evolved, a series of canons laying down the main principles of the art.[2] Vatsyayana, who lived during the third century A.D., enumerates these in his Kamasutra having extracted them from still more ancient works.

These 'Six Limbs' have been translated as follows:[2]

  1. Rupabheda The knowledge of appearances.
  2. Pramanam Correct perception, measure and structure.
  3. Bhava Action of feelings on forms.
  4. Lavanya Yojanam Infusion of grace, artistic representation.
  5. Sadrisyam Similitude.
  6. Varnikabhanga Artistic manner of using the brush and colours. (Tagore.)

The subsequent development of painting by the Buddhists indicates that these ' Six Limbs ' were put into practice by Indian artists, and are the basic principles on which their art was founded.

Genres of Indian painting[edit]

Painting of Mysore style during tippu sultan period

Indian paintings can be broadly classified as murals and miniatures. Murals are large works executed on the walls of solid structures, as in the Ajanta Caves and the Kailashnath temple. Miniature paintings are executed on a very small scale for books or albums on perishable material such as paper and cloth. The Palas of Bengal were the pioneers of miniature painting in India. The art of miniature painting reached its glory during the Mughal period. The tradition of miniature paintings was carried forward by the painters of different Rajasthani schools of painting like the Bundi, Kishangarh, Jaipur, Marwar and Mewar. The Ragamala paintings also belong to this school, as does the Company painting produced for British clients under the British Raj.

Ancient Indian art has seen the rise of the Bengal School of art in 1930s followed by many forms of experimentations in European and Indian styles. In the aftermath of India's independence, many new genres of art developed by important artists like Jamini Roy, MF Husain, FN Souza, and Gaitonde. With the progress of the economy the forms and styles of art also underwent many changes. In the 1990s, Indian economy was liberalized and integrated to the world economy leading to the free flow of cultural information within and without. Artists include Subodh Gupta, Atul Dodiya, Devajyoti Ray, Bose Krishnamachari and Jitish Kahllat whose works went for auction in international markets. 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.

Murals[edit]

A mural painting depicting a scene from Mahajanaka Jataka, Cave 1, Ajanta

The history of Indian murals starts in ancient and early medieval times, from the 2nd century BC to 8th – 10th century AD. There are known more than 20 locations around India containing murals from this period, mainly natural caves and rock-cut chambers.[3] The highest achievements of this time are the caves of Ajanta, Bagh, Sittanavasal, Armamalai Cave (Tamil Nadu), Ravan Chhaya rock shelter, Kailasanatha temple in Ellora Caves.

Murals from this period depict mainly religious themes of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu religions. There are though also locations where paintings were made to adorn mundane premises, like the ancient theatre room in Jogimara Cave[4] and possible royal hunting lodge circa 7th-century AD – Ravan Chhaya rock shelter.[5]

The pattern of large scale wall painting which had dominated the scene, witnessed the advent of miniature paintings during the 11th & 12th centuries. This new style figured first in the form of illustrations etched on palm-leaf manuscripts. The contents of these manuscripts included literature on Buddhism & Jainism. In eastern India, the principal centres of artistic and intellectual activities of the Buddhist religion were Nalanda, Odantapuri, Vikramshila and Somarpura situated in the Pala kingdom (Bengal & Bihar).

Eastern India painting[edit]

In eastern India miniature painting developed in the 10th century. These miniatures, depicting Buddhist divinities and scenes from the life of Buddha were painted on the leaves (about 2.25 by 3 inches) of the palm-leaf manuscripts as well as their wooden covers. Most common Buddhist illustrated manuscripts include the texts Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita,[6] Pancharaksa, Karandavyuha and Kalachakra Tantra. The earliest extant miniatures are found in a manuscript of the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita dated in the sixth regnal year of Mahipala (c. 993), presently the possession of The Asiatic Society, Kolkata. This style disappeared from India in the late 12th century.

Western Indian Miniature Painting.

Miniature painting developed During the 10th century in western part of India that is modern state of Rajasthan.These paintings are seen in hastprat [mini books written by hands ] of Vaishnav sect and Jain cult.This paintings were made to make the subject of the book more interested and to decorate the books.

