Traditional Indian painting styles and artists

Traditional Indian painting styles and artists

The rich cultural diversity of Indian art is well reflected in the vivid, distinct, and enchanting folk art and crafts.Indian art is incredibly diverse and includes many different types of folk art and crafts. Indian painting has a long history, but not many early examples have survived because of the weather. The oldest Indian paintings were found on rocks in prehistoric times, like the ones in Bhimbetka rock shelters. Some of these paintings are around 10,000 years old. Each region has its own unique style of painting that represents its traditions and beliefs, which have been passed down through generations. Originally, these painting styles were found on walls and murals, but as cities developed, they began to be created on paper, canvas, and cloth. Indian paintings capture the essence of local life and are a beautiful form of artistic expression with their simple yet striking compositions.

History of Indian Paintings

Indian traditional paintings have a rich and diverse history that spans several centuries. These paintings reflect the cultural, religious, and social traditions of various regions in India. Here is an overview of the major styles and periods of Indian traditional paintings:

  • Pre-historic Rock art
    Generally painted on rocks, pre-historicpaintings are rock engravings that were also called petroglyphs. These rock paintings normally showcase animals like tigers, bison, etc. These were the oldest painting that were found in the caves that were around 30,000 years old like the Bhimbetka cave paintings.
  • Murals
    The existence of Indian murals starts from the ancient and early medieval periods. Murals from the 2nd century BC to the 8th – 10th century AD, can be found in more than 20 locations in India. These paintings are found mainly in natural caves and rock-cut chambers, and some of the famous ones include Ajanta, Bagh,Armamalai Cave (Tamil Nadu),Sittanavasal, Kailasanatha temple in Ellora Caves, Ramgarh, and Sitabinji. Murals from the ancient period portray primarily religious themes of Jain, Buddhists, and Hindus. One of the oldest famous painted caves and theatres in Chattisgarh – the Jogimara and Sitabenga Caves that were dates back to the 1st to 3rd century BCE.
  • Pre-11th-Miniature Paintings
    Before the 11th century, there were small and detailed paintings called miniature paintings in India. These paintings were usually found in books made from palm leaves. Unfortunately, not many of these early miniature paintings have survived to this day. The ones that have survived often show religious and mythological stories. These miniature paintings played an important role in Indian art history and set the stage for the development of larger paintings and other art forms in later centuries.
  • Early Modern period (1526―1857 CE)
    The Early Modern period in India, extended from 1526 to 1857 CE, was a crucial era marked by the influence of various dynasties and the arrival of European powers. During this time, the Mughal Empire emerged as a powerful force, bringing a blend of Persian and Indian artistic traditions. The Mughal rulers were great patrons of the arts, particularly miniature paintings that depicted royal life, historical events, and religious themes. This period also saw the arrival of European traders, leading to the establishment of European colonies and the introduction of new artistic influences. The Early Modern period in India was characterized by a rich artistic exchange, resulting in the creation of exquisite artworks that reflected the cultural diversity of the era.
  • Rajput and Pahari Paintings
    The Rajput and Pahari schools emerged in Rajasthan and the Himalayan region, respectively. These schools produced miniature paintings that often depicted romantic themes, Hindu mythology, and courtly life. Each school had its distinct styles, such as the vibrant colors of the Rajput paintings and the lyrical grace of Pahari paintings.
  • British Colonial period
    With the arrival of European powers, new artistic influences entered Indian painting. European artists employed by the British East India Company introduced realistic portraiture and landscape painting. Indian artists also adapted their styles to cater to European tastes, leading to the emergence of the Company School of Painting.
  • Modern and Contemporary Era (20th century onwards)
    In the 20th century, Indian artists explored various artistic movements, blending traditional and Western influences. Prominent artists like Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Sher-Gil, and MF Husain made significant contributions to Indian art. Today, Indian painting encompasses a wide range of styles, from traditional folk art to contemporary and experimental forms. Throughout its history, Indian painting has been deeply influenced by religion, mythology, nature, and cultural traditions. It continues to evolve, exhibiting the rich diversity and artistic expressions of the country.
Types of Paintings

There are various types of traditional paintings found in different cultures and regions around the world. Here are some examples:

