Monday, 4 June 2012

Indian Painting: Schools of Painting

In 2010, a question was asked about distinguishing features of Rajasthani and Pahari Schools of painting for 12 marks and 150 words. So am giving below small writeups about different schools of painting.

Before I start I would like to give a brief overview of Indian Painting. The Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) categorizes Indian painting into Wall Painting, Miniature Painting and Modern Indian Painting.      
  • Wall Painting includes the cave art of Bhimbhetka, Ajanta etc, and also to references to mural paintings in ancient Buddhist texts like the Vinayapitaka, and Mahabharata and Ramayana.2
  • Modern Indian Painting is stated to have begun from 1857 with the Bengal School of Painting. Early stalwarts were Raja Ravi Verma and Abanindranath Tagore and their followers. 3
In this article I will be elaborating on Miniature Art and its various schools.
[The CCRT an autonomous organisation under Ministry of Culture, GOI, whose main objective is to spread awareness about Indian culture among students.1 mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other large permanent surface.5]

THE PALA SCHOOL (7th - 11th Century AD) The earliest examples of miniature painting in India exist in the form of illustrations to the religious texts on Buddhism executed under the Palas of the eastern India and the Jain texts executed in western India during the 11th-12th centuries A.D. The Pala period (750 A.D. to the middle of the 12th century) witnessed the last great phase of Buddhism and of the Buddhist art in India. The surviving examples of the Pala illustrated manuscripts mostly belong to the Vajrayana School of Buddhism. The Pala painting is characterised by sinuous line and subdued tones of colour.4

Fig 1:Buddha Mahaparinirvana from Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita ( or 'The Perfection of Wisdom' written in eight thousand lines) 6
THE WESTERN INDIAN SCHOOL (12th - 16th centuries) The Western Indian style of painting prevailed in the region comprising Gujarat, Rajasthan and Malwa. The motivating force for the artistic activity in Western India was Jainism. The Kings of the Chalukya Dynasty Jainism patronised Jainism and commissioned an enormous number of Jain religious manuscripts. 
The illustrations on these manuscripts are in a style of vigorous distortion. One finds in this style an exaggeration of certain physical traits like the eyes, breasts and hips are enlarged. Figures are flat, with angularity of features and the further eye protruding into space. This is an art of primitive vitality, vigorous line and forceful colours. From about 1100 to 1400 A.D., palm-leaf was used for the manuscripts and later on paper was introduced for the purpose. 4

Fig 2: illustration from Kalpasutra, a popular Jain text.7


During the 15th century the Persian style of painting started influencing the Western Indian style of painting as is evident from the Persian facial types and hunting scenes appearing on the border's of some of the illustrated manuscripts of the Kalpasutra. Introduction of the use of ultra­marine blue and gold colour in the Western Indian manuscripts is also believed to be due to the influence of the Persian painting. These Persian paintings, which came to India, were in the form of illustrated manuscripts. A number of such manuscripts were copied in India.

Fig 3: An illustrated manuscript of the Nimat Nama (Cookery Book) marking a new trend of painting at Malwa, was started in the time of Ghiyasaldin Khilji of Malwa (1469-1500 A.D.). A part  of this manuscript is given below. 
It shows Ghiyasaldin Khilji supervising cooking being done by maids. In the Nimat Nama style the Persian influence is visible in the scroll like clouds, flowering trees, grassy tufts and flowering plants in the background, female figures and costumes. Indian elements are noticeable in some female types and their costumes and ornaments and colours. In this manuscript one can notice the first attempt towards the evolution of new styles of painting by the fusion of the Persian style of Shiraz with the indigenous Indian style. 4,8

THE MUGHAL SCHOOL (1560-1800 A.D.) 11

The origin of the Mughal School of Painting is considered to be a landmark in the history of painting in India. The Mughal School of painting originated in the reign of Akbar in 1560 A.D. Each ruler left his indelible mark on the paintings of his time. Akbar’s attitude led to a conscious synthesis of Hindu idioms and Indian aesthetics with the Islamic cult and elements of imperial Safavid Iran. Illustrative serialisation of texts like Ramayana, Tutinama, Akbarnama etc was the mode of painting of this phase. Portraiture was a rarity and female portraits yet greater. Well packed composition, well proportioned physiognomy and beautifully rounded faces, depiction of motion and a highly populated canvas characterised the art style of this early phase.