Rajasthan state were integrated into western India of that time. Particular manuscript miniature painting developed in the western part of India that is modern state of Rajasthan. From 17th century “Rajput miniature painting " developed in the western part of India that is modern western state of Rajasthan. “Rajput miniature painting has its own style and beauty. 'Subjects- The subjects of these miniature paintings are in relation to the subjects of the manuscripts mostly religious and literary. Many paintings are from Sanskrit and folk literature. It is on the subject of love stories. Some paintings from Vaishnav sect of Hindu religion and some are from Jain cult. The Paintings of Vaishnav sect are regarding various occasions of the life of Lord Krishna and Gopies. Vaishnav paintings of "Gita Govinda" is about Lord Krishna. The paintings of Jain cult is concerning to Jain Lords and religious subjects. Equipments- These paintings were created on "Taadpatra" that means the leaf of the palm tree, and Paper. During that period earlier manuscripts were created from the leaf of the palm tree and later on from the paper. Characteristic- In these paintings there are very few human characters with front face are seen. Most of the human characters are seen with side profile. Big eyes, pointed nose and slim waist are the features of these paintings. The skin colours of human being are Brown and fair. The skin colour of the Lord Krishna is Blue. The colour of the hair and eyes is black. Women characters have long hair. Human characters have worn jewellery on hand, nose, neck, hair, waist and ankles. Man and women have worn traditional Indian dress, slippers and shoes. Men have turbans on the head. In these paintings trees, rivers, flowers, birds, the land, the sky, houses, traditional chairs, cushions, curtains, lamps, and human characters have been painted. Colours-Mostly Natural colours have been used in these paintings. Black, red, white, brown, blue, and yellow colours are used to decorate the paintings. Promoters- The Kings, Courtiers of the kings, wealthy businessmen, and religious leaders of the time were the promoters of these miniature paintings. Painters- Painters of these pictures were from the local society." Vaachhak " was the famous painter of the time.Painters tried to make the subject of the manuscript live by these pictures so that the readers of the manuscript can enjoy reading.

Malwa, Deccan and Jaunpur schools of painting[edit]

A new trend in manuscript illustration was set by a manuscript of the Nimatnama painted at Mandu, during the reign of Nasir Shah (1500–1510). This represent a synthesis of the indigenous and the Persian style, though it was the latter which dominated the Mandu manuscripts. There was another style of painting known as Lodi Khuladar that flourished in the Sultanate's dominion of North India extending from Delhi to Jaunpur.

The miniature painting style, which flourished initially in the Bahmani court and later in the courts of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golkonda is popularly known as the Deccan school of Painting. One of the earliest surviving paintings are found as the illustrations of a manuscript Tarif-i-Hussain Shahi (c.1565), which is now in Bharata Itihasa Samshodhaka Mandala, Pune. About 400 miniature paintings are found in the manuscript of Nujum-ul-Ulum (Stars of Science) (1570), kept in Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.

Mughal painting[edit]

A 17th-century Mughal painting.
Main article: Mughal painting

Mughal painting is a particular style of Indian painting, generally confined to illustrations on the book and done in miniatures, and which emerged, developed and took shape during the period of the Mughal Empire 16th −19th centuries.

Mughal paintings were a unique blend of Indian, Persian and Islamic styles. Because the Mughal kings wanted visual records of their deeds as hunters and conquerors, their artists accompanied them on military expeditions or missions of state, or recorded their prowess as animal slayers, or depicted them in the great dynastic ceremonies of marriages.


Akbar's reign (1556–1605) ushered a new era in Indian miniature painting. After he had consolidated his political power, he built a new capital at Fatehpur Sikri where he collected artists from India and Persia. He was the first morarch who established in India an atelier under the supervision of two Persian master artists, Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdus Samad. Earlier, both of them had served under the patronage of Humayun in Kabul and accompanied him to India when he regained his throne in 1555. More than a hundred painters were employed, most of whom were Hindus from Gujarat, Gwalior and Kashmir, who gave a birth to a new school of painting, popularly known as the Mughal School of miniature Paintings.

A folio from the Hamzanama

One of the first productions of that school of miniature painting was the Hamzanama series, which according to the court historian, Badayuni, was started in 1567 and completed in 1582. The Hamzanama, stories of Amir Hamza, an uncle of the Prophet, were illustrated by Mir Sayyid Ali. The paintings of the Hamzanama are of large size, 20 x 27" and were painted on cloth. They are in the Persian safavi style. Brilliant red, blue and green colours predominate; the pink, eroded rocks and the vegetation, planes and blossoming plum and peach trees are reminiscent of Persia. However, Indian tones appear in later work, when Indian artists were employed.

