Origin of painting in India

Origin of painting in India

There is a Legend in India that Brahma taught a king how to bring back to life the dead son of a brahmin by executing a portrait of the deceased, which he endowed with life. Brahma as the creator is also associated with Vishvakarma, The divine architect and the presiding genius of art and crafts.

There is a Legend in India that Brahma taught a king how to bring back to life the dead son of a brahmin by executing a portrait of the deceased, which he endowed with life. Brahma as the creator is also associated with Vishvakarma, The divine architect and the presiding genius of art and crafts.

Ancient Period Origin:
Paintings as an art from flourished in India from very early times as is evident from the remains have been discovered in caves, and the literary source.

The history of art and paintings in India begins with the pre historic rock paintings at Bhimbetka caves [Madhya Pradesh] where we have drawings and paintings animals.

The cave paintings of Narsinghgarh show skins of spotted deer left drying. Thousands of years ago paintings and drawings had already appeared on the seals of Harappa Civilization.

Both Hindu and Buddhist literature prefer to paintings of various types and techniques for example:

lepyacitras: Represents of folklore.
Lekhacitras: Line drawings and paintings on textile.
Dhulitcitras: Paintings on the floor.

Buddhist Vinayapitaka describes the existence of painted figures in many royal buildings.

The play Mudrarakshasa mentions numerous paintings or patas.

The 6th century A.D. text on aesthetics Kamasutra by Vatsyayana has mentioned paintings amongst 64 kinds of arts and says that it was based scientific principles.

The Vishnudharmotlara purana [7th century A.D.] has a section on paintings called Chitrasutra which describes the six organs on paintings [Shadanga or Limbs].

[i] Rupabheda - Knowledge of appearances
[ii] Pramanam - Correct perception, measure and structure.
[iii] Bhava - Action of feeling on forms.
[iv] Lavanya Yoganam - Infusion of grace, artistic representation.
[v] Sadrisyam - Simlitude
[vi] Varnikabhanga - Artistic manner of using the brush and colours.

Indian Rock paintings are dated 10,000 years back on the basis of archaeological findings from excavations of the painted caves and India is also the first country to recognise the antiquity of the rock paintings.

In Bimbetka near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh is largest and oldest collection of rock paintings, belonging to The Neolithic Age and depicting the everyday lives of the people- hunting, dancing, decoration of bodies.

The earliest paintings are pictures of animals such as bison, bears and tigers. The paintings are mainly in red and white, with occasional use of green and yellow.

The Superimposition of paintings shows that the same canvas was used by different people at different times. The paintings presumably were of magical significance.

The paintings in what has come to be called The “ZOO ROCK SHELTER” include those of a Mesolithic boar painted in dark red and animals like the elephant, rhinoceros, bara singh spotted dear, cattle, snake etc.

Later paintings include battle scenes painted in red and an elephant painted in white. The Boar Rock, which is the last among the rock shelters accessible to tourists has a depiction of a mythical boar with horns that is many times larger than the human beings chased by it.

Of the ancient paintings done on perishable materials no specimens exist. The earliest extant paintings of the historical period consists of a few irregular rows of human figures in yellow and ochre.

Materials Used:

Different materials were used in different types of paintings mention of Chitra Shalas [Art Gallery] and Shilpasastra[ Technictreatise on Art] have been made in Literary sources.

The Principal colour used were
Red ochre - Dhaturaga
Vivid Red - Kum Kum or Sindura.
Yellow ochre- Haritala.
Indigo - Blue [ Lapblazuli blue]
Lamp black - Kajjala
Chalk White - Khadi mitti
Terra Verte - Geru mati

All These colours were locally available except lapis lazuli which came from Pakistan. Mixed colours E.g:- Grey were used on rare occasions. Use of colours were decided by The Theme and local atmosphere.

Art in medieval India:
During the period of Delhi Sultanate, mural paintings has been reported from the Royal Palaces and Royal Bed Chambers and Mosques. These Chiefy depicts Flowers, Leaves and Plants. During The Time of illtutmish [1210-36] we have references of paintings.

During the time of Alauddin Khaliji [1296-1316] we have Mural paintings, Miniature paintings and paintings on cloths. During The Sultanate period, we noticed The Persian and Arabic influences on Indian Paintings.

During 14th -15th Centuries A.D. miniature paintings emerged as a powerful movement in Gujarat and Rajasthan and spread to central north and Eastern India because of The Patronage of rich Jain merchants.

