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Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings - History for UPSC CSE


  • History of paintings- can be traced through the ancient and medieval period.
  • Books illustrated paintings. In Mughal and Rajput courts miniature style dominated. 
  • With the coming of the Europeans, the art of painting and engraving took a western turn. 
  • Modem painters experimented with styles, colours and designs.Indian Court Painting
    Indian Court Painting

Principles of Painting

  • History of Paintings can be derived from:
    (i) Primitive rock paintings (Bhimbetaka, Mirzapur and Panchmarhi)
    (ii) Painted pottery (Indus Valley Civilisation) 
  • But the real beginning of this art - the Gupta Age. 
  • 3rd century AD- Vatsyayana (book-Kamasumtra) mentioned 6 main principles/limbs or shadanga of paintings, which are as follows:
    Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings | History for UPSC CSE
  • Numerous References to Painting- Brahmanical and Buddhist literature- representation of the myths and lore on textiles is known as Lepya Chitra.
  • Art of Lekhya Chitra, which has line drawings and sketches. Other types are Dhuli Chitra, Pata Chitra, etc.
  • Play, Mudramkshasa by Vishakhadutta, mentioned names of various paintings or patas.
  • Different styles of painting are:
    Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings | History for UPSC CSE

Pre - Historic Paintings

Bhimbetaka caves PaintingBhimbetaka caves Painting

  • Generally executed on rocks and these rock engravings were called Petroglyphs.
  • The first set of these paintings - discovered in Bhimbetaka caves (Madhya Pradesh) by V.S. Wakankar (archaeologist) in 1957-58.
  • Generally depict animals like bison, bears and tigers etc. ‘Zoo Rock Shelter’ because it depicts elephant, rhinoceros, cattle, snake, spotted deer, barasingha, etc.
  • Three major phases of Prehistoric painting:
    (i) Upper Paleolithic Period (40000-10000 BC)
    (ii) Mesolithic Period (10000-4000 BC)
    (iii) Chalcolithic Period 
  • Similar paintings can be found in Ghodsar and Kohabaur rock art sites in the district of Korea. 
  • 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.

Upper Palaeolithic Period (40000-10000 BC)

  • Rock shelter caves were made of quartzite and so they used minerals for pigments. 
  • Most common mineral - ochre / geru + lime + water.
  • Used minerals to make colours like red, white, yellow and green. 
  • White, dark red and green - to depict large animals (bison, elephant, rhino, tigers etc) 
  • Human figurines (red for hunters) and dancers (green).

Mesolithic Period (10000-4000 BC)

  • Mainly - use of red colour 
  • Smaller paintings, in comparison to Upper Palaeolithic. 
  • Most common scenes - group hunting, grazing activity and riding scenes.

Chalcolithic period

  • Increase in the use of green and yellow. 
  • Mostly - battle scenes. 
  • Some carry a bow and arrow, which might indicate preparedness for skirmishes. 
  • Paintings from this period are at:
    (i) Narsinghgarh (Madhya Pradesh) - show skins of spotted deer left for drying, musical instruments (harp) and geometrical shapes (spiral, rhomboid and circle). Drying of the skin of deer provides credence to the theory that the art of tanning skins was perfected by man.
    (ii) Jogimara caves (Ramgarh hills, Surguja, Chhattisgarh) -1000 BCE- depicts the human figurines, animals, palm prints, bullock carts, etc. which show a higher and sedentary type of living.
    Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings | History for UPSC CSE(iii) Ghodsar and Kohabaur rock art sites in the district of Koriya.
    (iv) Chitwa Dongri (Durg district) - depict Chinese figure riding a donkey, pictures of dragons and agricultural sceneries. 
  • Limdariha- in Bastar district and Oogdi, Sitalekhni in Sarguja district.

Bhimbetka Rock Paintings

  • South of Bhopal in Vindhyan ranges (Madhya Pradesh) 
  • Rock shelters - more than 500 rock paintings 
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site (2003). 
  • Marked continuity in occupancy of the caves from 100,000 BC to 1000 AD. 
  • Paintings here belong to Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Chalcolithic, early historic and medieval period. But mostly Mesolithic age. 
  • Generally, portray the every-day life of pre-historic men. 
  • Various animals like elephant, bison, deer, peacock and snake, hunting scenes and war scenes, simple geometric designs and symbols. 
  • Other themes - dancing, playing music, animal fighting, honey collection, etc. 
  • Social life is well-depicted 
  • Colours like red ochre, purple, brown, white, yellow and green are used & were obtained from natural resources like red from Haematite ores.

Classification of Indian Paintings

  • Mural Paintings
  • Miniature Paintings
  • Folk Paintings

1. Mural Paintings

Murals -Works on the walls or a solid structure.

  • Dated between 10th century BC and 10th century AD.
  • Found in Ajanta, Armamalai Cave, Ravan Chhaya Rock shelter, Bagh caves, Sittanavasal caves and Kailasanatha temple (Ellora).
  • Mostly found in natural caves or rock-cut chambers.
  • Follow a theme, mostly- Hindu, Buddhist and Jain.
  • Sometimes made to adorn a mundane premise as the ancient the theatre room in Jogimara Cave.
  • Unique because of sheer size & usually found on caves or temple walls.

