The tradition of paintings was present in ancient Uttar Pradesh. Prehistoric humans inscribed their artistic
expressions on the walls of the caves and rock shelters wherethey lived. Evidence of prehistoric paintings of Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic ages has been found from caves and rock shelters. India’s first rock-painted shelter was discovered in the Sohangi hills of Mirzapur in 1867-68 by A.C.L. Carlyle. Since then, many painted rock shelters have been found from Chandauli, Sonbhadra, Mirzapur, Prayagraj, Mau, Banda and Agra. The Mirzapur and Banda regions of Uttar Pradesh are important for rock paintings.

Mirzapur Paintings

  • Mirzapur, situated in Son valley of the Vindhya region, is ideally located close to the tourist spots of Varanasi and Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh. Many prehistoric paintings have been found in the Kaimur range in Mirzapur. The Kaimur range has more than 100 rock painting sites of importance. These sites mainly consist of caves and rock shelters which are locally called Dari. The walls and ceilings of the caves are inscribed with mural paintings.
  • Scenes of hunting, dancing and various animals are depicted in these paintings. These paintings give an idea of the lives, imagination and aesthetic sense of prehistoric humans. Red, ochre, white, yellow and green colours were generally used. The colours were extracted from naturally available minerals. Hematite (ochre), coal, limestone were commonly used for this purpose.
  • Likhunia, Vijaygarh, Kohvar, Sorhoghat, Bhandariya, Baga Pathari, Kandakot, Ghodmangar, Sohrirop, Mohrapathri and Kohadva are also important rock painting sites. A large number of mural paintings made
    from red ochre or hematite have been found from these sites. These paintings have been dated to be from 5000 BC. They are locally called Rabat Ki Putariya.
  • Likhunia, situated on the banks of the Garai river has a beautifully painted scene of hunting of an elephant. The painting depicts horse-mounted hunters with long spears who are hunting a wild elephant with the help of another domesticated female elephant. Another painting displays a group of people dancing.
  • The scene of the hunting of a Rhino is painted in Ghodmangar. The painting depicts several hunters attacking the Rhino with spears while the Rhino is shown throwing a hunter in the air with its horn. A beautiful painting of a camel was found in Bhandaria.
  • Dhokha Maharani rock shelter of Kandhkot has a mysterious painting of a ghost and another painting displaying the scene of hunting of a porcupine.
  • Sorhoghat has a lively painting depicting the scene of hunting of a pig. The pig’s open mouth depicts its pain.
  • Three humans in red, yellow and white colours are shown in Vijaygarh.

Banda Paintings

  • Many ochre-painted rock paintings have been found in Manikpur of Banda. One painting depicts a beaked man sitting at a decorated entrance. It indicates that the site must have been some kind of ritual site. Hunters with bows, chasing a stag, are shown in a painting in Kariakund.
  • The most favoured depiction of rock paintings of this period are scenes of humans with animals. However, Lithuania and Kohvar have paintings of peacocks.

Mughal Paintings


  • Babur was naturally inclined towards paintings. He had mentioned and appreciated two famous painters Behzad and Shah Muzaffar in his biography, Tajuke-Babri. However, his period could not produce any significant work due to his continued engagement in battles.


  • Though Humayun struggled throughout his rule, he is credited with laying a strong foundation of paintings in India.
  • He invited two master painters- Mir Sayyid Ali and Khwaja Abdus Samad ‘Shiri Kalam’– from Iran and tasked them to prepare an illustrated manuscript of Dastan-e-Amir-Hamza or Hamzanama. However, this work could not be completed during his reign.


  • Akbar had a deep interest in the art of painting. Abul Fazal mentioned in the Ain-e-Akbari that Akbar employed more than 100 painters in his court. There were 13 Hindu and 4 Muslim master painters in Akbar’s court.
    • Mir Sayyid Ali, Khwaja Abdussamad ‘Shiri Kalam’, Farooq Kalam, Dasvant, Baswan, Miskin, Keshav, Jagannath, Lai, Madhav, Mahesh, Khemkaran, Harivanshram, Sanwala, etc., were the famous painters of his court.
    • These painters worked in a studio or workshop called Tasveer Khana, within Fatehpur Sikri.
  • Many illustrated manuscripts were prepared during Akbar’s reign. In 1562, Akbar undertook Hamzanama, the dream project of his father w’hich took 14 years for completion. Hamzanama is a huge illustrated manuscript which depicts the life ofAmir Hamza, an uncle of Prophet Mohammad. It consists of 1400 Mughal miniatures.
  • Approximately 170 folios of Hamzanama are still available worldwide at various art galleries. Razmnama (Mahabharat ), Ramayan, Tarik-e-Khandan-e-Timuriyah, Tarikh-e-Rashidi, Vakyat-e-Babri, Khamsa Nizami, Anwar-e-Suhaili, Bahristan Jami, etc., are other famous illustrated manuscripts of his time.
  • The paintings of Akbar’s time, owing to their historical themes, present a unique composition of Persian and Indian styles.


  • Jahangir was a great patron of paintings. He was not only a skilled painter but also owned a personal studio. He was a naturalist and emphasised the themes of hunting animals, flowers, trees etc. His style was formalist. Being a formalist and naturalist, his paintings of birds and animals give an impression close to reality.
  • Abul Hasan, Ustad Mansoor, Farooqbeg, Bishandas Agha Raza, Muhammad Murad, Madhav, Manohar, Govardhan were famous painters of his time.
    • Ustad Mansoor was a specialist bird painter. He was given the title of Nadir-ul-Asra.
    • Abul Hasan was given the title of ISadir-ul-Jama (Yug Shiromani ).