Fig 4: Babur inspecting Gwalior Fort: An illustration from Baburnama. Akbar period, dated A.D.1598; Note: the rounded faces, depiction of motion by the horses and elephant, and well packed canvas.

The art of post-Akbar era did not have the illustrative thrust. The earlier boldness was replaced by a touch of softness. The earlier crowded canvas had now a lot of breathing space. Jahangir's poetic genius endowed with fine imagery and lyricism reflected in the art of his era. Portraits of birds and animals in this era are timeless world classics. His interaction with European world brought the European technique of shading and producing three-dimensional effects to Indian painting.

Fig 5: 
Mughal emperor Jahangir holding the picture of Madonna. Mughal, Jahangir period, circa A.D.1620.
[Sir Thomas Roe came to the court of Jahangir in 1615 as an ambassador of King James I and remained in the court for three years. He carried with him several paintings on the theme of Christianity which brought about European influence to Mughal miniatures.]

Shahjahan continued Mughals’ art cult, though with lesser thrust (as architecture was his passion).Romantic in temperament, Shahjahan, little liked violence and ugliness. Portraits and random themes like durbar scenes, processions, festivals, scenes of outings etc were referred. The warmth of flesh and sensuality marked the art of post-Akbar era.  Aurangzeb being a conservative Muslim had no place for art in his court. After he died several Mughal governors and Rajput state acclaimed sovereignty. Painters of the Mughal court sought refuge in these states. They carried with them the Mughal art-style which was amalgamated with the taste and likings of their new patrons and local elements. This amalgamation created a new art-style widely known as Provincial MughalAwadh became the foremost seat of the Provincial Mughal art.  

Fig 6: Shah Jahan on a Terrace Holding a Pendant Set with His Portrait. 9

Deccani painting denotes broadly the miniature painting from the 16th Century to the 19th Century at Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, Golkonda and Hyderabad, the former states that formed the region known as Deccan. The style and themes in Deccani miniatures, are an amalgamation of various art elements and influences like indigenous art traditions of Deccan and the Islamic idiom of Iran, Persia and Turkey. This Deccani art had three distinguishable phases:
- The early phase evolved at the Adil Shahi court of Bijapur in the beginning of 16th century.
- Later generations of the Muslim rulers of Deccani states had their roots in Indian soil with little of Iran, Persia or Turkey in them. Rulers like Chand Bibi were even inclined towards Indian mysticism. Thus although the Islamic idiom  was the same the early extraneous elements were replaced by the indigenous. The liberal attitude allowed depiction of not only Indian subjects but also of erotic situations. 
- Next, there evolved in early 18th century at Hyderabad yet another form of Deccani art, helped by the arrival of artists from the Mughal Court. 
Tall, fair-complexioned and emotionally charged male and sensuous looking female populate the human world of Deccani art. They are endowed with lovely faces, large wide open eyes, bold features, broad forehead, high neck, triangularly slanting waist and neatly carved figures. Elegantly coloured costumes usually consisting of white muslin coats and a few pieces of jewellery adorn them. Geometry plays a significant role in symmetrical arrangement of various parts of a Deccani miniature. These miniatures are endowed with perspectives of depth and distance obviously inspired from Persian and European renaissance. 

Fig 7: Malik Amber.Ahmadnagar, Deccan, circa A.D. 1610-15. [Amber was an Abyssinian (Ethiopian) slave who became the commander-in-chief of Ahmadnagar and introduced guerrilla warfare technique to his army].