Ajanta Cave Paintings

  • One of the oldest surviving murals of the Indian subcontinent.
  • Carved in 4th century AD out of volcanic rocks.
  • Has a set of 29 caves, carved in a horse-shoe shape.
  • Took four to five centuries to complete under the reign of Malayan Empire.
  • Murals in cave no. 9 and 10 - Sunga period, while the rest - Gupta period.
  • The paintings in cave no. 1 and 2 are the most recent of the caves in Ajanta.
  • Walls of Ajanta have both- murals and fresco paintings (painted on wet plaster).
  • Use tempera style, i.e. use of pigments.
  • Portray human values and social fabric along with styles, costumes and ornaments of that period.
  • Emotions are expressed through hand gestures.
  • A unique feature of paintings- each female figure has a unique hairstyle.
  • Themes of these paintings — Jataka stories to the life of Buddha to elaborate decorative patterns of flora and fauna.
  • Graceful poses of humans and animals adorn the walls of the caves.
  • The medium of painting was vegetable and mineral dyes.
  • The outline of the figures in red ochre, with contours of brown, black or deep red.

(i) Some important paintings of Ajanta

Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings | History for UPSC CSE

  • Scenes from the Jataka stories of the Buddha's former lives as a bodhisattva, the life of the Gautama Buddha, etc.
  • Paintings of various Bodhisattvas in tribhanga pose in Cave
  • Vajrapani (protector and guide, a symbol of Buddha’s power), Manjusri (manifestation of Buddha's wisdom) and Padmapani (Avalokitesvara) (symbol of Buddha’s compassion).
  • The Dying Princess in Cave no. 16.
  • Scene of Shibi Jataka, where King Shibi offered his flesh to save the pigeon.
  • Scene of Matri-Poshaka Jataka where the ungrateful person saved by an elephant, gives out his whereabouts to the king.

(ii) Jataka Stories

  • They relate to previous births of Gautama Buddha in both human and animal form.
  • Famous Jataka tales include:
    (i) The Ass in the Lion’s Skin (Sihacamma Jataka)
    (ii) The Cock and the Cat (Kukkuta Jataka)
    (iii) The Foolish, Timid Rabbit (Daddabha Jataka)
    (iv) The Jackal the Crow (Jambu-Khadaka Jataka)
    (v) The Lion and the Woodpecker (Javasakuna Jataka)
    (vi) The Ox Who Envied the Pig (Munika-Jataka)
    (viii) The Swan with Golden Feathers (Suvannahamsa Jataka)
    (ix) King Shibi (Shibi-Jataka)
    (x) The Turtle Who Couldn’t Stop Talking (Kacchapa Jataka)

Ellora Cave Paintings

  • Murals - found in five caves of Ellora, mostly limited to Kailasa temple.
  • Murals are done in two Phases.
  • 1st Phase- during the carving of the caves and show Vishnu with his consort Lakshmi borne through the clouds by Garuda, the celestial bird.
  • 2nd Phase- many centuries after the first, made in Gujrati style and depict a procession of Shaiva holy men.
  • Paintings related to three religions (Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism).
  • Prominent in Ellora Caves-
    (i) Images of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu
    (ii) Images of Lord Shiva with his followers.
    (iii) Beautiful and gracious Apsaras.

Bagh Cave Paintings

  • In Madhya Pradesh
  • Extension of the Ajanta School & rank quite close to actual Ajanta caves in terms of design, execution and decoration.
  • The main differences between two-figures are more tightly modelled, have a stronger outline, and are more earthly and human.
  • Cave no. 4, known as Rang Mahal, has murals depicting Buddhist and Jataka tales, like in Ajanta.
  • Are scanty and decayed now.
  • Depict religious themes in the light of the contemporary lifestyle of people, thus are more secular.

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Armamalai Cave Paintings

  • In Vellore, Tamil Nadu
  • Natural Caves but converted into Jain temple in the 8th century
  • Colourful paintings on walls and roofs depict the tales of Astathik Palakas (deities protecting eight corners) and Jainism.

Sittanavasal Cave (Arivar Koil) Paintings

  • Located 16 km northwest of Pudukkottai town in Tamil Nadu.
  • Famous rock-cut caves
  • Known for paintings in Jain temples.
  • Have resemblance to Bagh and Ajanta paintings.
  • Paintings are on the walls, ceiling and pillars.
  • The theme of these paintings— Jain Samavasarana (Preaching hall).
  • Some scholars believe that these caves belong to the Pallava period, when king Mahendravarman I excavated the temple, while the others attribute them to when Pandya ruler renovated the shrine in the 7th century.
  • The medium used- vegetable and mineral dyes, and is done by putting colours on the surface of thin wet lime plaster.
  • Common colours - yellow, green, orange, blue, black and white.
  • The central element of paintings -a pond with lotuses.
  • Flowers in this pond are collected by monks, the pond also has ducks, swans, fishes and animals. This scene shows Samavasarana - the important scene in Jain religion, where Tirthankaras delivered sermons after they reached realisation (kevala-gnana) & bulls, elephants, apsaras and gods to witness this grand scene.

Ravan Chhaya Rock Shelter

Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings | History for UPSC CSE

  • In Keonjhar district of Odisha.
  • Are ancient fresco paintings on a rock shelter are in the shape of a half-opened umbrella.
  • Believed that this shelter acted like the royal hunting lodge.
  • Most noticeable painting - a royal procession (dates back to 7th century).
  • Remains of Chola period paintings (of 11th century) are also important.

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Lepakshi Paintings

  • In Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh.
  • These murals- executed on Veerabhadra temple walls at Lepakshi in 16th Century.
  • During the Vijaynagara period.
  • Follow religious theme, based on Ramayana, Mahabharata & incarnations of Vishnu.
  • Paintings show a complete absence of primary colours, especially blue.
  • Depict - decline in painting in terms of quality.
  • The forms, figures and details of their costumes are outlined with black colour.

Jogimara Cave Paintings

  • Artificially carved out cave
  • In Surguja district of Chattisgarh.
  • Is dated back around 1000-300 BC
  • Have few paintings and inscriptions of a love story in Brahmi script.
  • The cave is said to be an attachment to amphitheatre and paintings were made to decorate the room.
  • Paintings are of dancing couples, animals like elephant and fish.
  • Paintings- have a distinct red outline.
  • Other colours used- white, yellow and black.
  • Rock-cut theatre of Sitabenga- is located nearby.

