The tradition of painting has been carried on in the Indian subcontinent since the ancient times. Standing as a testimony to this fact are the exquisite murals of Ajanta and Ellora, Buddhist palm leaf manuscripts, Mughal and Kangra schools of miniature Indian paintings, etc.
In fact, records have been found that indicate the usage of paintings for decorating the doorways, guest rooms, etc. Some traditional Indian paintings, like those of Ajanta, Bagh and Sittanvasal, depict a love for nature and its forces.
With time, Indian classical paintings evolved to become a sort of blend of the various traditions influencing them. Even the folk painting of India has become quite popular amongst art lovers, both at the national as well as the international level. Most of the folk paintings reflect a heavy influence of the local customs and traditions.
During the colonial era, Western influences started to make an impact on Indian art. By the time of Independence in 1947, several schools of art in India provided access to modern techniques and ideas. Galleries were established to showcase these artists. Indian Art got a boost with the economic liberalization of the country since early 1990s. Artists from various fields now started bringing in varied styles of work. Indian art thus works not only within the confines to academic traditions but also outside it.
Principles of Painting
The history of paintings can be known from primitive rock paintings of Bhimbetaka, Mirzapur and Panchmarhi. They were followed by the painted pottery of the Indus Valley Civilisation, but the real beginning of the art of painting begun from the Gupta Age.
Around the 1st century BCE the Shadanga or Six Limbs of Indian Painting, were evolved, a series of canons laying down the main principles of the art. In the 3rd century AD, Vatsyayana in his book Kamasutra enumerated about six main principles/limbs or Shadanga of paintings.
These ‘Six Limbs’ have been translated as follows:
Rupabheda: The knowledge of appearances.
Pramanam: Correct perception, measure and structure.
Bhava: Action of feelings on forms.
Lavanya Yojanam: Infusion of grace, artistic representation.
Varnikabhanga: Artistic manner of using the brush and colours.
The subsequent development of painting indicates that these ‘Six Limbs ‘ were put into practice by Indian artists, and are the basic principles on which their art was founded.
There are numerous references to art of painting in the Brahmanical and Buddhist literature, for example, the representation of the myths and lore on textiles is known as Lepya Chitra. References to the art of Lekhya Chitra can also be seen, which has line drawings and sketches. Other types are Dhuli Chitra, Pata Chitra, etc.
The play, Mudrarakshasa by Vishakhadutta, also facilitated the reader by mentioning the name of various paintings or patas, which are important to understand the different style of paintings and to observe all the principles of paintings.
Some of the styles were:
Cauka Pitaka – Isolated framed drawings
Dighala Pitaka – Long scrolls of paintings
Yama Pitaka – Isolated paintings
Pre-historic paintings were generally executed on rocks and these rock engravings were called Petrogylps. Indian Cave Paintings are regarded as the earliest evidences of Indian paintings that are made on cave walls. Bhimbetka is a place in the state of Madhya Pradesh where pre-historic paintings are discovered in numerous caves.
There are three major phases of pre-historic paintings:
Upper Paleolithic Period
Chalcolithic Period Art
Upper Paleolithic Period (40,000-10,000 BC)
The walls of the rock shelter caves were made of quartzite hence using minerals for pigments. One of the most common mineral was ochre or geru mixed with lime and water.
To widen their palette, different minerals were used to make colours like red, white, yellow and green which widened their palette.
Paintings are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge animal figures, such as Bisons, Tigers, Elephants, Rhinos and Boars beside stick-like human figures.
Mostly they are filled with geometric patterns.
Green paintings are of dances and red ones of hunters.
Mesolithic period (10,000-4000 BC)
The largest number of pre-historic paintings belongs to this period.
Themes multiply but the paintings are small in size. This period mainly saw the use of red colour.
Hunting scenes are mostly found.
Hunters in groups armed with barbed spears, pointed sticks, arrows and bows.
Trap and snares used to catch animals can be seen in some paintings.
Mesolithic people loved to paint animals.
In some pictures, animals are chasing men and in others they are being chased by hunter men.
Animals painted in naturalistic style and humans were depicted in a stylistic manner.
Women are painted both in nude and clothed.
Young and old equally find places in paintings.
Community dances provide a common theme.
Sort of family life can be seen in some paintings (woman, man and children).
Chalcolithic Period Art
Copper age art.
This period saw an increase in the number of paintings using green and yellow colour.
Most of the paintings seen depict battle scenes. There are many paintings of men riding horses and elephants. Some of them even carry bow and arrow which might indicate preparedness for skirmishes.
The paintings of this period reveal the association, contact and mutual exchange of requirements of the cave dwellers of this area with settled agricultural communities of the Malwa Plateau.
Pottery and metal tools can be seen in paintings.
Paintings and samples of writing in the Ashokan and Gupta Brahmi scripts ascertain that these cave sites were inhabited in the late historical periods. The other set of paintings from this period are at Narsinghgarh in Madhya Pradesh. They have paintings to show skins of spotted deer left for drying that provides credence to the theory that the art of tanning skins was perfected by man for providing shelter and clothing. Other paintings from this period also have depictions of musical instruments like the harp. Some of the paintings have complex geometrical shapes like the spiral, rhomboid and circle.
Jogimara Caves in the Ramgarh hills in Surguja district of Chhattisgarh houses some of the paintings from the later period. These are dated to be painted around 1000 BC. Chhattisgarh is also home to the variety of caves in the district of Kanker like the shelter of Udkuda, Garagodi, Khairkheda, Gotitola, Kulgaon, etc. These shelters depict the human figurines, animals, palm prints, bullock carts, etc. which show a higher and sedentary type of living.
Similar paintings can be found in Ghodsar and Kohabaur rock art sites in the district of Korea (Chhattisgarh). Another interesting site is in Chitwa Dongri (Durg district) where a chinese figure riding a donkey, pictures of dragons and agricultural sceneries can be found. Several interesting rock paintings have also been found in Limdariha in Bastar district and Oogdi, Sitalekhni in Surguja district.
In Odisha, Gudahandi Rock Shelter and Yogimatha Rock Shelter are also prominent examples of early cave paintings.
Similarities with rock paintings: Common motifs (designs/patterns like cross hatched squares, lattices etc)
Difference with rock paintings: Vividness and vitality of older periods disappear from these paintings.