Indian Paintings

The Ancient, Colorful World of Indian Paintings

India had a fine tradition in the art of painting, and most of the paintings of the early medieval period were based on religious themes and showed episodes from the Hindu epics or Jain and Buddhist literature.

The exquisite beautiful coloured paintings at Ajanta and Ellora were created between AD 600 and 1000. The Paintings and sculptures are devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Most of the Paintings tell ancient tales of courtly life and depict Buddhist legends from the Jataka tales. Like murals, paintings on the cloth were also an ancient pictorial format in India. Literary evidence indicates that pictures on fabrics-probably iconic images of deities were carried in processions and displayed on walls during the medieval period.

The illustrated manuscript, another major Indian painting format, was probably introduced at a much later date than murals or cloth painting. The earliest known illustrated books were made from leaves of the talipot palm and date to about the eleventh century. Once the texts and illustrations were completed, these pages were stacked and strung on one or two cords through pre-bored holes; they were protected by a pair of covers, usually wooden, at the top and bottom of the pile. This distinctively Indian manuscript format with its stacked horizontal leaves is known as pothi.

The Advent of Mughals

During the period of the Delhi Sultans, the art of paintings declaimed as the rulers obeyed the teachings of the Koran which discouraged the reproduction of the human form through sculpture and paintings.

The rule of the Mughals saw the revival of the best in paintings and it marked an improved stage in the growth of this art. Humayun brought two famous painters with him. Mir Sayyid Ali and Abdus samad. They introduced the art of miniature paintings to India. Miniature paintings are small but highly detailed paintings.

Akbar brought Persian and Indian artists together and a new style of paintings was born the Indo Persian school of paintings. Miniature paintings were also used to illustrate manuscripts and books examples of which can be seen in the Baburnama the Akbarnama the Tutunama etc.

Jahangir was deeply interested in painting two of the most eminent painters of his time were Abul Hassan and Ustad Mansur.

Shah Jahan’s reign saw the art of paintings reach its zenith. Artists of his time were influenced not only by the Hindu style but the European style as well. Portrait paintings became lifelike and graceful during his time unlike the stiff ones of the earlier times.

Aurangzeb believed in the tenets of the Koran and discouraged painters in his court. They migrated to the various regional kingdoms where they established different schools of paintings.

Native India Paintings

About the same time that Mughal emperors commissioned pictures from their ateliers in Agra, Delhi and Lahore, the Rajputs began to develop distinct styles of miniature paintings like the Kangra, the Rajasthani and the Deccani as well as manuscript illumination. The main theme of the paintings of the Kangra and the Rajasthani schools was devotional. Firmly rooted in the Hindu religion and the timeless world of Indian village and folk painting, the Rajasthani Rajput style was created by artists for whom the eternal order underlying human existence was ultimately more important than its fleeting, particularized manifestations. Most Rajput paintings tell a story or depict a subject very clearly and in the most vivid, immediate way possible.

The manner in which the components of the Rajput style were manipulated by different Rajasthani schools depended on a host of variables; the aesthetic preferences of the ruler-patron; the abilities and tastes of the painters; the state’s geographic, political, religious, and social situation. 

As Hindus and Indians, the Rajput rulers preferred subjects taken from texts in Sanskrit or one of the Indian vernaculars. Hindu religious themes, especially myths of the religion’s colorful and dynamic divinities were popular. The most popular Hindu god shown in Rajasthani painting was Krishna. In addition to Hindu myths and legends, Rajput painters also illustrated scenes from famous cycles of Indian love poetry.

Perhaps the most unusual paintings by Rajasthani artists are depictions of poems that describe in words the feeling evoked by a raga (a musical note having 5-7 notes arranged in a particular sequence). 

Kangra paintings are richly coloured, which are filled with elegant rhythms and exceptionally varied pictorial details. Many of them feature surging landscapes based upon the scenery around the river Beas that flows through Kangara.

The region over which the Deccani sultans held sway was culturally diverse, its inhabitants comprising a cosmopolitan mix of Indian Muslims and Hindus, Persians, Afghans, Turks, Arabs and Africans. The earliest known Deccan pictures were painted at Ahmednagar during the late sixteenth century under the Nizam Shahi sultans. They are brightly colored combinations of Persian and indigenous Indian styles. The Deccani paintings focused more on-court scenes and scenes of battle.

Unlike their counterparts in the Deccan, painters from South India maintained a distinctive regional identity until the late nineteenth century. The earliest surviving works from this region are fragmentary murals found at widely scattered sites in Deccan and further South. These paintings are rendered in several flattened, linear versions of the naturalistic classical Indian style as seen at Ajanta.


Religious Significance of Paintings

Paintings were an important part of propagating religion at one time. Mural painting since the 6th century depicted various deities belonging to the Hindu and Buddhist pantheon, including Lord Shiva testing Arjuna by taking the form of a tribal hunter (Kirata), Lord Vishnu rescuing an elephant which was seized by a giant crocodile, Indra in his court etc. The cave shrine of Sittannavasal in Pudukottai has a mural representation of a faithful gathering of lotuses to decorate the resting place made by the Gods for a Jain saint after he attained liberation.


In the south, the temples were storehouses of paintings. The inner walls of the prakara and the mandapas and the ceilings were profusely adorned with paintings of scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata the Bhagavatam etc. In the Brihadeswara temple in Thanjavur all around the inner walls of the garbhagriha various karanas (dance poses) of Bharatanatyam have been painted in vivid colours that have not faded even after 1000 years.

Here you can buy original masterpieces from all traditions and styles of Indian Paintings.