Question for Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings
Try yourself:Considering the following locations–

I. Ajanta caves
II. Ellora caves
III. Ravan Chhaya rock shelter

In which of the above place(s), mural paintings have been found?

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Murals at Badami Cave Temples, Karnataka

  • Badami cave temples- famous for its sculptures, but have beautiful paintings too.
  • Murals at Badami have lost their original grandeur and charm but still offer a glimpse into the artistic capabilities of people.
  • Are one of the earliest surviving Hindu paintings.
  • Murals belonging to 6-7th century AD are of different subjects and resemble the tradition of Ajanta and Bagh.
  • The human subjects- have a graceful and compassionate look with big, half-closed eyes & protruding lips.
  • Other depictions - Chalukyan kings, Jain saints giving up worldly life, Shiva and Parvati, Puranic events and deities.
  • Cave 3 -an ancient mural of four-armed Brahma on his swan.

2. Miniature Paintings

  • ‘Miniature’- derived from the Latin word ‘Minium’- means red lead paint.
  • This paint- used in illuminated manuscripts during the Renaissance period.
  • Were painted for either books or albums, on perishable material including paper, palm leaves and cloth.
  • The Indian subcontinent has long traditions of miniature paintings and many schools developed that have a difference in composition and perspective.
  • Miniatures - small and detailed paintings.

Techniques of Miniature Paintings

Miniature Paintings RajasthanMiniature Paintings Rajasthan

  • Preconditions for making Miniature painting-
    (a) Shouldn’t be larger than 25 square inches.
    (b) Subject of the painting - painted in not more than l/6th of actual size.
  • In Indian miniature paintings- human figurine is seen with side profile, bulging eyes, pointed nose and slim waist.
  • In Rajasthani miniatures- skin colour is brown, whereas in Mughal paintings it’s fairer.
  • Colour of divine beings - Lord Krishna (blue).
  • Women figurines - long hair & colour of eyes and hair -black.
  • Men - wear traditional clothes and have a turban.

Early Miniature

  • The art of miniature- developed between the 8th- 12th centuries.
  • These paintings - attributed to eastern & western regions.
  • Two prominent schools are:
    (a) Pala School of Art
    (b) Apabhramsa School of Art

(a) Pala School of Art

  • Flourished during 750-1150 AD.
  • These paintings:
    (i) Generally found as a part of manuscripts
    (ii) Executed on palm leaf or vellum paper.
    (iii) Were used by Buddhist monks, who practised non-violence against all living beings, there was a stipulation to only banana or coconut tree leaves.
    (iv) Are characterised by sinuous lines and subdued tones of the background imagery.
    (v) Have lonely single figures in and one rarely finds group paintings.
    (vi) Have simple compositions and were patronised by rulers promoting Buddhism.
    (vii) Were also patronised by the proponents of the Vajrayana school of Buddhism also used and patronised these paintings.
  • Prominent painters- Dhiman and Vitapala.

(b) Apabhramsa School of Art

  • Origin in Gujarat & Mewar region in Rajasthan.
  • The predominant school of painting in western India during the 11th to 15th century.
  • Most common themes- Jain and in the later period the Vaishanava School appropriated them too.
  • Brought concept of Gita Govinda and secular love into paintings that were otherwise dominated by the Jain iconography.
  • Early Jain phase- paintings made on Palm leaf but in a later phase, they were made on paper.
  • Were made as illustrations for books but didn’t develop a different style; were mural paintings in a reduced dimension.
  • Colours- had symbolic meaning.
  • Red, yellow and ochre & in the later phase, they used bright and gold colours were used.
  • Human figures- fish-shaped bulging eyes; a pointed nose and a double chin. They tried making angular faces in third and fourth profile. Figures are usually stiff with careful ornamentation.
  • Female figurines- enlarged hips and breasts.
  • Animal and bird figurines - represented as toys.
  • Most famous example Kalpasutra & Kalakacharya Katha (15th century).

Question for Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings
Try yourself:Considering the following principles

I. Sadrisyam
II. Bhava
III. Rupabheda

Which of the above is/are among the shadanga of painting as Per Vatsyayana?

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Transition Period Miniature

  • Coming of Muslims to Indian subcontinent brought a cultural renaissance in the 14th century.
  • Islamic styles didn’t take over the traditional styles of paintings instead of a cultural synthesis took place.
  • In southern states of Vijaynagara, a different style that was closer to the Deccan style of painting was emerging.
  • Colours- applied in a flat manner & dress and human outlines- black.
  • View of faces- is from a three-quarter angle & gives a detached appearance. The landscapes are full of trees, rocks and other designs that do not try to replicate the natural appearance of the subject.

(a) Miniature Art during Delhi Sultanate

  • Brought together Persian elements & Indian traditional elements.
  • Preferred illustrated manuscripts like Nimatnama (a book on cookery) during the reign of Nasir Shah who ruled over Mandu.
  • Shows the synthesis of the indigenous and Persian styles.
  • Another style called the Lodi Khuladar was followed in many of the Sultanate dominated regions between Delhi and Jaunpur.
  • This also became the basis of the sultanate formulae.
  • Later, three major styles emerged that dominated the medieval landscape - Mughal, Rajput and Deccan.
  • They took from the sultanate precedents but developed their individuality.

