Indian painting

Indian painting developed with the development of Indian civilization.  The origin of Indian paintings can be traced back t the primitive caves and rock shelters paintings found in Mirzapur and Banda in Uttar Pradesh, in the Mahadev hill sof the Vindhyan range in Bundelkhand, in Kaimur hills of Bagelkhand area, in Singanpur in Raigarh district of Central India and Bellary in the South.  These paintings are mainly hunting scenes representing man in his encounter with wild animals.  Our prehistoric paintings are similar to those discovered in many places like Lascaux in France,  Altamir in Spain and Matopos in Zimbabwe.  However, excepting some pre-historic cave sketches we don’t have remains of paintings dating beyond 2nd century BC. We can trace systematic development of paintings from Ajanta paintings onwards.

Ajanta paintings: This school of painting developed during the period 200 B.C. to 700 A.D. under reign of the Sungas, Satavahanas, Kushanas, Guptas, Vakatakas and Chalukyas.  There are 30 caves at Ajanta which is located near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.  Caves 9 and 10 contain the oldest paintings belonging to the Sunga period (1st century B.C.).  the subject matter of Ajanta which is located near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.  Caves 9 and 10 contain the oldest paintings belonging to the Sunga period (1st century B.C.).  The subject matter of Ajanta painting relates to : 1) Buddha’s life and Bodhisattva (emotional expression); 2)Jatakas stories (descriptive); and 3) Garuda, Yaksha, Gandharva, Apsaras, animals, birds and flowers (decorative).

The most famous paintings of Ajanta include those of the Mother and the Child, Dying Princess, Bodhisattava.  Padmapani and the Hunting scenes.  These paintings are ‘Fresco’ or ‘Stucco’ or wall paintings.  For making these paintings surface was made rough using some tool which was then covered with a plaster o stone powder, cow dung and rice straw.  This was then covered by lime paste on which the lines of paintings were drawn while the surface was still wet.

Fine drawings, expression of sentiments and notions, the use of limited colours, graceful and divine representation of women are the major characteristics of the Ajanta paintings.

Gupta period paintings

Paintings of this age have been found at three places : Ajanta, Bagh and Sittanavasal.

Bagh Paintings: The paintings in some 9 Buddhist caves at Bagh in Malwa represent only an extension of the Ajanta paintings.  the subject matter and characteristics being more or less the same as that of Ajanta.  The 4th cave Ragmahal has got the maximum number of paintings.

Sittanavasal Paintings: The paintings at Sittanavasa (near Madras, Pddukota in Tanjore) show Jaina themes and symbology.  The caves here were built by Mahendra Varman and his son Narasimham Varman.  The paintings also show resemblance to Bagh  and Ajanta paintings.  subject matter relates to animals, birds, men, women, flowers (lotus dominates) Gandharva, Ardha Narishwar etc.

Ellora Paintings: There are two types of paintings at Ellora, one resembling Ajanta. Here  scenes rom Ramayana and Mahabharata are painted.  Others show Apabhramsa influence and deterioration in standard.  From here the Apabhramsa school of paintings started.


Miniature Paintings

The popularity of wall paintings (murals) declined after the 8th century AD and instead miniature paintings gained importance.  The new centers were eastern region (Bengal and Bihar) and the western region (Gujarat and Rajasthan).  Here emerged two important schools.

  1. Pala school of Bengal (9th – 12th century)
  2. Western India or Jain or Gujarat or Apabhramsa school (11th – 15th century)

Pala school (9th – 12th century)

This school of painting developed in the 9th century under the reign of Dharmapala and Devpala in West Bengal.  Pala paintings are found as illustrations on palm leaf manuscripts and wooden book covers.  The subject of these paintings is the Buddhist pantheon.  The paintings are simple in composition and have a feeling of devotion.  Based on Ajanta paintings these paintings influenced the Tibet and Nepal school of paintings.  Dhimman and Vitapala were the main artists of this school.