After him, Jahangir encouraged artists to paint portraits and durbar scenes. His most talented portrait painters were Ustad Mansur, Abul Hasan and Bishandas.

Shah Jahan (1627–1658) continued the patronage of painting. Some of the famous artists of the period were Mohammad Faqirullah Khan, Mir Hashim, Muhammad Nadir, Bichitr, Chitarman, Anupchhatar, Manohar and Honhar.

Aurangzeb had no taste for fine arts. Due to lack of patronage artists migrated to Hyderabad in the Deccan and to the Hindu states of Rajasthan in search of new patrons.

Rajput painting[edit]

An 18th-century Rajput painting by the artist Nihâl Chand.
Main article: Rajput painting

Rajput painting, a style of Indian painting, evolved and flourished, during the 18th century, in the royal courts of Rajputana, India. Each Rajput kingdom evolved a distinct style, but with certain common features. Rajput paintings depict a number of themes, events of epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Krishna's life, beautiful landscapes, and humans. Miniatures were the preferred medium of Rajput painting, but several manuscripts also contain Rajput paintings, and paintings were even done on the walls of palaces, inner chambers of the forts, havelies, particularly, the havelis of Shekhawati.

The colours extracted from certain minerals, plant sources, conch shells, and were even derived by processing precious stones, gold and silver were used. The preparation of desired colours was a lengthy process, sometimes taking weeks. Brushes used were very fine.

Mysore painting[edit]

Main article: Mysore painting
A painting of Laxmi

Mysore painting is an important form of classical South Indian painting that originated in the town of Mysore in Karnataka. These paintings are known for their elegance, muted colours, and attention to detail. The themes for most of these paintings are Hindu Gods and Goddesses and scenes from Hindu mythology. In modern times, these paintings have become a much sought-after souvenir during festive occasions in South India.

The process of making a Mysore painting involves many stages. The first stage involves the making of the preliminary sketch of the image on the base. The base consists of cartridge paper pasted on a wooden base. A paste made of Zinc oxide and Arabic gum is made called "gesso paste". With the help of a thin brush all the jewellery and parts of throne or the arch which have some relief are painted over to give a slightly raised effect of carving. This is allowed to dry. On this thin gold foil is pasted. The rest of the drawing is then painted using watercolours. Only muted colours are used.

Tanjore painting[edit]

Main article: Tanjore painting
Tanjore style painting depicting the ten Sikh Gurus with Bhai Bala and Bhai Mardana.

Tanjore painting is an important form of classical South Indian painting native to the town of Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. The art form dates back to the early 9th century, a period dominated by the Chola rulers, who encouraged art and literature. These paintings are known for their elegance, rich colours, and attention to detail. The themes for most of these paintings are Hindu Gods and Goddesses and scenes from Hindu mythology. In modern times, these paintings have become a much sought-after souvenir during festive occasions in South India.

The process of making a Tanjore painting involves many stages. The first stage involves the making of the preliminary sketch of the image on the base. The base consists of a cloth pasted over a wooden base. Then chalk powder or zinc oxide is mixed with water-soluble adhesive and apply it on the base. To make the base smoother, a mild abrasive is sometimes used. After the drawing is made, decoration of the jewellery and the apparels in the image is done with semi-precious stones. Laces or threads are also used to decorate the jewellery. On top of this, the gold foils are pasted. Finally, dyes are used to add colours to the figures in the paintings.

Madhubani painting[edit]

Main article: Madhubani painting

Madhubani painting is a style of painting, practised in the Mithila region of Bihar state. Themes revolve around Hindu Gods and mythology, along with scenes from the royal court and social events like weddings. Generally no space is left empty; the gaps are filled by paintings of flowers, animals, birds, and even geometric designs.In this paintings artists uses leaf, Herbs, Flowers to make the colour which is used to draw paintings.