  • Due to architecture being the first preference of Shahjahan, the tradition of paintings could not get his undivided attention as during the rule of Jahangir. However, he carried forward the painting traditions.
  • Painters continued to be employed in the Royal court as earlier. His period is known for the portraits and illustrated manuscripts. The brightness of colours and use of decorative borders came into vogue during this time.
  • Muhammad Fakirulla, Mir Hashim, Govardhan, Vichittar, Chitraman, etc., were famous painters of Shahjahan’ scourt.
  • Darashikoh, the eldest son of Shahjahan, also took a keen interest in paintings. He prepared an album of forty paintings w hich are preserved in the London Museum.


  • Aurangzeb was strictly against paintings and declared paintings against the religious tenets of Islam. However, this could not terminate the tradition of paintings at the time, which shifted to the courts of the Rajput kings.

Bundela Paintings

  • The ruler of Bundelkhand, Vir Singh, was provided a Mansabdari of three thousand by Jahangir. King Shatrujeet of the Bundela lineage happened to be an art lover and a patron of paintings. Many beautiful portraits of King Shatrujeet w’ere made. He is depicted sitting on a horse with a long sword in hand in one of his portraits.
  • Besides individual portraits, the themes of Krishna Leela, Bihari Satsai, Ragmala Chitravali Rasraj, were also used in this style.
  • The Bundela painting style has notable distinctions from the Mughal and Rajasthani styles of paintings. In this style, the paintings are shown with a smaller forehead and decorated clothes. Highlands with a flat top are shown in the background.

Rajput Paintings

  • The Chandela rulers of Kannauj and Bundelkhand contributed to the development of the Rajput style of painting.
  • The themes of the se paintings revolve around social issues. The themes of Nayak-Nayika, Ragmala, Radha-Krishna and adorned women are extensively used. Most of the paintings are made on the walls and large sized papers.
Braj Paintings
  • The mes of these paintings emerged from the cultural past of Mathura, Vrindavan and Gokul. Emphasis is given on Vasudev Krishna, GopiGwal, love, nature and emotions associated with them.

Jain Paintings

  • This style developed in Jaunpur, Awadh and the nearby regions during the 11th century to the 15th century.
  • It was expanded to Gujarat, Bengal, Marwad, Malwa and other regions.
  • Many illustrated manuscripts with the central theme of Jainism were prepared under this style.
    • Kalpsutra is an important illustrated manuscript prepared in Jaunpur. It was prepared by Devidas Gaud Kayastha in 1465.

Modern Paintings

  • Modern paintings in Uttar Pradesh developed upon the foundationsof the historical painting traditions. Influence of Mughal, Bundela and Rajput styles was visible during the initial days of modern paintings.
  • During the beginning of the 19th century, a new style became popular in the Lucknow region. It mixed the traditional art and modem experimental style. This style was called Rumi-Kalam. It consisted of features of both Mughal and Awadh styles, but the imitation of European art was done with ugly colours. This style emphasised the depiction of natural images of individuals.

Pichwai Paintings

  • Pichwai paintings are related to the Shrinathji temple. These paintings are generally done on a piece of cotton cloth with traditional colours and are hung inside the chamber of the deity.
  • These paintings were made by the members of Adi Gaud or Pushtimarg Sampradaya.
  • The depiction of Krishna in the form of Shrinathji is the principal theme of these paintings. The themes of Rasleela, Holi, Annakut (Govardhan Puja), etc. are also used for different festivals/ occasions.
  • It is believed that the Shrinathji temple in Mathura was the centre of Pichwai art which had to be shifted to Nathdwara of Rajasthan during the 17th century, anticipating an attack by Aurangzeb.
  • The Pichwai painters also moved with the temple and continued the tradition. Thus, it isalso known as Nathdwara paintings.


  • Chowkpurana is the folk art of floor decoration in Uttar Pradesh. It is also called Sonarakhna.
  • Chowkpurana decorations are generally made during auspicious occasions and festivals. The primary purpose of the decoration is the invocation of the Gods. It also serves as a sign of welcome. It is believed that these paintings bring prosperity and safety.
  • Rice powder, lime or chalk and other domestically available materials are generally used. The traditional chowkpurana designs extensively use geometric patterns like circles,squares, triangles, etc. Auspicious motifs like Kalash and Swastika are also used. The design starts at the centre and expands outwards without any break.
  • The tradition dates back to the Indus Valley Civilisation and was listed among the 64 art forms mentioned in the Kamasutra. It is traditionally created by women. It does not require any formal training and it is done by freehand.

Street Art

  • Street Art/graffiti is generally meant to display discontent. However, this art is also being used to display popular messages and for beautification in India. Street art is made on community buildings, public structures and other publicly viewed surfaces.
  • A distinguishing feature of street paintings is that architectural features of the given space are harmoniously incorporated into the picture.
  • Several cities of Uttar Pradesh have been made colourful with large sized murals at public places. Among these, Prayagraj and Varanasi are prominent. Prayagraj has been turned into an art gallery under the Paint My City campaign. It holds the Guinness Book record for being the biggest painting drive. Walls, bridges, pillars, buildings, water tanks, etc., have been used by the artists as their canvases.
    • The famous examples of street art in Prayagraj include the large size portraits of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Harivanshrai Bacchan and the paintings in the Arail area.
    • The street art at Prayagraj display following themes:
      • Cultural diversity and heritage of Prayagraj
      • Religious, spiritual and scientific connotation ofthe Kumbh
      • Mythological background of the Kumbh
      • Social awareness, public service messages and political personalities
  • Varanasi also has beautiful street art at ghats, water tanks and cantonment area under the Varanasi Art Project. The Kirtimukha painted at one of the ghats by Chifumi draws the attention of many. Many Indian and foreign artists contributed to the street art of Prayagraj as well as Varanasi.

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