Apabhramsa school (11th – 15th century)

This school of painting, also known as Western India or Jain or Gujarat miniature paintings, developed during 11th century to 15th century.  These paintings were earlier done on palm leafs and later on paper.  Their subjects cover Jaina texts, Vaishnava subjects and secular love.  Use of bright and gold colours, angular faces with bulged eyes (fish shaped) and pointed noses are the major characteristics of these paintings.

Sultanate paintings

The Sultanate painting attempts to blend the newly introduced Persian style and the Indian traditional styles.  They also show a synthesis of Persian and Jaina styles.  Elements of Rajasthani paintings are also present in some illustrations.  Thus out of the Sultanate painting tradition emerged three major sub-style-the Mughal, Rajasthani, and Deccani schools – almost concurrently in c.1500 AD., all sharing some common formulae and yet preserving their own individualities.

Mughal school

The fusion of the classical Indian and Persian styles was already in progress when the Mughals appeared on the scene in 1526 and accelerated the process by their generous patronage of art.

Mughal school was a blend of Hindu and Islamic elements.  The paintings display and intellectual exuberance and have a realistic touch.  The subjects changed with the emperors though the divine nature of kingship remained the most popular them.  Display of royal glory, portraiture and depiction of court-scenes were the other popular themes.

Akbar : Under Babur and Humayun, the Timurid style of Persian painting continued.  But there were perceptible changes under Akbar.  In the early part of his reign, both Indian and paintings are full of suspense and mystery and are dynamic in expression.  Within a decade the complexity.  The decorative qualities of both were more or less subdued by the advent of the European painting at the Mughal court.  The subject matter was mostly drawn upon from either Hindu mythology or Persian, or books on history and sciences.

Jahangir:The Mughal painting under Jahangir displays love for nature as several subjects from animal and bird life, besides stressed, but the innate beauty behind the outer form is also revealed.  Unlike in Akbar’s time, book illustrations were almost given up.  The expression of a Jahangiri painting is subdued and rather slow in movement, but devoid of dullness.  Its charm lies in its probe into the ‘Beautiful’.

Shah Jahan: Mughal painting gained technical perfection under Shah Jahan.  It probably shows the highest quality in drawing and stippling with great fineness, exquisite colouring, and remarkable display of likeness of form.  It, however, loses in liveliness and becomes stereotyped, static, confined to the royal court.  Preference is given to the court scenes, while in a few outdoor scenes the expression is weak and rather dull.

The divine nature of kingship was a popular theme in Mughal painting at least since the Jahangir’s period.  This was done through certain symbolic representations in which European motifs played an important role, e.g., hour glass, globe or even cherubs amidst Europeanized clouds or golden rays depicting Divine Light.  Such motifs continued to be used under Shah Jahan,  but there was greater emphasis on the display of royal glory by means of a mass of humanity or even armies shown in the background in an humble position and attendant upon the royal figure.

Later Mughals: Despite Aurangzeb’s indifference towards painting, the technical qualities of Mughal painting were sustained.  During the subsequent generations, the Mughal painting burst into exuberance although with a gradual decline in quality.  Besides portraiture and depiction of court scenes, the chief interest shifted in voluptuous treatment of harem scenes.  Now the Mughal style gradually weakened in expression and illustrations lacked intensity of feeling.  The same themes were done over and over again so that they became monotonous in treatment.  Later Mughal paintings borrowed a few themes from the Rajasthani Style.

Rajput painting

Rajput paintings can be divided into two groups-Rajasthani and Pahari.  The Rajasthani group, as its name indicates, covers the entire state of Rajasthan and Bundelkhan where this particular style of painting, sometimes called Jaipuri qalam (literally brush), was prevalent.  Its main centres were the former Rajput courts of Jaipur, Bikaner and Udaipur.  ‘The second group, known as Pahari (mountain) qalam, developed in a wide area around the Sivalik hills running through Poonch, Jammu, Basohli, Nurpur, Kangra, Haripur, Guler and the mid-Himalayan areas like Ram Nagar, Bhadarwah, Chamba, Kulu and Tehri Gharhwal.  The chief centres of this school were at the courts of the Rajas of Basohli, Jammu, Nurpur, Kangra and Chamba.  The Sikh school of painting which flourished under Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1803-1809), is also an offshoot of the Pahari school.