Mandu in Madhya Pradesh, Jaunpure in Eastern Utter Pradesh and Bengal in Eastern Utter Pradesh and Bengal in Eastern India were other great centres of manuscripts illustrated with paintings.

In Eastern India Bengal , Bihar and Orissa during The Palakingdom 9th-10th Century A.D. a new Kind of paintings developed called The miniature paintings in This Category Buddhist, Jain and Hindu manuscripts were

Illustrated on palm leaves. They resemble The Ajanta style but on a miniature scale. These were made on the request of the merchants, who donated them to the temples and monasteries.

From the 13th century onwards the Turkish sultans of Northern India brought with them important features of Persian court culture. In The 15th and 16th centuries illustrated manuscripts of persian influence were produced at Malwa, Bengal , Delhi, Jainpur, Gujarat and The Deccan.

The Interaction of Indian painters with Persian traditions resulted in the synthesis of the two styles evident in the works of the 16th century. During the early sultanate period, significant contribution to the Art of paintings was made by the Jain of Western India.

The Art of textual illustrations got a New look under The Mughals Akbar and his successors brought revolutionary changes to paintings and sensual illustrations. Beautiful illustrations are found on the pages of Baburnama and Akbarnama.

The Art of paintings reached 1st climax during the period of Jahangir who him self was a great painter and connoisseur of Art. Shajahan was more interested in Architecture Splendours his eldest son Darasikoh Patronised paintings like his grandfather .He preferred depicting natural elements like plants and animals in his paintings .How ever withdraw of Royal patronage to paintings under Aurangazeb led to the dispersal of Artists to different places in the Country.

Modern era:
In The Late Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries paintings comprise semi Westernised local styles which were patronised by British residents and visitors. With the Advent of European and more specifically the British new developments began in the field of paint

During the later half of the Eighteenth century The paintings of Indian artists attracted the attention of the English traders at many places. The East India company’s merchants began to procure items of Indians Arts and Crafts.

Simultaneously interested persons among them drew the attention of the Indian artists to the technique of Water-Colour paintings. Artists were required to depict India life and scenes but in a medium of the Foreigner’s liking.

Art Critics found this tendency dangerous and to them it was The beginning of the degradation of Indian Art since any imitation was suicidal.

The company painters became The term for these artists who work to satisfy the needs of their new masters for some economic gain. When combined The Western technique and the Indian form brought about synthetic style.

Towards the end of the 19th century a notable Indian artist Ravi varma, tried to re-established Indian Art Through Western methods, techniques, principles and traits. He studied The technique of oil paintings from the famous European portrait painter Theodore Jenson.

The artist Chief concern was to reproduce Indian life and scenes as well as The traditional mythological subject matter in oil paintings in the Western style. Ravi varma employed This new medium in painting Indian mythological themes which at once attained wide recognition and through oleographs became popular through out the Country.

Critics accuse him of having failed to convey adequate expression of Indian feelings or of the poetic faculty than an Indian allegory ought to be capable of evoking.


Mohiniattam is one of the 8 classical dances of India and it belongs to Kerela.According to legends Vishnu appears as Mohini to save Lord Shiva from the demon Bhasmasura.

The name Mohiniyattam may have been coined after Lord Vishnu; the main theme of the dance is love and devotion to God, with usually Vishnu or Krishna being the hero.

Devadasis used to perform this in temples. It also has elements of Koothu and Kottiyattom. Mohiniyattam is a drama in dance and verse. Mohiniattam is derived from the words "Mohini" (meaning beautiful women) and "attam"(meaning dance).

Mohiniattam is a solo female dance (in a single costume), where musical melody and the rhythmical swaying of the dancer from side to side and the smooth and unbroken flow of the body movement is the striking feature.

The Mohiniattam dance focuses mainly on feminine moods and emotions. Usually, the theme of Mohiniattam dance is "sringara" or love.

Subtle subjects of love are executed with suggestive abhinaya, subtle gestures, rhythmic footwork and lilting music. The performers of Mohiniattam dance usually wear an off-white colored sari with gold brocade borders.

The Hastha Lakshandeepika is a classical text and forms the basis of hands and arms movement in Mohiniattam .

A question appeared in 2014 related to Mohiniattam:
Consider the following pairs:
1) Garba : Gujarat
2) Mohiniattam : Odisha
3) Yakhshagana : Karnataka

Which of the following pairs is correctly matched?
a) 1 only
b) 2 and 3 only
c) 1 and 3 only
d) 1,2, and 3

The answer is option c

By:Balalatha Mallavarapu

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