Pattachitra[edit]

Main article: Pattachitra
Gita Govinda depicted in Pattachitra

Pattachitra refers to the Classical painting of Odisha, in the eastern region of India.'Patta' in Sanskrit means 'Vastra' or 'clothings' and 'chitra' means paintings.The tradition of Pattachitra is closely linked with the worship of Lord Jagannath. Apart from the fragmentary evidence of paintings on the caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri and Sitabhinji murals of the Sixth century A.D., the earliest indigenous paintings from Odisha are the Pattachitra done by the Chitrakars (the painters are called Chitrakars).[7] The theme of Oriya painting centres round the Vaishnava cult. Since beginning of Pattachitra culture Lord Jagannath who was an incarnation of Lord Krishna was the major source of inspiration. The subject matter of Patta Chitra is mostly mythological, religious stories and folk lore. Themes are chiefly on Lord Jagannath and Radha-Krishna, different "Vesas" of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra, temple activities, the ten incarnations of Vishnu basing on the 'Gita Govinda' of Jayadev, Kama Kujara Naba Gunjara, Ramayana, Mahabharata. The individual paintings of gods and goddesses are also being painted.The painters use vegetable and mineral colours without going for factory made poster colours. They prepare their own colours. White colour is made from the conch-shells by powdering, boiling and filtering in a very hazardous process. It requires a lot of patience. But this process gives brilliance and premanence to the hue. 'Hingula', a mineral colour, is used for red. 'Haritala', king of stone ingredients for yellow, 'Ramaraja' a sort of indigo for blue are being used. Pure lamp-black or black prepared from the burning of cocoanut shells are used.The brushes that are used by these 'Chitrakaras' are also indigenous and are made of hair of domestic animals. A bunch of hair tied to the end of a bamboo stick make the brush. It is really a matter of wonder as to how these painters bring out lines of such precision and finish with the help of these crude brushes. That old tradition of Oriya painting still survives to-day in the skilled hands of Chitrakaras (traditional painters) in Puri, Raghurajpur, Paralakhemundi, Chikiti and Sonepur.

Various Hindu Gods are shown in Pattachitra

Bengal school[edit]

Main article: Bengal school of art
Bharat Mata by Abanindranath Tagore (1871–1951), a nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore, and a pioneer of the movement

The Bengal School of Art was an influential style of art that flourished in India during the British Raj in the early 20th century. It was associated with Indian nationalism, but was also promoted and supported by many British arts administrators.

The Bengal school arose as an avant garde and nationalist movement reacting against the academic art styles previously promoted in India, both by Indian artists such as Ravi Varma and in British art schools. Following the widespread influence of Indian spiritual ideas in the West, the British art teacher Ernest Binfield Havel attempted to reform the teaching methods at the Calcutta School of Art by encouraging students to imitate Mughal miniatures. This caused immense controversy, leading to a strike by students and complaints from the local press, including from nationalists who considered it to be a retrogressive move. Havel was supported by the artist Abanindranath Tagore, a nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore painted a number of works influenced by Mughal art, a style that he and Havel believed to be expressive of India's distinct spiritual qualities, as opposed to the "materialism" of the West. Abanindranath Tagore's best-known painting, Bharat Mata (Mother India), depicted a young woman, portrayed with four arms in the manner of Hindu deities, holding objects symbolic of India's national aspirations. Tagore later attempted to develop links with Far-Eastern artists as part of an aspiration to construct a pan-Asianist model of art. Those associted with this Indo-FarEastern model included Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Vinayak Shivaram Masoji, B.C. Sanyal, Beohar Rammanohar Sinha, and subsequently their students A. Ramachandran, Tan Yuan Chameli, and a few others.

The Bengal school's influence on Indian art scene gradually started alleviating with the spread of modernist ideas post-independence.K. G. Subramanyan's role in this movement is significant.

Contextual Modernism[edit]

The term Contextual Modernism that Siva Kumar used in the catalogue of the exhibition has emerged as a postcolonial critical tool in the understanding of the art the Santiniketan artists had practised.