There is a clear distinction between the Rajput and Mughal school of painting.  Mughal art is in its essence an art of official portraiture, of court scenes and representations of historic occasions.  In its technique it always remains more or less close to miniature in which it had its origin and the illuminated manuscript and faithful to the precision of line and meticulous detail of Persian calligraphy.  Rajput art, on the other hand, derived its technique not from miniatures but from mural frescoes.  In fact, the origin of this school lay in the great and ancient art of Ajanta and Bagh through the miniatures in the Jain manuscripts and Gujarati school of the fifteenth century.  It also adopted some of the salient features of Mughal-art.



Rajasthani painting

The origin of Rajasthani painting dates back to the Sultanate period in the early 16th century.  The style shows an unrivalled attachment to Nature.  The illustrations are most at the level of landscape paintings in which human figures play insignificant role.  The tree types with their never ending variety, dense foliage, and richly decorative forms were associated with the singing birds and frolicking animals.

Among the popular literary works illustrated in the early Rajasthani paintings were Laur Chanda, Chaurapanchasika, Krishna Leela, Gita Govinda and Bhagwat Purana.

            The first specific work belonging to this school is a set of Ragamala paintings composed during the reign of Sai Jai Singh II (1692-99).  These paintings illustrate Ragas and Raginis – the musical modes.  They depict the situation appropriate to the various moods expressed and evoked by the different modes.  They are usually inscribed with the Hindi poems which describe the same situation of the highly poetical and graphic fashions.

The Rajasthani school reached its zenith under the patronage of Jagat Singh of Mewar (1628-1652).

A number of regional sub-schools rose in the Rajasthani group in 16th and 17th centuries.  All the sub-styles possess certain common factors that suggest a generic Rajasthani style which gave birth to these regional forms.

Mewar school:Udaipur, Nathwada, Chavand and Chittor were the main centres of this school.  The Mewar paintings portray incidents mainly from the life of Krishna ad his frolics with the gopis, the hero and heroine themes of Hindi poetry and the pictorial representations of the Indian musical modes (Ragamala).  Paintings also depict scenes from general life like marriage ceremonies, processions, dances, battle scenes, birds, animals etc.

Bundi school:The Bundi school has an almost parallel history with Mewar school, except that it developed in two phases viz., 1620-1635 and 1680-1700.  Though the school was highly influenced by Mughal painting in subject matter and technical details, it still retained its originality in expression.  The main emphasis is on display of feminine grace in which it excels.

Malwa school: The school developed in four stages 1634-1650, 1650-1680, 1680-1700 and 1700 onwards.  After the fourth stage, the style seems to have fanned out into several regions in Central India and influenced the local styles.

Bikaneri Style: These paintings flourished from the days of Jahangir.  With the Aurangzeb period, a highly Mughul-influenced style of painting in an exuberant form appeared in Bikaner.  Rukmudin was the most famous painter of the style.  The paintings display extremely clever compositions.

Jodhpur and Nagaur Style: These sub-styles of Rajasthan style show very bold types of expression with broad, fish eyes in the human faces and highly stylized tree types.

Jaipur school:This school began in 1750 and flourished till the beginning of the 19th century.  Life size pictures of Radha and Krishna, use of bright colours and ornamental borders are the chief characteristics of this school.

Kishangarh school: An offshoot of the Jodhpur school, it developed as the most important school of 18th century Rajasthani painting.  The most popular subject of the paintings is the love of Krishna and Radha.  In comparison to other schools paintings of this school are of a large size.

