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The paintings of India – India’s 2000 years of painting history : Videos of Doordarshan National

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Indian painting has a very long tradition and history in Indian art, though because of the climatic conditions very few early examples survive. 

The earliest Indian paintings were the rock paintings of prehistoric times, such as the petroglyphs found in places like Bhimbetka rock shelters.

Some of the Stone Age rock paintings found among the Bhimbetka rock shelters are approximately 10,000 years old.

Sharing here are a few enlightening videos on Indian paintings by Doordarshan India :

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

India’s ancient Hindu and Buddhist literature has many mentions of palaces and other buildings decorated with paintings (Chitra), but the paintings of the Ajanta Caves are the most significant of the few ones which survive.

Smaller scale painting in manuscripts was probably also practised in this period, though the earliest survivals are from the medieval period. 

A new style emerged in the Mughal era as 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.

This led to modern Indian painting, which is increasingly returning to its Indian roots.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Indian paintings can be broadly classified as murals, miniatures and paintings on cloth. 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.

Traces of murals survive in a number of sites with Indian rock-cut architecture, going back at least 2,000 years, but the 1st and 5th-century remains at the Ajanta Caves are much the most significant.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Paintings on cloth were often produced in a more popular context, often as folk art, used for example by travelling reciters of epic poetry, such as the Bhopas of Rajasthan and Chitrakathi elsewhere, and bought as souvenirs of pilgrimages.

Very few survivals are older than about 200 years, but it is clear the traditions are much older. Some regional traditions are still producing works.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Overview of the main genres :

It seems clear that miniature painting, often illustrating manuscripts, has a very long history, but Jain miniatures from about the 12th century, mostly from West India.

Slightly earlier Buddhist ones from the Pala Empire in the east are the oldest to survive. 

Similar Hindu illustrations survive from about the 15th century in the west, and 16th century in East India. 

And by this time the Mughal miniature under Akbar was also sometimes illustrating translations into Persian of the Hindu epics and other subjects.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

The great period of Mughal court painting begins with the return of Humayun from exile in Persia 1555, bringing Persian artists with him.

It ends during the reign of Aurangzeb who rather disapproved of painting for religious reasons, and disbanded the large imperial workshop, by perhaps 1670.

The artists dispersed to smaller princely courts, both Muslim and Hindu, and the “post-Mughal” style developed in many local variants. 

These included different Rajasthani schools of painting like the Bundi, Kishangarh, Jaipur, Marwar and Mewar.

The Ragamala paintings also belong to this school, as does the later Company painting produced for British clients from the mid-18th century.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Modern 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, M. F. HusainFrancis Newton Souza, and Vasudeo S. Gaitonde.

With the progress of the economy the forms and styles of art also underwent many changes.

In the 1990s, Indian economy was liberalised and integrated to the world economy leading to the free flow of cultural information within and without.

Artists include Subodh GuptaAtul DodiyaDevajyoti RayBose Krishnamachari and Jitish Kallat 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.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Prehistoric rock art of India :

The pre-historic paintings were generally executed on rocks and these rock engravings were called petroglyphs.

These paintings generally depict animal like bison, bear and tigers etc. 

The oldest Indian paintings are rock art in caves which are around 30,000 years old, such as the Bhimbetka cave paintings.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

India’s ancient literature on painting :

There are many important dedicated Indian treatises on painting, traditionally called Chitra. Some of these are chapters within a larger encyclopedia-like texts. They date between the 4th and 13th-century CE. These include:

  • Chitrasutras, chapters 35–43 within the Hindu text Vishnudharmottara Purana (the standard, and oft referred to text in the Indian tradition)
  • Chitralaksana of Nagnajit (a classic on classical painting, 5th-century CE or earlier making it the oldest known text on Indian painting; but the Sanskrit version has been lost, only version available is in Tibet and it states that it is a translation of a Sanskrit text)
  • Samarangana Sutradhara (mostly architecture treatise, contains a large section on paintings)
  • Aparajitaprccha (mostly architecture treatise, contains a large section on paintings)
  • Manasollasa (an encyclopedia, contains chapters on paintings)
  • Abhilashitartha Chinatamani
  • Sivatatva Ratnakara
  • Chitra Kaladruma
  • Silpa Ratna
  • Narada Silpa
  • Sarasvati Silpa
  • Prajapati Silpa
  • Kasyapa Silpa

These and other texts on painting discuss the Indian ideas, theory and practice of painting, its relationship to other arts, methods of preparing the canvas or wall, recipes to make color pigments and other topics.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Mural paintings of India :

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.

