Monday, 4 June 2012

Indian Painting: Wall Paintings

The list of paintings in this category have been taken from the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training website. ( 

  • Bhimbhetka rock shelters are situated in Vindhya ranges in Madhya Pradesh. 
  • One of the earliest example of Indian Painting. The paintings date from 1500-2000 BC.
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Paintings  depict the lives and times of the people who lived in the caves, including scenes of childbirth, communal dancing and drinking, and religious rites and burials, hunting as well as the natural environment around them.  Animals such as bisonstigerslionswild boarelephantsantelopesdogs,lizardscrocodiles, etc., have been abundantly depicted in some caves.
  • Executed mainly in red and transparent with the occasional use of green and yellow.  

Leaving aside the wealth of materials of the Harappan Culture, the art of India, as a whole disappears from our sight for many years. However, we can learn a little of this dark epoch by reference to some of our old literatures. The Vinayapithaka, a Buddhist text of 3-4 century B.C. refers in many places to the pleasure houses containing picture halls which were adorned with painted figures and decorative patterns. Painted halls are also described in the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Next most important of wall paintings are found in the painted cave temples of Ajanta. 
  • There are 30 caves chiseled out of the rock in a semicircular fashion, executed between  2nd century B.C. and 7th century A.D. 
  • The subject matter of these paintings is almost exclusively Buddhist (drawn from Jatakas), excepting decorative patterns on the ceilings and the pillars. 
  • Compositions of these paintings are large but the majority of the figures are smaller than life size. Principal characters are in heroic proportions. 
  • Centrality is one of the main features of the composition so that attention is at once drawn to the most important person in each scene. 
  • In the contours of Ajanta figures, there is no undue striving for anatomical exactitude.

Fig 2: The Dying Princess

  • Are a group of nine rock-cut monuments, situated on the slopes of the Vindhyas in Madhya Pradesh (Dhar distt). 
  • Buddhist in inspiration, all the caves are viharas
  • Same stylistic form as Ajanta, but Bagh figures are more tightly modelled, and are stronger in outline. They are more earthly and human than those at Ajanta. Unfortunately, their condition is now such that they can only be appreciated at the site.

Fig 3: Vidur Pandita Jataka [Four seated male figures are engaged in a discussion in this painting. As per the story, there were four Brahmins of Benares (Varanasi) who have renounced the world. Because of their good deeds and desire in their next birth, they were born as kings of different realms. Once they happened to meet in a garden and a discussion on who among them is more virtuous started. As they couldn't reach a decision so took help from Vidura Pandit, the minister king of Kurus. He praised all in some way and hence said that all are virtuous in their respective fields. The person, second from right, without any ornamentation is Vidura.] 3

  • Earliest Brahmanical paintings so far known, belonging to circa 6th century A.D. 
  • The technique follows that of Ajanta and Bagh, the modelling is much more sensitive in texture and expression and the outline soft and elastic.
Fig 4: Siva and Parvati, Badami caves.9

The paintings of Ajanta, Bagh and Badami represent the classical tradition of the North and the Deccan at its best. Sittannavasal and other centres of paintings  show the extent of its penetration in the South. 

  • Rock-cut Jaina Temple in Tamil Nadu
  • Jain themes and symbology, 
  • Enjoy the same norm and technique as that of Ajanta. 
  • The contours of these paintings are firmly drawn dark on a light red ground. 
  • Most paintings are made in Pandyan period - 7th century AD.

Fig 5: Lotus plucker in Samava Sarvana. Samava-sarana  is an important scene in Jain religion. It is a special, beautiful audience hall where Tirthankaras (great liberated souls in Jain religion) delivered sermons after they reached realisation (kevala-gnana). Bulls, elephants, apsaras and gods gathered in this audience hall to witness this grand scene. The Monks collect lotuses from the pond.
  • The next series of wall-painting to survive are at Ellora. 
  • There are several fragments of painting on the ceiling of the Kailashnatha temple, and on the walls of some associated Jain cave temple. 
  • The composition of the paintings at Ellora is measured out in rectangular panels with thick borders. They have thus been conceived within the given limits of frames that hold the paintings. (The space, in the sense of Ajanta, therefore does not exist at Ellora). 
  • In style, Ellora painting is a departure from the classical norm of Ajanta paintings. The most important characteristic feature of Ellora painting are the sharp twist of the head, painted angular bents of the arms, the concave curve of the close limbs, the sharp projected nose and the long drawn open eyes, which can very well be considered as the medieval character of Indian paintings.

  • The most important wall paintings in South India are from Tanjore, Tamil Nadu. 
  • The dancing figures from Rajarajeswara temples of Chola dynasty belonging to early 11th century A.D. are beautiful examples of medieval paintings. The wide open eyes of all the figures are a clear negation of Ajanta tradition of half closed drooping eyes. 

  • The last series of wall painting in India are from Lepakshi temple in Andhra Pradeshbelonging to 16th century A.D. 
  • The paintings are pressed within broad friezes and illustrate Saivaite and secular themes.

Fig 6: The brothers Virupanna and Viranna, builders of the temple. An early depiction of the kurta. Whereas Indian men in the past when bare chested, here is an early example of the adoption of Islamic dress codes in covering the upper body with e Persian style garment. 6

Hereafter a decline in wall painting began. The art continued into 18th-19th century A.D. in a very limited scale. During the period from 11th century A.D. onward, a new method of expression in painting known as miniature on palm leaves and paper; perhaps much easier and more economical had already begun. Some of the wall paintings of this declining period in the reign of Prince of Travancore in Kerala, in the palaces of Jaipur in Rajasthan and in the Rangmahal of the Chamba palace in Himachal Pradesh are worth mentioning. 

Fig 7: Family of Shiva, (Pahari School of Painting), Rang Mahal of Chamba (HP). 7


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