Kotah school:Kotah school lasted from 16th century to 19th century.  Paintings clearly show a Mughal influence.  Court scenes, portrait of princes and hunting scenes were the main subjects.  The tiger and boar (wild male pig) hunting paintings are unique.

Pahari paintings:

The school flourished in the hill areas of Jammu, Himachal and U.P. between 16th and 19th centuries.  Each school in Pahari paintings has its own hallmark of beauty like the delicately painted Kangra and the colourful Basholi that could add clipped wings of butterflies to add brilliance to its colours.  The themes are generally the devotional poetry of the Bhakti saints, landscapes, colourful depiction of seasons, the frolicks of Krishna etc.  the oldest known miniature of the Pahari school, is an  illustration of Bhanudatta’s Rasamanjri (called Chittarasamanjari) by the artist Devidas, who flourished in the reign of Raja Kripal Pal of Basohli. The style of these paintings is strongly individualistic and based on folk art though they were greatly influenced by the Mughal and Rajasthani school.

Important schools under Pahari paintings are:

Basohli school The school flourished in the Jammu hills.  It shared several characteristics with the early Rajasthani, school and Mughal school but retains its own distinctive individuality. The paintings are characterized by human figures appearing as designs, accentuated with heavily bejeweled makeup, with emphasis upon the architectural details.  Monochrome background is preferred to dark foliage.

Guler : A similar school as that of Basholi appeared at Guler under Raja Dalip Singh.  Moreover, the ideal development took place under Raja Goerdhan Chand.  The chief characteristic of Guler school is its lyrical and cool depiction of women who bear their lovers’ absence with muh more composure than the unhappy and passionate heroines of the earlier Basholi school.  Scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata, portraits and court scenes were the main subjects of Guler paintings.

Kangra : This school developed in 18th – 19th century.  The school displays a blend of the Mughal and Rajasthani paintings.  Female figures show delicate graces of Indian womanhood.  The colour used are symbolic to indicate their moods.  There is emphasis on landscape and foliage.

Jammu school: Jammu school is quite similar to Guler school.  The paintings are light and fluid and show Mughal and Pahari influences.  Poses and gestures play an important role in all the paintings.  Majority  of the paintings are portraits of kings, their courtiers and their families.

Chamba school:Chamba paintings show Basholi and Guler influences.  The figures are short and squat.  Refined colours are another significant feature of Chamba painting.

Tehri Garhwal: The subject matter of these paintings is mostly the Krishna legend and the Ramayana.  Influence of Kangra school is clearly marked on Tehri Garhwal paintings.

Oudh painting: Mughalinfluence is clear on these paintings; however, the colour used are soft and more refined.  Intimate scenes and sensitive depiction of the females are other characteristic features of these paintings.

Jasrota: Jasrota, an offshoot of Jammu school, shows a strong impact of Basholi tradition, particularly in the colour scheme. Both the human and animal figures received full attention of the painter. The human figures dominate the foreground. Facial treatment  is typical of the Nainsukh style.  Colours used are somber and show Mughal influence.

Mandi : Mandi paintings are based on Saivite themes.  Their colour scheme distinguishes them from other Pahari miniature of the same period. Class background and typical facial features of females like large forehead, pointed nose etc.  are other significant features of the Mandi school.

bilaspur: Bilaspur paintings differ from Basholi school in their colour scheme.  Natural and lively faces, though heavier than Basholi paintings are their characteristic features.  The treatment of the landscape is more idealized and richer and it introduces a number of decorative trees and shrubs.

Nurpur : The chief characteristic of the Nurpur paintings is their colour scheme which is somber, yet attractive and pleasing.   Portraits are more sophisticated and differ from Basholi  school in expression.

Kulu : The most significant feature of the Kulu schoolis an extensive Ramayana series.  Human figures are boldly designed and show a strong influence of the Basholi school.

Mankot :This  style, prevalent at Mankot (the modern Ramkot) in Jasrota district of J&K, shows a strong influence of the Basholi school so much so that it is difficult to distinguish the two styles.