(b) Mughal Era Miniature Painting

  • Had a distinctive style as were drawn from Persian antecedents.
  • Change in the colour palette, themes and forms.
  • Focus shifted- from depicting god to glorifying the ruler
  • Focused on hunting scenes, historical events and other court-related paintings.
  • Brought Persian naturalistic style with the opulence of a great dynasty.
  • Unique- because used brilliant colours, painters concentrated on the accuracy of line drawing.
  • Mughals - known for diverse themes except for religious paintings, 
  • They made only miniature paintings, but the illustration in paintings are considered -most unique in the world. 
  • Brought technique of foreshortening to India, under which,“ objects were drawn in a way that they look closer and smaller than they  are.” The styles of paintings under the successive rulers are as follows:

Early Mughal Painters:
(i) Babur

  • Established the Mughal dynasty 
  • Did not have much time to commission paintings 
  • Patronised the Persian artist, Bihzad who made illustrations of Mughal family tree.

(ii) Humayun

  • Great patron of arts 
  • Interested in paintings and building beautiful monuments 
  • But he lost the throne to Sher Shah Suri and was exiled to Persia.
  • At Shah Abbas’s (Persia), he acquired the services of two painters called Abdus Samad and Mir SayyidAIi who came back with him after he won his throne back.
  • These painters brought Persian influence in the Mughal paintings.
  • During Akbar’s reign, they created an illustrated manuscript- Tutinama (Tale of a parrot). 

(iii) Akbar

  • An established entire department devoted to paintings and scribing of his documents. Established a formal artistic studio, Tasvir Khana where artists were hired on salary to develop their styles.
  • Looked upon paintings as a means of study and amusement.
  • Gave awards to painters who created lifelike images.
  • Invited Indian artists who had worked for previous rulers to work in his tasvir khana- this brought ‘Indian influence’ in Mughal paintings.
  • Defining features of paintings during his reign Use of 3-dimensional figures and foreshortening.
    - Calligraphy
    - Transformation of popular art to the court art, i.e. depicting scenes of court life than the life of the masses.
  • Famous painters- Daswant, Basawan and Kesu.
  • Prominently illustrated manuscripts-Tutinama, Hamzanama, Anvar-i-Suhaili and Gulistan of Sadi.

(iv) Jahangir

  • Mughal paintings- reached its zenith in his period.
  • A naturalist by nature and preferred the paintings of flora and fauna Emphasised bringing naturalism to portrait painting.
  • Unique in this period - decorated margins around paintings Was himself a good artist and had his private workshop although no major work by him survives.
  • His atelier mostly created miniature paintings and the most famous of which was naturalistic paintings of the Zebra, the turkey and the cock.
  • Most famous artist- Ustad Mansoor (expert in drawing the features of the most complex faces).
  • Animal fable- Ayar-i-Danish (Touchstone of Knowledge) was illustrated during his reign.

(v) Shah Jahan

  • The tenor of the Mughal paintings- changed rapidly in his period.
  • Didn’t like naturalistic depictions but instead created artificial elements in paintings.
  • Inspired by the European influence, he tried to reduce the liveliness of the paintings and bring in the unnatural stillness
  • Brought a change in the technique of drawing and painting
  • Eschewed the use of charcoal to draw and encouraged the artists to draw and sketch using a pencil.
  • Ordered increased use of gold and silver in paintings.
  • Liked brighter colour palettes as compared to his predecessors.
  • Hence, Mughal atelier was enlarged during his reign but changed a lot in style and technique.

(vi) Aurangzeb

  • Did not encourage painting
  • So Mughal court painters started migrating to the provincial courts in Rajasthan, etc.
  • The sharp decline in the activities of paintings.

Regional Schools of Art

  • Medieval period- dominated by the Mughal style of painting.
  • But sub- imperial Schools developed a space for them by developing their styles like their Indian roots and a penchant for colourful paintings as opposed to naturalistic Mughal style.
  • The different schools and styles that developed in this period were:
    (a) Rajasthani Schools of Painting
    (b) Pahari Styles of Painting
    (c) Miniatures in South India
    (d) Modern Paintings
    (e) Bengal School of Art

(a) Rajasthani Schools of Painting

  • Synonymous to the Rajput school of paintings as they were the dominant ruling class in this period.
  • How did the phenomenon of Rajput painting begin? Many reasons are given, like:-
    - Emulation of the practices of the Mughal court.
    - Arrival of artists from Mughal atelier in Bikaner, Jodhpur, or Kishangarh.
    influx of artists and artworks from the Deccan sultanates
    - Local and indigenous artistic traditions pre-dated the arrival of Mughal influence in these centres.
    - ‘Ganga-jamni’ confluence of cultures in Sultanate courts.
  • Rajasthani Paintings have sub-genres which correspond to their princely state of origin.

(b) Mewar School of Painting

  • Mewar- resisted Mughal suzerainty for the longest time, until the reign of Shah Jahan.
  • Its capital moved from Ranthambhore and Chittorgarh.
  • Later, Udaipur was established.
  • Mewar rulers - patronised art even in times of adversity, in years of relative peace and prosperity -there was extraordinary efflorescence.
  • Early Mewar painting- dominated by the extraordinary figure of Sahibdin (depiction of his literary texts - Rasikapriya, Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana).
  • After his death, Mewari paintings changed.
  • And now depicted the life at court in Mewar.
  • Unique point - ‘tamasha’ paintings that show court ceremonial and city views in unprecedented detail.

(c) Kishangarh School of Painting

  • Associated with romantic legends - Sawant Singh and Bani Thani, and intertwining of lives and myths, romance and bhakti.
  • Sawant Singh- prince and lover, Nagari Das the poet, and Nihal Chand, painter (created legendary paintings by this school).
  • Women ‘Bani Thani’ resembles the character of Radha- has a distinctive profile, large and lustrous eyes, thin lips and a pointed chin. Her side profile - odhni/ headgear, (became the unique painting)
  • Also made paintings on devotional and amorous relations between Radha and Krishna.