  • Madhubani Paintings
    Practiced in the Mithila region, Madhubani art is also called Mithila art.Originating in the Madhubani district of Bihar, Madhubani art is created by using a different variety of means including their own finger, twigs, brushes, nib pens, and matchsticks. The Madhubani art is created by natural dyes and pigments. The unique feature of these types of paintings is their noticeable geometrical patterns, symbolic images, and scenes from Mythology.
  • Warli Paintings
    Warli paintings, an ancient Indian art tradition, have been practiced for 2500 years by the tribes in the Thane and Nasik regions of Maharashtra. These paintings are closely connected to nature and the social rituals of the tribe. They depict the daily activities of the local people, such as farming, dancing, hunting, and praying. Women traditionally used rice paste and twigs to create lively designs on the mud walls of tribal houses during harvest or wedding celebrations. The paintings feature simple geometric patterns in white against a red or yellow background, resembling the cave paintings of prehistoric times. Warli art is known for its linear style and monochromatic hues.
  • Kalighat Painting or Bengal Pat
    The Kalighat painting style originated in the mid-19th century near the Kali Temple in Calcutta. The paintings were created by a group of artists called "patuas," which is why they are called Kalighat Pata. These paintings portrayed everyday life scenes and mythological deities in a simple yet captivating way, giving rise to the popular Kalighat painting style. The artists mainly used earthy Indian colors like indigo, ochre, Indian red, grey, blue, and white. The distinctive feature of Kalighat paintings is their swift, seamless, and free-flowing outlines. Many artists have drawn inspiration from this style, with Jamini Roy being one of the most famous and celebrated artists in Indian art.
  • Phad
    Phad is a traditional form of scroll painting from Rajasthan that has been around for a thousand years. The artists paint stories of local gods, heroes, and legendary tales on long cloth scrolls using colors like red, yellow, and orange. The Phad scrolls vividly depict battle scenes, adventurous stories, and the grandeur of Indian princely states. What's fascinating is how folk artists skillfully fit multiple stories into a single composition while still creating beautiful and expressive artwork that captivates the viewer.
  • Kalamkari
    Kalamkari is an ancient art of hand and block printing that has been practiced for 3000 years. It was traditionally used to make scrolls and panels with stories. This beautiful folk art has Persian influences and originated in Andhra Pradesh, India. Kalamkari gets its name from the word "kalam" meaning pen. The artwork features stylized animal forms, floral patterns, and mehrab designs, which are also seen in Kalamkari textiles. The colors used in Kalamkari art are usually earthy tones like indigo, green, rust, black, and mustard. This art form has been passed down through generations as a cherished legacy.
  • Miniature Painting
    he Miniature painting style arrived in India during the 16th century with the Mughals and holds a significant place in Indian art history. It emerged as a unique style blending Islamic, Persian, and Indian influences. These paintings are created using natural stone colors on a paper-based surface called "wasli." The miniatures incorporate mineral colors, precious stones, conch shells, gold, and silver for decoration. The distinguishing features of miniature paintings include fine brushwork, intricate details, and stylization. Over time, different regions in India developed their own schools of miniature painting, such as Kangra, Rajasthan, Malwa, Pahadi, Mughal, and Deccan.
  • Gond Painting
    The Gond tribe of central India developed a unique style of painting using intricate arrangements of dots and dashes. These vibrant paintings depict mythological tales, oral histories, traditional songs, natural surroundings, important events, and rituals. The Gond artists pay great attention to detail, using bright colors to bring their artwork to life. Traditionally, they used natural resources like cow dung, plant sap, charcoal, colored soil, mud, flowers, and leaves to create colors. However, modern Gond artists now use commercial water-based colors on paper and canvas. Today, Gond art has gained recognition beyond being just a tribal art form, with renowned artists like Jangarh Singh Shyam, Venkat Shyam, Bhajju Shyam, and Durga Bai Vyam achieving international acclaim.
  • Kerala Murals
    Kerala mural paintings are renowned frescoes known for their vibrant colors and spiritual themes. These paintings depict stories from Hindu mythology, including the epics, the playful adventures of Lord Krishna, and the mystical forms of deities like Shiva and Shakti. They also showcase legendary heroes from the past. This traditional art style has been around since the seventh and eighth centuries AD and is characterized by lively images, bold brushstrokes, and vivid colors. The predominant colors used in Kerala mural painting are ochre-red, yellow-ochre, bluish-green, white, and other bright hues.
  • Patachitra
    Patachitra is a traditional cloth scroll painting style from Odisha, India, known for its portrayal of mythological and religious themes. The paintings are characterized by bold and strong outlines, along with vibrant colors like white, red, yellow, and black. They often feature decorative borders that add to their artistic appeal. Patachitra paintings have gained admiration from art enthusiasts worldwide for their unique style and subject matter.
  • Pichwai
    Pichwai is an Indian art form that originated as wall hangings behind the main deity in Krishna temples in Nathdwara. These paintings tell stories about Lord Krishna. Over time, secular themes have also been incorporated into Pichwai paintings due to commercialization. Pichwais are colorful and detailed artworks with hidden symbolism in their artistic motifs. This unique art form passed down through generations, showcases the spiritual aspect of art and devotion.
Sum Up

Indian paintings have a rich and diverse history that spans thousands of years. From ancient cave paintings to the intricately detailed miniature paintings of the Mughal era, and from the romantic Rajput and Pahari schools to the modern and contemporary art movements, Indian painting has evolved and adapted to various influences and styles. The artworks depict religious themes, mythological tales, royal life, landscapes, and everyday scenes, reflecting the cultural heritage and artistic expressions of different regions and time periods. Indian painting continues to flourish today, combining traditional techniques with innovative approaches, showcasing the artistic brilliance and creative spirit of the country.

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