Differences between the Mughal painting and Rajasthani painting

  • Unlike the Mughal school, the Rajasthani schools did not follow the rules of perspective; rather they relied on hands of colour to create a feeling of depth.
  • The Rajasthani schools did not use the Mughal techniques of highlighting certain sections of the painting but distributed light uniformly over the entire scheme.
  • The attitudes of Mughal paintings to their work appear personalized as the names of at least a hundred such painters are known from their signatures, whereas of Rajasthani painters it is difficult to mention over half a dozen.
  • Mughal painting is essentially an art of miniature painting, and when enlarged becomes an easel picture, while Rajput painting when enlarged becomes a mural fresco.
  • Unlike Rajput painting, Mughal painting uses self tonalities and atmospheric effects..
  • Mughal outline is precise and patient, while that of Rajasthan is interrupted and allusive or fluent and definitive.
  • Relief effect is produced in Mughal painting with shades, but Rajput colour is flat since a night scene is lighted as evenly as one in full sunlight.

Sikh school

Sikh school flourished under Maharaja Ranjit Singh.  Mughal and Pahari influences are clearly marked on Sikh paintings.  Portraits and havelis of nobles, akharas of mahants and Golden temple of Amritsar are the major subjects.  The drawings are vigorous and life like but lack refinement.

Deccani school

The Deccani Sultanates of Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golconda, which emerged after the disintegration of the Bahmani Kingdom, had developed their own style of painting independent of the Mughal tradition.  In fact, this ‘active and sophisticated school’ even contributed to the Mughal style.   The State rulers were Shias and had intimate political relations with Persia. In fact, many Persians and Turkish artists were employed in the courts of Bijapur and Golconda.  Thus the Persian influence is quite evident in the early painting of the Deccan school.  The landscape idiom and decorative formalities are Persian, but the costumes, etc., certainly show the influence of north India or the Malwa school of art.  The indigenous impact further increased after the fall of the Vijayanagar Empire when a number of artists took employment in the courts of the Sultans and helped to develop a synthesis of Persian, Turkish and indigenous styles. This mixed style is evident in Nujum-al-Ulum, a sixteenth century encyclopaedia illustrated with eight hundred and seventy-six paintings.

A series of Ragmala paintings, depicting various musical moods from Bijapur, Golconda and Ahmadnagar ar characteristic examples of this school.

Bijapur Court Style: The earlier paintings show a naïve feeling and colourful nature.  But this gradually faded under Mughal influence.  The later paintings show a considerable Jahangiri influence, although old tradition continued to some extent in the choice of colour and treatment of the background.

Golconda :Portraits show the royal taste in fruits, scented flowers, slaves and pets.

Hydrabadi style: Replaced the Golconda style after 1700.  Although patronized by the Mughal governors, it sustained the Deccani tradition.  The Hyderabad paintings are delicate in execution.  They followed the Mughal tradition and were more or less restricted to the expression of female charm in conventional forms.

Tanjore paintings: The style flourished under the Marathas –  Sarfonji and Shivaji II.  Vishnu, Shiva and Krishna were the favorites of the artists.  The style shows Deccani characteristics.

Mysore school

It flourished during the reign of Raja Krishnaraja Wodeyar of Mysore in the first half of the 19th century.  Paintings are on hand-made paper.  The colour schemes are typical with frequent use of red and green.  Most of the themes were religious, portraiture was more common than in the Tanjore style.  The painters executed much portraiture on ivory.  After Krishnaraja the Mysore school became extinct.

Patna or company school

The advent of Europeans brought the fusion of the Mughal and the Western style and this school came to be known as the ‘Company School’.  The main centres of this school were Patna (an important commercial centres of that time)  and Murshidabad.  Varanasi, Lucknow, and Delhi were other important centres.  Social themes and general life were depicted on these paintings.