(d) Bundi School of Painting

  • Twin kingdoms of Bundi and Kota- collectively called Hadoti.
  • The sister states, formed by splitting the older Bundi kingdom between two brothers.
  • Have intertwined histories & artistic traditions.
  • We focus on- the art of Kota, the younger of the two kingdoms, and having remarkable art.
  • Bundi and Kota’s kings-devout devotees of Krishna (18th century), & declared themselves to be ruling on behalf of the god (similar patterns of worship seen in Udaipur and Jaipur).
  • Krishna-bhakti plays a role in painting or vice versa.
  • Special paintings made for later rulers including Rao Ram Singh II.
  • In this school, paintings of local vegetation -in detail. Human faces are drawn- round with pointed nose.
  • Sky- painted in different colours and mostly a red ribbon is visible in it.

(e) Amber Jaipur School of Painting

  • Amber rulers - closely associated with Mughals.
  • Here major patrons and avid collectors of painting, yet the identity of an “Amber School” is not well etched in our minds
  • Also called the ‘Dhundar’ school and their earliest evidence come to form the wall paintings at Bairat in Rajasthan.
  • Some paintings can also be seen from the palace walls and mausoleum of Amer palace in Rajasthan. Even though some of the menfolk are shown wearing Mughal style clothing and headgear,
  • The overall finish of the paintings- folk-styled.
  • This school reached its zenith- in a period of Sawai Pratap Singh (18th century), who was a deeply religious man and passionate patron of art.
  • So his suratkhana or the department of painting illustrated Bhagwata Purana, Ramayana, Ragamala.

(f) Marwar School of Painting

  • Most extensive schools of painting as it includes Jodhpur and Bikaner (both ruled by the Rathods) and Jaisalmer (ruled by Bhatis).
  • Bikaner, Jodhpur - prospered through its close links with Mughals.
  • In 15th and 16th-century paintings- men & women wore colourful clothing.
  • In this period, Mughal patterns were followed but after the 18th century, the Rajput element became predominant.
  • The influx of paintings that contained linear rhythm coupled with bright colours.
  • Jodhpur atelier - brilliant paintings but the focus has always been on the extraordinary paintings in the time of Man Singh (1803-1843) and after.
  • Paintings commissioned by him - Shiva Purana Natacharitra. Durgacharitra. Panchtantra etc.
    Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings | History for UPSC CSE

(g) Pahari Styles of Painting

Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings | History for UPSC CSE

  • Developed in the sub-Himalayan states (that were under Mughals).
  • Many schools ateliers in the court of around 22 princely states stretching front Jammu to Almora, came under the blanket of ‘Pahari Paintings’.
  • Can be divided into two groups-
    (i) Jammu or Dogra School: Northern Series
    (ii) Basholi and Kangra School: Southern Series

(i) Jammu or Dogra School

  • Themes ranged from mythology to literature.
  • Introduced new techniques.
  • A typical Pahari painting- brought several figures into the canvas and they would all be full of movement.
  • Each figure- different in composition, colour and pigmentation.
  • Two greatest painters- Nainsukh and Manaku.

(ii) Basholi School

  • Includes paintings created in the 17th century
  • Was the early phase.
  • Characteristics of these paintings:
    - Expressive faces with a receding hairline and big eyes that are shaped like lotus petals, use of primary colours, i.e. red, yellow and green.
    - Mughal technique of painting on clothing, but they developed their own as well.
    Used the contrast of colours which was borrowed from the Malwa paintings.
  • First patron- Raja Kirpal Singh (ordered illustration of Bhanudatta’s Rasamajari, Gita Govinda and Ramayana drawings).
  • Most famous painter- Devi Das (for the depiction of Radha Krishna and portrait of kings in their livery and white garments).

(iii) Kangra School

  • After the decline of the Mughal empire, artists (trained in Mughal style) migrated to Kangra under the patronage of Raja Govardhan Singh in 1774.
  • Led to the birth of Guler- Kangra School of paintings.
  • Evolved in Guler then came to Kangra.
  • Reached its zenith under -Raja Sansar Chand, whose paintings were marked with sensuality and intelligence that other schools lack.
  • Popular subjects -Gita Govinda, Bhagwata Parana, Satsai of Biharilal and Nal Damyanti.
  • Very prominent theme- Love scenes of Krishna.
  • Paintings had another worldly feel
  • ‘Twelve months’- a very famous group of paintings- brought forth the effect of twelve months on the emotions of human beings.
  • This emotive style- popular till the 19th century.
  • This school became the parent to other ateliers Kullu, Chamba and Mandi.

Ragamala Paintings

  • Series of illustrative paintings from medieval India
  • Based on Ragamala i.e. ‘Garland of Ragas’, depicting various Indian musical Ragas.
  • Classical example of the amalgamation of art, poetry and classical music
  • Were created in most Indian schools of painting, starting in the 16th and 17th centuries
  • Named as Pahari Ragamala, Rajasthan or Rajput Ragamala,_Deccan Ragamala, and Mughal Ragamala.
  • Each raga - personified by a colour describing the story of a hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika) in a particular mood.
  • Elucidates season and time of day and night in which raga is to be sung.
  • Often demarcate specific Hindu deities attached with raga, like_Bhairava or Bhairavi to Shiva, Sri to Devi etc.
  • Six principal ragas in the Ragamala are Bhairava, Deepak, Sri, Malkaush, Megha and Hindola

 Miniatures in South India

  • Developed in the early medieval period.
  • Different from the north Indian schools because of the heavy use of gold.
  • Painting divine creatures, unlike north which painted rulers.
  • Some of the major schools are:

(a) Tanjore Paintings

  • Thanjavur or Tanjore School
  • Famous for a special style of decorative paintings, patronized by Maratha rulers(18th century).
  • Unique - created on glass and board instead of cloth and vellum as in north India) and use brilliant colour patterns and gold leaf.
  • Used gemstones and cut glasses for embellishments
  • Mostly depicted smiling Krishna.
  • Reached zenith under Sarfoji Maharaj, a great patron of arts.
  • This school- still operational but they have now included diverse subjects like birds, animals, buildings etc.

