Evolution of the art in India
of the Indian subcontinent have known the art
of painting since prehistoric times. The earliest
Indian paintings are believed to be those of
the Bhimbetka caves
Pradesh. The walls of these caves have been
decorated with animal and human figures. The
caves depict paintings belonging to the Paleolithic
(10,000 BC), Mesolithic (5000 BC) and the Chalcolithic
(2000 BC) periods. These paintings depict the
everyday lives of the people who lived during
those times. Painted geometric designs and symbols
had also been found on pottery items belonging
to the Indus valley civilization.
It is evident that painting
is a very old tradition in India as ancient
texts outline theories of colour and anecdotal
accounts, suggest that even centuries ago,
it was common for households to paint their
doorways, verandahs, courtyards and rooms
where guests/visitors stayed. Painting was
carried out not merely as art for art's
sake, but as a daily religious ritual.
It included geometric and floral patterns
on drawn on the floor by the womenfolk - variously
termed as kolam in the south, rangoli
in Maharashtra, alpona in Bengal,
and so forth.
The earliest reference to Indian painting
goes back to the Rigvedic period.
Panini the famous scholar
made a mention of this art between the 8th
and the 4th century BC. References to Indian
painting are also found in Shukla Yajurveda
(a portion of Yajurveda). It is generally
assumed that in ancient India, painting was
secular in nature and was recognized as a
highly venerated art form.
Hundreds of years back before the invention
of paper, Indians used to write and draw on
palm leave. Strips of palm leaf were collected
from different trees and then sorted on the
basis of their similarity in appearance, colour
and texture. These were then dried and stitched
together with a string. These paintings were
made by making incision with an iron stylus.
Pre-historic paintings from
painting from Bengal
Palm leaf illustrations are mainly of two
types: simple engravings or illustrations
in pure line and engraving with colour fillings.
Palm leaf illustrations were executed on the
oblong sections of palm leaf. For the purpose
of making manuscripts, they were laboriously
bound together with a firm thread, passing
just through the middle of the leaves.
The use of pencils and crayons for drawing
were unknown to the indigenous Indian painters.
Nib pens were rarely used; but reed pens were
employed in folk art. Like their Chinese and
Japanese counterparts, the Indian artists
mastered the use of brushes which were mainly
made from the hair of squirrel’s tail.
The Indian painters often used charcoal,
red ochre and carmine, for making their preliminary
sketches. These were subsequently rectified,
either by painting over it with a thin layer
of white and then doing a final drawing, or
by using the charcoal sketch as a base upon
which the final drawing was directly drawn
by brush with black ink. Drawings were done
on single sheets or sometimes layers of two
or three sheets of ethnic handmade paper pasted
together, primed with white, and burnished
by agate. In many cases, the artists tended
to draw freely on both sides of a paper.
on cloth is exemplified by Kalamkari
(an exquisite ancient craft of painted and printed
fabrics. The name is derived from Kalam
meaning pen, and Kari meaning work,
literally pen-work) paintings of Kalahasti and
Masulipatnam (Andhra Pradesh).Since only pure
vegetable dyes and plant extracts are used,
these paintings are distinctly eco-friendly.
There are two distinctly visible
streams of paintings in India. One is rooted
in religious traditions and nurtured by the
patronage of the rich and royal, and carried
on mostly by men. The other is rooted in everyday
life and folk tradition, and is a bastion of
womenfolk. The traditional Indian women produced
these works of arts with a dual purpose: utilizing
their leisure hours as well as adorning their
homes and surroundings.
The quintessential Indian painter was trained
to work in a highly conceptual manner; the human
figures, animals, birds, trees, motifs or any
other elements of a composition were readily
drawn from memory. The artist observed and retained
in his memory, the salient features, characteristics
and moods of both animate and inanimate objects
and he could, when the need arose, draw from
this internalized accumulation.
worth mentioning are the Phad painting
of Rajasthan. Phad paintings which
are predominantly red and green scrolls depicting
the life of a famous local hero Pabuji. These
are made by the Joshi community of Shahpur,
near Bhilwara, and are commonly available in
small panels portraying single incidents or
characters from the epics. The narrator places
the phad against a wall and highlights
the relevant portions with a hand held flaming
The world famous cave paintings of Ajanta, Bagh
(near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh in central India)
and Sittanvasal (near Tiruchirapalli, Tamil
Nadu) as also those adorning the walls of temples
amply testify to a love of nature, flora and
Variations occurred in the
style and themes of drawings; these depended
on the region, period and the social milieu
in which the artist worked, and the school adhered
to. But irrespective of whether he served Hindu,
Muslim or British patrons, the artist strove
to maintain his ancestral legacy of sensitivity
and acute observation. The Indian artist did
not usually belong to the upper classes. Like
the work of masons and other artisans in India,
the best of painters faded away from this world,
unwept and unsung.