Pahari miniature paintings are the group of paintings rendered around the lower Himalayan hills and plains of Punjab from early 17th to mid-19th century. In 1690, Basohli, a hill-state on the banks of Ravi, was the first to initiate the art of the hill-region by illustrating literary classics like Rasa Manjari, Ramayana, Gita Govinda. Other centres like Chamba, Kangra, Srinagar etc developed later. The Himalayan perspective and moderately statured alluring men and women with round faces and small but deep eyes, set below a semi-circular forehead impart to Pahari art its unity and distinction.

- Basohli focusssed on illustrations of literary classics like Rasa Manjari, Ramayana, Gita Govinda. 
- Mandi became distinctive for its trantrik depictions of Devi and excessive use of black, blue an red   colours.
- Kangra represents the most glorious phase of Pahari art. Kangra art reached its height in the reign of Raja Sansar Chand. Portraiture was the dominant mode of art and love was the principal theme of Kangra miniatures. Radha-Krishna were popular depictions.  

Fig 8: Krishna with flute. 12


Some of the Mughal artists of inferior merit who were no longer required by the Mughal Emperors, migrated to Rajasthan and other places. It is believed that the popular version of the Mughal style which these painters carried influenced the already existing styles of paintings there (Western Indian and Chaurapanchasika styles which served as a base), with the consequence that a number of new schools of painting originated in Rajasthan and Central India in the 17th and 18th centuries. Among these the important schools of paintings are Malwa, Mewar, Bundi- Kotah, Amber-­Jaipur, Bikaner, Marwar and Kishengarh.
The Rajasthani style of painting including that of Malwa, is marked by bold drawing, strong and contrasting colours. The treatment of figures is flat without any attempt to show perspective in a naturalistic manner. Sometimes the surface of the painting is divided into several compartments of different colours in order to separate one scene from another. Mughal influence is seen in the refining of drawing and some element of naturalism introduced in figures and trees. Each school of painting has its distinct facial type, costume, landscape and colour scheme.

Fig 9. Bani Thani, (a famous painting from the Kishangarh School of Painting- of Rajasthani painting style. Bani Thani was a singing girl in the kingdom of Raja Savant Singh (1748-57 AD). The girl became the face of the Kishangarh Radha. Painted by artist Nihal Singh, whose other paintings eulogized his king and Bani Thani as Radha-Krishna.

A style of painting characterised by bold drawing, techniques of shading and the use of pure and brilliant colours flourished at Tanjore in South India during the late 18th and 19th centuries.
The paintings are notable for their adornment in the form of semi-precious stones, pearls, glass pieces and gold. The rich vibrant colors, dashes of gold, semi-precious stones and fine artistic work are characteristics of these paintings. The paintings are mostly of Gods and Goddesses because this art of painting flourished at a time when fine-looking and striking temples were being constructed by rulers of several dynasties. The figures in these paintings are large and the faces are round and divine. 14
[P.S.: Sorry for being so indulgent of this topic. I got carried away. Spurthi]

9. Figures 4 and 5 photos taken by me.
11. Text for Mughal Painting taken from information boards of the National Museum, Delhi.


  1. This is an amazing post. And so is this blog. You're being of great help to an awful lot of people. Thanks... and keep up the good work....

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Awesome Article Spurthi.. Wish I cud personally thank u someday.. Dont stop writing.. There r ppl who want to hear from u..

  4. Thankyou Anon. I too wish I could meet all of you. Life is long and its a small world-so we definitely have a good chance.

    Will certainly tryand keep up the writing, though i dont think it would be CSE-focused posts. But you can write in with any queries you have-am sure giving the exam thrice might have endowed me with some wisdom regarding this exam. :)

    Good luck with the prep.


    1. Thankx for replying.. I have many queries (though small ones) to ask u. Just waiting for pre to get over.. Thanx for the wishes too.. :)

  5. Thanks akka...... Thanks a lot

  6. nice attempt. but ajanta caves paintings r not touched upon or illustrated any?

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