(b) Mysore Paintings

  • Were patronised by the rulers of Mysore province and continued in British period too.
  • Major theme- Hindu gods and goddesses.
  • Unique part- had two or more figures in each painting & one figure predominates all others in size and colour.
  • Their technique is very different from north Indian as ‘gesso paste’(a mixture of zinc oxide and Arabic gum), is used.
  • This gives a particular base to painting that develops sheen on the background.
  • Counter it with muted colours (not so bright) - to counteract the background.


Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings | History for UPSC CSE

  • Ganjifa is a medieval period card game. These cards were traditionally hand-painted by artisans and were very popular in Mughal courts.
  • The cards have a coloured background, with each suite having a different colour.
  • The reference of Ganjifa Cards can even be found in the book Baburnama.
  • Mysore Ganjifa Cards or Paintings have received the GI status from the government of India in 2008.

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 Modern Paintings
(a) Company Paintings

  • Emerged in the colonial period,
  • Hybrid style- merged different styles (Rajput, Mughal and other Indian styles and European elements).
  • Evolved when British Company officers employed painters, trained in Indian styles.
  • Hence, mixed European tastes with Indian Training so-called the ‘Company Paintings’.
  • Distinct because - use of watercolour and appearance of linear perspective & shading.
  • Originated in Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, Patna, Varanasi and Thanjavur.
  • Lord Impey and Marquess Wellesley- patronised the painters.
  • Painters painted ‘exotic’ flora and fauna of India.
  • Most famous painters- Sewak Ram, Ishwari Prasad and Ghulam Ali Khan.
  • This genre- prevalent till the 20th century.

(b) Bazaar Paintings

  • Influenced by European encounter
  • Different from Company paintings because it did not take any Indian influence but took the Roman and Greek influence.
  • Made the painters copy Greek and Roman statues.
  • Prevalent in Bengal & Bihar region.
  • Made paintings on everyday bazaar (Indian bazaars with European background).
  • Most famous genre- depicting Indian courtesans
  • Dancing before British officials.
  • Also painted religious themes.
  • But didn’t allow figures of Indian Gods and Goddesses with more than two axes & elephant faces(Lord Ganesha) as they deviated from European notion of the natural human figurine.

(c) Raja Ravi Verma

  • One of India’s greatest painters.
  • Originator- of the school of modern painting.
  • Called ‘modern’ because of the heavy influence of western techniques and themes.
  • Brought together elements of South Indian painting with the western techniques.
  • Belonged to Kerala and was dubbed as the ‘Raphael of the East’ because of his brilliant brush strokes and almost lifelike paintings.
  • His very famous works- Lady in the Moonlight, Mother India, etc.
  • Gained nationwide recognition for his paintings from Ramayana especially the one titled ‘Ravana Kidnapping Sita’.
  • “Rang Rasiva”- film made on him

 Bengal School of Art

  • Had a reactionary approach to the existing styles of paintings in 1940-1960.
  • Unique- use of simple colours.

(a) Abhanindranath Tagore (early 20th century)

  • Idea of this school came with his works.
  • His Arabian night series- made a mark globally- for being different from previous schools.
  • Incorporated Swadeshi values in India art & reduced influence of Western art.
  • Made ‘Bharat Mata’ and various Mughal themed paintings.

(b) Nandlal Bose

  • Important painter
  • Further developed modem Indian art
  • Associated with Santiniketan
  • Made iconic white-on-black Gandhi sketch in the 1930s
  • Was given the task of illuminating the original document of the Constitution of India.

(c) Rabindranath Tagore

  • One of the most famous painters of this school.
  • Made small-sized paintings
  • Unique feature - used dominant black lines to make the subject prominent.
  • Wrote very evocative poems and the same sense of rhythm could be detected in paintings.
  • Was a very spiritual person and his paintings portray that.
  • His students- become famous painters of Bengal school.
  • Other famous painters - Asit Kumar Haidar, Manishi Dey, Mukul Dey, Hemen Majumdar Sunayani Devi etc.

» Cubist Style of Painting

  • Inspired from the European Cubist movement, under which the objects were broken, analysed and then reassembled.
  • Artists reconstructed this process through the use of abstract art forms & tried to achieve the perfect balance between line and colour.
  • Most popular cubist artists in India- M.F Hussain,
  • Made a series of paintings called ‘Personification of Romance’.
  • He used the motif of a horse frequently- to depict fluidity of motion, instead of abstract connotations.

» Progressive Artists Group

  • Came up in 1947
  • Used progressive and bold themes.
  • Amalgamated these themes with softer & more abstract themes.
  • Lacked uniformity among themselves
  • Inspired by European Modernism. 
  • Founder- Francis Newton Souza.
  • But more famous members- S.H Raza, H. A Gade, Ara etc.
  • M.F Hussain- also a member.
  • Their first art exhibition-1948
  • Patronised by- Mulk Raj Anand.
  • Opened many galleries in Delhi and Mumbai.
  • Also given opportunities to many talented young painters- Balraj Khanna, V.S Gaitonde, Biren De, Akbar Padamsee and Tyeb Mehta.