Bengali school

E.B. Havell developed a new style of painting in India in the 19th century based on the dictum that old and new could be developed together.  This school came to be known as the Bengal school.  Along with Abanindranath Tagore, he endeavoured to revive the lost values and revitalize the indigenous system.  The subject matter of the Bengal school includes historical themes like Buddha and Sujata by Abanindranath Tagore, religious themes like Shiva Parvati, Krishna and Gopies etc.  and social and daily life.  The paintings are very simple and delicately show light and shade.  The school tried to introduce the rhythm and grace of Ajanta in their paintings.  the pioneers of this school are – Abanindranath Tagore, A.K. Haidar, Nand Lal Bose, Sharda Ukil, Jamini Roy.

Folk Art

Folk paintings of Mithila or Madhubani painting: Folk paintings of Mithila are the exclusive  monopoly of women artists.   The paintings are done on mud walls of the houses.  Paper is also used.  The subject matter of these paintings is Vishnu’s avtars like Rama, Krishna and female deities like Kali, Durga, and Parvati.  Natural colours prepared indigenously are used.  The background of these paintings is detailed.  The art is rooted in Tantra.

Chita: It is a folk art of Orissa strictly practiced by women.

Kalamkari: The most important centres of Kalamkari production are Machilipattanam and Shri Kalahasti in Andhra Pradesh.  The work is mostly done on cotton cloth.

Famous Painters :

Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951): The pioneer of the new school of art, he produced paintings of Krishna Lila synthesizing the Indian and European styles in an original manner.  Some of his famous paintings are Shah Jahan Looking at the Taj, Buddha and Sujata etc.

Asit Kumar Haldar: He belonged to modern school of art and brought uniqueness in painting by working poetical rhythms in the realm of art.

Amrita Shergil: She as the youngest and the first Asian to get elected as the Associate of Great Salon for her paintingConversation (1934.  Her paintings had a hunting melancholy as deep and ambivalent as the smile on the face of Mona Lisa.  Her best paintings include Nudes, Hillside Elephants Bathing in Green Pool, Siesta etc.

Bhavesh Sanyal: His paintings reflect the influence of natural beauty of Kashmir and Kangra.  Beggars of Gole Market and Shelterless Girl are his famous paintings.

Jamini Roy: Born in West Bengal, his paintings were deeply influence by the Bengal school of arts and folk art tradition.

Kshitindranath Mazumdar: An artist of modern school, he succeeded in presenting modern figures in the context of Indian themes.

M.F. Hussain (1915-b): Born in Maharashtra, Maqbool Fida Bussain is considered to be Indian’s leading artist.  He joined Amrita Shergil, Raza and Saiza to form Progressive Artish Group (1948).  He had his first one man show at Bombay (1950), one picture from this exhibition was hung in Salon de Mai in Paris.  His pictures are dynamic and symbolic of turmoil of life.  He made a symbolic film “Through the Eyes of Painter (1966)’ which won the Golden Bear Award at Berlin Film Festival.  Most of his later paintings are stylized, heavily symbolic and of an abstract nature but each is true to the Indian themes.

Muhammad Abdur Rahman Chgtai: A famous artist of the modern school, his work was greatly influence by the old Persian style and the Kangra style and the Kangra style.  His famous painting is the Holi Dance.

Nandalal Bose: Born in Calcutta, he belonged to modern school of art.  His famous paintings include Uma’s Tapasya, Pranam, Shiva – Parvati and Gopini, Krishnarjun etc.

Ravi Raja Varma (1848-1906): Painter of the 19th century, he has become famous for his painting of Shakuntala writing a love letter to king Dushyanta.  He won a gold medal and diploma at World art Exhibition, Vienna for his painting of Nair Lady (1873).

Sarada Ukil: His contribution to modern school of art was very valuable.  He tried to open new horizons for Indian painting while simultaneously trying to revive the traditions of the past.  He also worked on some historical themes against an emotional background.  His paintings included the day-to-day life of men and women, natural scenes, landscapes, pictures of Buddha and of Krishna.

Satish Gujral: Greatly influenced by western paintings he produced the famous painting of a Black Moon.