Indian paintings provide an
aesthetic continuum that extends from the early
civilization to the present day. In India, this
art form is vivid and lively, refined and sophisticated,
bold and vigorous at the same time. Initially,
religious in purpose, Indian painting has evolved
over the years to become a fusion of various
Beginning with the 2nd century BC
and continuing into the 6th century
AD, the paintings and sculptures in the caves
of Ajanta and Ellora, inspired by Buddhism and
its compassionate ethos, produced a body of
work that is quite unmatched in human history.
A cluster of 29 caves, Ajanta
is among the finest examples of some of the
earliest Buddhist architecture, cave paintings
and sculpture. The paintings that adorn the
walls and ceilings of the caves depict incidents
from the life of Lord Buddha and the various
Buddhist divinities. Among the most interesting
paintings are the Jataka tales, depicting
diverse stories related to Bodhisattava,
a saintly being who ultimately became the Buddha.
These elaborate sculptures and paintings retain
their beauty and grandeur, despite the ravages
The miniature paintings of India are intricate
handmade illuminations executed flawlessly with
subtle strokes of the brush. The name is derived
from its diminutive size and intricate designs.
These beautiful paintings came into prominence
during the middle ages. The colours used in
these paintings were derived from minerals,
vegetables, precious stones, indigo, conch shells,
pure gold and silver. The 'Miniature'
paintings are small in size and scrupulous in
detail and fine brushwork. The paintings may
well be likened to chamber music
The ancient murals of Ajanta
Paintings have evolved over centuries carrying
the influence of other cultures. The miniature
artists poured out their innermost emotions
on paper, ivory panels, wooden tablets, leather,
marble, cloth and walls.The illustrated manuscripts
of Jains and Buddhists, and the Mughal, Rajput,
and Deccan miniatures are noted for their brilliant
execution and artistic skills. Within the broad
category of miniature paintings, there
were distinct styles of exquisite workmanship.
This style is a fusion of the Indo-Persian style.
The Mughal emperors Akbar and Jahangir were
great patrons and connoisseurs of paintings.
Akbar considered artists as equivalent to God
as according to him they executed pictures,
which resembled the exact image of the human
beings who were a creation of God.
An episode between Jahangir and the English
Ambassador Sir Thomas Roe highlights the artistic
merit of the Indian painters of that time. Jahangir
asked Roe to identify an original European painting
placed alongside five copies of it made by the
Indian painters. The brilliance and similarity
of the paintings completely foxed the English
The miniatures and illustrated manuscripts mirror
the cultural legacy and spirit of Mughal art.
Several manuscripts like Dastan-I-Amir Hamza,
Ramza-Nama, Babur-Nama, Akbarnama,
and Tuzuk-I-Jahangiri executed during
the Mughal Period are notable for their vivid
The introduction of Persian styled miniatures
by the Mughals, lent a new dimension to the
art of painting in India. Not only were Mughal
miniatures great masterpieces, they also influenced
local miniature schools in Rajasthan and northern
A Mughal miniature
This made a mark in the 18th century.
Though influenced by the Mughals, the Kangra
School retained its distinctiveness. The paintings
were naturalistic and employed cool, fresh colors,
extracted from minerals, vegetables and produced
an enamel-like lustre. Verdant landscapes, brooks,
bubbling springs were the recurrent images on
the miniatures.(Texts of the Jaideva’s
Gita Govinda, Bihari's Satsai,
and the Baramasa of Keshavdas also
provided endless themes to the artists).
Krishna and Radha as eternal
lovers were perpetually portrayed as enjoying
every moment of their passionate love. The Kangra
miniatures are also noted for portraying the
feminine charm with a natural grace. The paintings
based on Ragmalas (musical modes) also
found patronage in Kangra.
A Kangra miniature
These paintings which evolved between the 17th
and 19th centuries, are comparatively
refined, finely drawn and lyrical. These drawings
are among the most graceful and appealing in
Indian painting. Work of the artist families
of Guler and Chamba, chiefly from the 18th century,
is remarkable and displays all the best qualifies
of Pahari painting, While the style of these
two schools is derived from the late Mughal
paintings, the mood is not; they are gentle,
spontaneous and more lyrical.
A number of schools of miniature painting thrive
in Rajasthan; to a certain extent, they are
a blend of opulent Mughal and indigenous Indian
styles. This gradually led to the birth of several
distinct schools of miniatures in Rajasthan:
The Mewar or Udaipur school, the Bundi school,
the Kishangarh school, the Bikaner school, the
Jaipur school and the Alwar school.
A Miniature from the
School of Art
Influenced by the surroundings, these medieval
paintings have their own unique style the hills
and valleys, deserts, places and forts, gardens,
court scenes, religious processions and vignettes
from the life of Lord Krishna are recurrent
themes of these paintings. The Raagamala
paintings and those based on Jaideva’s
Geeta Govinda are treasures of this
Painting traditions in Bikaner
followed closely on the heels of Mughal tradition.