3. Folk Paintings

 Madhubani Paintings

  • Done by women of villages around Madhubani town.
  • Also called Mithila paintings.
  • Extends to adjoining parts of Terai region in Nepal.
  • Have a common theme.
  • Are usually drawn from religious motifs of Hindus, including Krishna, Rama, Durga, Lakshmi and Shiva.
  • Figures in the painting are symbolic (fish depicts good luck and fertility).
  • Also depict auspicious occasions like birth, marriage and festivals.
  • Flowers, trees, animals- used to fill any gaps in the painting.
  • Traditionally, painted on walls using rice paste and vegetable colours on a base of cow dung and mud.
  • Later, base changed- to handmade paper, clothes and canvas, still, the natural colours were used.
  • Since there is No shading, paintings are two-dimensional.
  • Common features- double line border, bold use of colours, ornate floral patterns and exaggerated facial features.
  • Origin- during the period of Ramayana, when the king of Mithila told people of his
  • kingdom to paint walls and floors of their houses on the marriage of Sita and Rama. Most women are skilled in this.
  • 1970- it got recognition when President of India honoured Jagdamba Devi of Jitbarpur village with an award.
  • Famous painters- Bua Devi, Bhati Dayal, Ganga Devi and Sita Devi.
  • It has been given GI (geographical indication) status- remained confined to a specific geographical area,

 Tikuli Art

  • A unique art from Bihar, word Tikuli is a local term for “Bindi” worm by women between their eyebrows. Under this Art, painting is done on hardboard and then it is cut in various shapes
  • Thereafter, four to five enamel coats is applied on it, thereby giving it a polished surface.
  • Madhubani motifs are used in these Tikuli Paintings.


  • Traditional painting of Odisha
  • Pattachitra comes from Sanskrit word Patta (canvas/cloth) and Chitra (picture), show a mix of classical and folk elements, with a bias towards the latter.
  • The base of painting- treated cloth.
  • Colours used- from natural sources (like burnt coconut shells, Hingula, Ramaraja and lampblack).
  • No pencil or charcoal use, rather brush used to draw outlines in red or yellow after which the colours are filled.
  • Background- decorated with foliage and flowers and paintings have an intricately worked frame.
  • After finishing- coating of lacquer given for a glossy finish.

 Patua Art

  • Themes- inspired by- Jagannath and Vaishnava cult (Shakti and Shaiva cults).
  • Raghurajpur in Odisha is famous for this.
  • Depict images similar to old murals of the state, especially the ones in Puri and Konark.
  • Pattachitra on palm leaf is known as talapattachitra.
  • Dried leaves of palm trees are sewn together as a canvas & images are drawn using white or black ink. Many superimposing layers are glued together and some areas are left to make a small window-like opening that reveals second images under the first layer of the leaf.
  • Art of Bengal (Patua art) dates back around a thousand years.
  • It started as a village tradition by painters telling Mangal Kavyas or auspicious stories of Gods and Goddesses. These paintings are done on pats or scrolls and for generations, the scroll painters or patuas have been going to different villages to sing their stories instead of food or money.
  • Traditionally - were painted on cloth & told religious stories; Today - painted on paper- and comment on political and social issues.
  • Patuas mostly come from Midnapur district of the state, while those who are called chitrakar are from North and South 24 Parganas and Birbhum districts.

 Kali ghat Painting

  • A product of changing urban society of Calcutta (now Kolkata) 19th century
  • Done by rural migrants who settled around the Kalighat temple in the then British capital (Calcutta).
  • Watercolours used on mill paper with brushes made of calf and squirrel hair.
  • The painted figures have a plaque-like effect on neutral background given the shaded contours and articulated movements.
  • Originally, depicted religious note (especially Hindu)
  • Over time, paintings started to express social sentiments.
  • Were first of its kind in the country to express subaltern sentiments and address customers directly.
  • More ore recent depict- changing roles of women and men, romantic depictions of women and satirical paintings.
  • Some belief - they have been influenced by the British, while others say that social context and local technique have played a major role.
  • This style- was long ignored
  • It gained importance and appreciation in the 20th century.

 Paitkar Painting

  • Practised by the tribal people of Jharkhand,
  • Also called scroll paintings.
  • Considered one of the ancient schools of painting in the country.
  • Has cultural association with Ma Mansa, one of the most popular goddesses in the tribal household.
  • Linked to the social & religious customs including giving alms and holding yajnas.
  • A common theme - ‘What happens to human life post-death’.
  • It is on the verge of extinction given the rate of its decline.

 Kalamkari Painting

  • Name comes from kalam, i.e. a pen, which is used to paint these
  • The pen - made of sharp-pointed bamboo, used to regulate the flow of colours.
  • The base is cotton fabric while the colours are of vegetable dyes.
  • Pen- soaked in a mixture of fermented jaggery and water; one by one these are applied and then the vegetable dyes.
  • Main centres - Srikalahasti & Machilipatnam, in Andhra Pradesh.
  • In Srikalahasti-
    - Artists make beautiful wall hangings.
    - Images are drawn freehand and inspired by Hindu mythology.
    - Textiles with handwork also produced.
  • In Machilipatnam
    Artists, use different designs including a cartwheel, lotus flower, animals and interlacing patterns of flowers and leaves among other things.