These include the caves of AjantaBaghSittanavasalArmamalai Cave (Tamil Nadu), Kailasanatha temple in Ellora CavesRamgarh and Sitabinji.

Murals from this period depict mainly religious themes of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu religions.

There are though also locations where paintings were secular. This includes the oldest known painted cave and theatre in Chhattisgarh – the Jogimara and Sitabenga Caves – dated to between the 3rd to 1st century BCE.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Miniature paintings in India before 11th century :

Early survivals of portable Indian paintings are all miniatures from texts (the great majority) or painted objects such as boxes.

Despite considerable evidence that larger paintings on cloth (known as Pata) existed, and indeed surviving texts discussing how to make them, not a single medieval Indian painting on cloth is known to survive, unless some Buddhist ones have been taken as Tibetan, or from Central Asia.

Some of the images recovered there by Sir Aurel Stein are Indian paintings, most being Buddhist and some with Hindu deities such as Ganesha and Shiva. 

According to Blurton, such early paintings did not survive largely because of the deleterious climate of India, as well as due to the added problem of Muslim iconoclasm in the centuries that followed.

The pattern of large scale wall painting which had dominated the scene, witnessed the advent of miniature paintings during the 11th and 12th centuries.

This new style figured first in the form of illustrations etched on palm-leaf manuscripts.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Paintings of Eastern India :

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 and Bihar).

Miniature painting from this region survives from 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, 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.

The influence of eastern Indian paintings can be seen in various Buddhist temples in Bagan, Myanmar particularly Abeyadana temple.

The temple was named after Queen consort of Myanmar, Abeyadana who herself had Indian roots.

This influence is seen in Gubyaukgyi Temple as well. 

The influences of eastern Indian paintings can also be clearly observed in Tibetan Thangka paintings.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Paintings of Western India :

Surviving illustrated manuscripts from Western India, mainly Gujarat, begin around the 11th century, but are mostly from the 13th onwards.

Initially surviving examples are all Jain. By the 15th-century they were becoming increasingly lavish, with much use of gold.

The manuscript text most frequently illustrated is the Kalpa Sūtra, containing the biographies of the Tirthankaras, notably Parshvanatha and Mahavira.

The illustrations are square-ish panels set in the text, with “wiry drawing” and “brilliant, even jewel-like colour”.

The figures are always seen in three-quarters view, with distinctive “long pointed noses and protruding eyes”.

There is a convention whereby the more distant side of the face protrudes, so that both eyes are seen.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Mughal Paintings :

Mughal painting is a 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 between the 16th and 19th centuries. 

The Mughal style was heavily influenced by Persian miniatures, and in turn influenced several Indian styles, including the Rajput, Pahari and Deccan styles of painting.

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.

They recorded their prowess in the paintings 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 monarch 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 from Gujarat, Gwalior and Kashmir, who gave a birth to a new school of painting, popularly known as the Mughal School of miniature Paintings.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Deccan Paintings :

Deccan painting was produced in the Deccan region of India in the various Muslim capitals of the Deccan sultanates.

The main period of these paintings was between the late 16th century and the mid-17th, with something of a revival in the mid-18th century.

Compared to the early Mughal painting evolving at the same time to the north, Deccan painting exceeds in the brilliance of their colour, the sophistication and artistry of their composition, and a general air of decadent luxury.

There are many royal portraits, although they lack the precise likenesses of their Mughal equivalents.

Ragamala paintings, sets illustrating (by evoking their moods) the various Raga musical forms, appear to have been an innovation of the Deccan.

The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history
The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history
The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history
The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history
The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history
The paintings of India : India’s 2000 years of painting history

Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

By Mala Chandrashekhar

Though academically trained in modern Western Sciences, Blogger Mala Chandrashekhar is a crazy maniac of India's ageless, timeless ethnic arts, crafts & textiles. The rich & glorious cultural & spiritual heritage of India is a subject extremely dear to her heart, and the whole of this Blog has been dedicated to spreading the immortal glories of ancient India worldwide, to every nook & corner of the globe, through these simple Blog-posts. Any constructive criticisms & suggestions in this regard for improvement of the Blog 'MOST WELCOME'. Also, High-Quality Guest Blog-posts 'MOST WELCOME". LinkedIn Profile : https://in.linkedin.com/in/mala-chandrashekhar-04095917a

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