R. Siva Kumar being interviewed by a journalist in Dhaka, 2013

Several terms including Paul Gilroy’s counter culture of modernity and Tani Barlow's Colonial modernity have been used to describe the kind of alternative modernity that emerged in non-European contexts. Professor Gall argues that ‘Contextual Modernism’ is a more suited term because “the colonial in colonial modernity does not accommodate the refusal of many in colonized situations to internalize inferiority. Santiniketan’s artist teachers’ refusal of subordination incorporated a counter vision of modernity, which sought to correct the racial and cultural essentialism that drove and characterized imperial Western modernity and modernism. Those European modernities, projected through a triumphant British colonial power, provoked nationalist responses, equally problematic when they incorporated similar essentialisms.”[8]

According to R. Siva Kumar "The Santiniketan artists were one of the first who consciously challenged this idea of modernism by opting out of both internationalist modernism and historicist indigenousness and tried to create a context sensitive modernism."[9] He had been studying the work of the Santiniketan masters and thinking about their approach to art since the early 80s. The practice of subsuming Nandalal Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Ram Kinker Baij and Benode Behari Mukherjee under the Bengal School of Art was, according to Siva Kumar, misleading. This happened because early writers were guided by genealogies of apprenticeship rather than their styles, worldviews, and perspectives on art practice.[9]

The literary crtic Ranjit Hoskote while reviewing the works of contemporary artist Atul Dodiya writes, "The exposure to Santinketan, through a literary detour, opened Dodiya’s eyes to the historical circumstances of what the art historian R Siva Kumar has called a “contextual modernism” developed in eastern India in the 1930s and ’40s during the turbulent decades of the global Depression, the Gandhian liberation struggle, the Tagorean cultural renaissance and World War II."[10]

Contextual Modernism in the recent past has found its usage in other related fields of studies, specially in Architecture.[11]

Modern Indian Painting[edit]

During the colonial era, Western influences started to make an impact on Indian art. Some artists developed a style that used Western ideas of composition, perspective and realism to illustrate Indian themes. Others, like Jamini Roy, consciously drew inspiration from folk art.Bharti Dayal has chosen to handle the traditional Mithila Painting in most contemporary way and uses both realism as well abstractionism in her work with a lot of fantasy mixed in to both .Her work has an impeccable sense of balance, harmony and grace.

By the time of Independence in 1947, several schools of art in India provided access to modern techniques and ideas. Galleries were established to showcase these artists. Modern Indian art typically shows the influence of Western styles, but is often inspired by Indian themes and images. Major artists are beginning to gain international recognition, initially among the Indian diaspora, but also among non-Indian audiences.

The Progressive Artists' Group, established shortly after India became independent in 1947, was intended to establish new ways of expressing India in the post-colonial era. The founders were six eminent artists – K. H. Ara, S. K. Bakre, H. A. Gade, M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza and F. N. Souza, 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, V. S. Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta, Beohar Rammanohar Sinha and Akbar Padamsee. Other famous painters like Jahar Dasgupta, Prokash Karmakar, John Wilkins, and Bijon Choudhuri enriched the art culture of India. They have become the icon of modern Indian art. Art historians like Prof. Rai Anand Krishna have also referred to those works of modern artistes that reflect Indian ethos.

Also, the increase in the discourse about Indian art, in English as well as vernacular Indian languages, appropriated the way art was perceived in the art schools. Critical approach became rigorous, critics like Geeta Kapur,[12][13] R . Siva Kumar,[14][15][16][17] contributed to re-thinking contemporary art practice in India.Their voices represented Indian art not only in India but across the world. The critics also had an important role as curators of important exhibitions, re-defining modernism and Indian-art.

Indian Art got a boost with the economic liberalisation of the country since the early 1990s. Artists from various fields now started bringing in varied styles of work. Post-liberalisation Indian art thus works not only within the confines of academic traditions but also outside it. In this phase, artists have introduced even newer concepts which have hitherto not been seen in Indian art. Devajyoti Ray has introduced a the new genre of art called Pseudorealism. Pseudorealist Art is an original art style that has been developed entirely on the Indian soil. Pseudorealism takes into account the Indian concept of abstraction and uses it to transform regular scenes of Indian life into a fantastic images.

In post-liberalization India, many artists have established themselves in the international art market like Anish Kapoor and Chintan whose mammoth artworks have acquired attention for their sheer size. Many art houses and galleries have also opened in USA and Europe to showcase Indian artworks.Some artists like chiman dangi(painter,printmaker) Bhupat Dudi, Subodh Gupta, Piu Sarkar, Vagaram Choudhary, Amitava Sengupta and many others have done magic world wide.Chhaya Ghosh is a gifted painter, and is pretty active in Triveni Art Gallery, New Delhi.

Gallery[edit]

Some notable Indian paintings[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Online exhibits