 Warli Painting

  • The name comes from people called Warlis, indigenous people that occupy mainly Gujarat-Maharashtra border.
  • They carried the painting tradition back from 2500-3000 BC.
  • Have close resemblance to murals of Bhimbetka (MP) which belong to the pre-historic period.
  • Ritualistic paintings- have a central motif of a chaukat or chauk, which is surrounded by scenes portraying fishing, hunting, farming, dances, animals, trees and festivals.
  • Palaghata (goddess of fertility) is drawn & male gods, whose spirits have taken human form are represented.
  • Traditionally, done on the walls using basic graphic vocabulary, like a triangle, a circle and a square, which are inspired from nature, i.e. circle from sun or moon, triangle from conical shaped trees or mountains and square from sacred enclosure or piece of land.
  • Human or animal- represented by two triangles joined at the tip, with circles acting like their head.
  • Base- made of a mixture of mud, branches and cow dung that gives it a red ochre colour.
  • For painting only white pigment is used, which is made of a mixture of gum and rice powder.
  • Wall paintings- done for auspicious occasions like harvests and wedding.
  • The popularity of Warli painting, increased & so arc now painted on a cloth on a base of the red or black background using white poster colour.

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 Thangka Painting

  • Belong to Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh region and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Were originally used as a medium of reverence that evoked the highest ideals of Buddhism.
  • Traditionally made by Buddhist monks and particular ethnic group, but now passed on from one generation to the other.
  • Has now has spread a lot and also been commercialised.
  • Earnings from paintings- used to keep the art alive and donate to the monasteries.
  • Painted on a base of cotton canvas (white background) with paints made from natural vegetable dyes or mineral dyes.
  • Colours used- have their significance. Example (Red- the intensity of passion, golden- life or birth, white- serenity, black- anger, green- consciousness and yellow- compassion).
  • After completion, painting is framed in colourful silk brocade.
  • These can be divided into three types according to their depiction and meaning.
    First kind- the life of Buddha from his birth to enlightenment.
    - Second kind- abstract; represents Buddhist beliefs of life and death including ‘Wheel of Life’.
    Third kind- are paintings used for offerings to the deities or meditation.

 Manjusha Paintings

  • Belongs to Bhagalpur region of Bihar.
  • Also called Angika art, where ‘ang’ refers to one of the Mahajan Pada.
  • Also called snake painting, since snake motifs are always present.
  • Executed on boxes of jute and paper

Question for Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings
Try yourself:“What happens to human life after death” is a theme used in
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 Phad Painting

  • Predominantly found in Rajasthan
  • Is a scroll-type art.
  • Religious in nature and comprises of drawings of local deities (Pabuji and Devnarayan).
  • Use vegetable colours on a long piece of cloth called phad, which are 15 feet or 30 feet long.
  • Subjects have large eyes and round faces; are of pompous and joyful narrative and scenes oi procession are common.

 Cheriyal Scroll Paintings

  • Indigenous to Telangana.
  • Type of Nakashi art.
  • Depicted as a continuous story like comics or ballad by Balladeer community.
  • Common themes- Hindu Epics and Puranic stories.
  • The artists use the scroll painting to narrate stories along with the music.
  • Often huge, going up to 45 feet in height.
  • Attained a Geographical Indication status- 2007.

 Pithora Paintings

  • Done by some tribal communities of Gujarat & Madhya Pradesh.
  • Serve a religious and spiritual purpose.
  • Painted in the walls of the houses to bring peace and prosperity.
  • Drawn on special family-occasions as a ritual.
  • Depiction of animals is common especially horses.

 Saura Paintings, Orissa

  • Made by Saura tribe of Odisha.
  • Similar to Warli paintings.
  • Is essentially a  mural painting and is ritualistic.
  • Saura wall paintings- are called italons or ikons- and are dedicated to Idital, the main deity of the Sauras.
  • Painting is done, mostly in white, while the backdrop is red or yellow.
  • Colours- extracted from minerals and plants.
  • Human shapes are geometrical and stick-like.
  • Female clothing featuring Saura style designs have gained fashion recently.

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  • India has a long tradition of art and paintings
  • There are various schools, some even overlap, and the artists involved are skilled beings.
  • Some arts have a larger scope of survival- because of their demand in the market, but others forms do not.
  • Art- polarised & has become a commodity of either intellectuals and academicians or rich people but very few middle-class Indians want to invest in good quality art.
  • Government & various centres for the arts need to step up and make arts and paintings a matter of cultural heritage to be disseminated amongst people.
The document Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings | History for UPSC CSE is a part of the UPSC Course History for UPSC CSE.
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FAQs on Nitin Singhania Summary: Indian Paintings - History for UPSC CSE

1. What are the principles of painting?
Ans. The principles of painting refer to the basic concepts and guidelines that artists follow while creating a painting. These principles include color theory, composition, perspective, balance, contrast, and harmony. Artists use these principles to create visually appealing and meaningful artworks.
2. What are pre-historic paintings?
Ans. Pre-historic paintings are artworks created by early humans before the invention of writing systems. These paintings date back to thousands of years and are usually found in caves, rock shelters, or on rocks in open spaces. They provide valuable insights into the lifestyle, culture, and beliefs of ancient civilizations.
3. How are Indian paintings classified?
Ans. Indian paintings can be classified into various categories based on different criteria. They are often categorized based on the region they belong to, such as Rajasthani paintings, Mughal paintings, or Pahari paintings. They can also be classified based on the medium used, such as miniature paintings, frescoes, or murals. Another classification is based on the subject matter, such as religious paintings, courtly paintings, or folk paintings.
4. What is the significance of Indian paintings?
Ans. Indian paintings hold great cultural and historical significance. They not only reflect the artistic skills of Indian artists but also provide insights into various aspects of Indian society and culture. Indian paintings often depict mythological stories, religious themes, historical events, and daily life scenes. They serve as important sources of information and are considered important cultural artifacts.
5. What are the key features of Indian paintings?
Ans. Indian paintings are known for their vibrant colors, intricate detailing, and delicate brushwork. They often depict richly adorned figures, intricate patterns, and elaborate backgrounds. Indian paintings also incorporate symbolism and storytelling elements. The use of gold and silver foil, as well as natural dyes, is common in traditional Indian paintings.
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