Muslim artists settled here brought with them
the highly refined and delicate Mughal style...
During the late 18th century paintings in Bikaner
grew slightly conservative and embraced the
flatness and abstractions of the typically Rajasthani
Hunting scenes and animal predominate
in the miniature paintings of the Kota-Bundi
region. Other than Nature, the figures of women
portrayed are graceful, with well-proportioned
bodies and sharp features. CoIours used are
mainly bright, with red prominently appearing
n the background. Areas in the vicinity of this
region, like Uniara, Indergarh and Sarola were
also influenced by the Kota and Bundi kalam.
One of the earliest examples
of the Bundi Paintings
is the Chunar Ragamala painted
around 1561AD. The painting depicts strong influence
of the Mughal style. The development of the
Bundi School in the early 17th century
is unclear but isolated examples of creative
brilliance reveal the ongoing development of
Bundi style. Wall paintings during the period
of the reign of Rao Ratan Singh (1607-1631 AD)
are significant examples of Bundi Style.
A Mughal Decree in the year
1624-25 AD led to the carving of Kota state
from the kingdom of Bundi. Kota
paintings were spontaneous and
calligraphic in execution and emphasized on
double lidded eye and marked shading. It is
likely that artists travelled freely from state
to state and hence the influence of each other’s
styles is conspicuous in the paintings.
A masterpiece from
the Bikaner School
From the Kota Bundi school
Located in central Rajasthan, developed a distinct
style of painting, which was a result of fusion
between the Mughal tradition and regional style.
Many Mughal painters, in the early 18th century
from Delhi had settled in the region and found
patronage under ruler Raj Singh (1706-1748 AD).
Bhavani Das was a renowned painter who developed
a style that bloomed during the reign of Raja
Savant Singh (1748-1764 AD).
The Kishangarh School
is best known for its Bani Thani
paintings. Bani Thani,
was probably a mistress of Savant Singh and
herself a singer and a poet. Bani
Thani paintings were characterized
by exaggerated features – long necks,
large almond-shaped eyes, long fingers and the
use of subdued colors.
The divine duo from the
Fierce camel fights, bejewelled women stretching
seductively or in various stages of undress;
midnight rendezvous of Radha and Krishna; Krishna
painting a delicate tattoo on the breast of
his sweetheart; the blood and gore of a tiger
or boar hunt; the amorous dalliances of Rajput
princes and the pomp and ceremony of the Mughal
court - Rajasthani miniatures belonging to the
Jaipur school, unabashedly celebrate every aspect
of life. The paintings are a rich reminder of
how both the regal Mughals and the proud Rajputs
lived their lives.
Mewar is notable for the fact that it resisted
the domination of the Mughals for a considerable
period and developed a very conservative style.
Chawand Ragamala dated around 1605
AD is one of the earliest examples of this school.
The flatness, bright colors, and several common
motifs showed marked resemblance with the Chaurapanchasika
From the Jaipur School
The early 18th
century saw the revival of the
high quality works of art were produced which
featured court scenes, religious subjects, and
portraitures. In the first half of the 18th
century ambitious studies of royal pursuits
that used continuous narration were also produced.
The late 18th century witnessed the decline
of the Mewar School
However in the mid 19th
century, Tara, a painter
tried to provide some impetus to the Mewar School.
He used European traditions in the paintings.
as a court art till the mid 20th
Thus Miniatures served as an
effective way of giving vent to myriad moods
and emotions. The ragas of the classical
Indian music have been a great source of inspiration
for the miniatures. Each miniature depicts the
charm of a bygone era. The architectural beauty,
feminine grace and beauty, several pastoral
scenes, are vividly portrayed. The gossamer-veiled
women with large nose rings and doe-eyes are
At the first glance, an Indian miniature painting
appears nothing more than a clutter and tangle
of pastoral settings, dominated by masculine
and feminine figures. Yet these scenes are not
detached visions of artistic expression but
provide the basis of Indian music and art forms.
Most of them are visual creations of emotional
and perceptive concepts that depict the ragas
or musical moods of Indian classical music.
Miniature painters employed at various royal
courts, during the medieval period, discovered
the potential of limitless self-expression in
their depiction and today there are 130 known
sets of such miniatures.
Also known as Thanjavur paintings, this is an
important form of classical South Indian art,
native to the temple town of Tanjore in Tamil
Nadu. It may be traced back to the early 9th
century, when the Cholas reigned supreme. The
hallmark of these paintings are elegance, rich
colours, and attention to detail. The commonest
themes are Hindu gods and goddesses, besides
numerous scenes from Hindu mythology.
These paintings are also notable
for their use of semi-precious stones, pearls,
glass pieces and gold in the form of the adornment
of the figures portrayed. The rich vibrant colors,
streaks of gold, semi-precious stones and fine
artistic work are some of their characteristics.
They add beauty and culture to a variety of
surroundings and décor.
A Tanjore Painting