[Prelims Spotlight] Indian Paintings and Handicrafts

Indian Paintings

Prehistoric Cave Paintings 

  • Painted rock shelters by prehistoric cave dwellers
  • Notable example →  Bhimbetka caves in the Kaimur Range, MP (biggest prehistoric art depositoryin India)


Genres of Indian Painting 

  • Indian paintings can be broadly classified as murals and miniatures.
  • Murals are large works executed on the walls of solid structures directly, as in the Ajanta Caves & Kailash temple (Ellora)
  • Miniature paintings are executed on a very small scale for books or albums on perishable material such as paper and cloth.


Mural Paintings

  • Mural is the only form of painting that is truly three-dimensional, since it modifies and partakes of a given space.
  • Mural paintings are applied on dry wall with the major use of egg, yolk, oil, etc.

Mural Paintings

  • Notable examples → Ajanta Caves, Bagh Caves, Sittanavasal Caves, Armamalai Cave (Tamil Nadu), Kailasa temple (Ellora Caves)
  • Murals from this period depict mainly religious themes of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu

Ajanta Murals Paintings 

  • Depict a large number of incidents from the life of the Buddha (Jataka Tales)
  • Exclusively Buddhist, excepting decorative patterns on the ceilings and the pillars.


Ellora Murals Paintings 

  • Painted in rectangular panels with thick borders with following
  • Prominent features →  Sharp twist of the head + painted angular bents of the arms + sharp projected nose + long drawn open eyes + concave curve of the close limbs


Badami Mural Paintings 

  • A cave site in Karnataka, patronized by chalukya king, Manglesha
  • Depictions in the caves show Vaishnava affiliation, Therefore, the cave is popularly known as Vishnu cave.

Badami Mural Paintings

Murals under the Pallava, Pandava and Cholas 

  • Paintings at the Kanchipuram temple were patronised by Pallava king, Rajsimha
  • Paintings at Tirumalaipuram caves & Jaina caves at Sittanvasal were patronised by Padayas
  • Paintings at Nartamalai & Brihadeswara temple were patronized by Cholas

Murals under the Pallava, Pandava and Cholas

Vijayanagara murals (13th century) 

  • Paintings at Virupaksha temple (Hamphi) & Lepakshi temple (Andhra Pradesh) were patronised by Vijayanagara Kings

Vijayanagara murals

Miniature Paintings

  • The Palas of Bengal were the pioneers of miniature painting in India.
  • The art of miniature painting reached its glory during the Mughal period.

The Pala School (11th – 12th century)

  • Exist in the form of illustrations to the religious texts on Buddhism executed under the Palas of the eastern India & the Jain texts executed in western India
  • The Buddhist monasteries of Nalanda, Odantapuri, Vikramsila & Somarupa were great centers of Buddhist learning and art.
  • A large number of manuscripts on palm-leaf relating to the Buddhist themes were written, illustrated with the images of Buddhist deities at these centers

Pala School

  • The Pala painting is characterized by sinuous line and subdued tones of colour


Western Indian School of Painting 

  • Also called Jaina Painting, largely devoted to the illustration of Jaina religious texts of the 12th–16th century
  • Notable sites → Gujrat, Uttar Pradesh, Central India & Orissa
  • Characterized by simple, bright colours, highly conventionalized figures, and wiry, angular drawing

Western Indian School of Painting


Mughal Paintings (16th – 19th century) 

  • Mainly confined to miniature illustrations on the books or as single works to be kept in an album
  • Mughal paintings were a unique blend of Indian, Persian (Safavi) and Islamic styles
  • Marked by supple naturalism →  Primarily aristocratic and secular
  • Tried to paint the classical ragas and Seasons or baramasa
  • Tuti-nama – first art work of the Mughal School.
  • Akbar’s reign (1556–1605) ushered a new era in Indian miniature painting.
  • At Zenith under Jahangir who himself was a famous painter
  • Jahangir encouraged artists to paint portraits and durbar scenes.
  • Shah Jahan (1627–1658) continued the patronage of painting.
  • Aurangzeb had no taste for fine arts.


Mughal Paintings

  • Most significant are Hamza Nama, Razm-Nama or “The Book of War”, Akbar Nama
  • Finest example of this school includes Hamzanama series, started in 1567 & completed in 1582
  • Hamzanama →  Stories of Amir Hamza, illustrated by Mir Sayyid Ali
  • 1200 paintings on themes of Changeznama, Zafarnama Ramayana
  • The paintings of the Hamzanama are of large size, 20” x 27″ and were painted on cloth.
  • They are in the Persian safavi style with dominating colours being red, blue and green
  • Indian tones appear in later work, when Indian artists were employed 


Rajput Painting (16th – 19th century)

  • the art of the independent Hindu feudal states in India
  • Unlike Mughal paintings which were contemporary in style, Rajput paintings were traditional & romantic
  • Rajput painting is further divided into Rajasthani painting and Pahari painting (art of the Himalayan kingdoms)


Central Indian and Rajasthani Schools (17th – 19th Century) 
  • Deeply rooted in the Indian traditions, taking inspiration from Indian epics, Puranas, love poems & Indian folk-lore
  • Mughal artists of inferior merit who were no longer required by the Mughal Emperors, migrated to Rajasthan


Malwa paintings (17th century) 
  • Centred largely in Malwa and Bundelkhand (MP); sometimes referred as Central Indian painting due to its geographical distribution.

Malwa paintings

  • This school’s most appealing features is its primitive charm & a simple childlike vision


Kishangarh paintings (18th century) 
  • Distinguished by its individualistic facial type and its religious intensity
  • Developed under the patronage of Raja Savant Singh (1748-1757 AD) by master artist Nihal Chand

Kishangarh paintings


Mewar (Udaipur) Paintings (17th – 18th century) 
  • Characterized by bold bright contrasting colours and direct emotional appeal
  • The earliest-dated examples come from Ragmala (musical modes) series painted in 1605

Mewar Paintings

  • Reflects portraiture & life of the ruler, along with religious themes
Marwar (Jodhpur) Paintings 
  • Executed in a primitive and vigorous folk style
  • Completely uninfluenced by the Mughal style.
  • Portrays court scenes, series of Ragamala & Baramasa


Bundi paintings (Late 17th century) 
  • Very close to the Mewar style, but the former excels the latter in quality
  • Prominent features → Rich and glowing colours, the rising sun in golden colour, crimson-red horizon, border in brilliant red colour (in Rasikpriya series)
  • Notable examples → Bhairavi Ragini (Allahabad Museum), illustrated manuscript of the Bhagawata Purana (Kota Museum) & a series of the Rasikapriya (National Museum, Delhi)


Kota paintings (18th – 19th century) 
  • Very similar to Bundi style of paintings
  • Themes of tiger and bear hunt were popular
  • Most of the space in painting is occupied by the hilly jungle


The Pahari Schools (17th – 19th Century) 

Comprises the present State of Himachal Pradesh, some adjoining areas of the Punjab, the area of Jammu, & Garhwal in Uttarakhand

Basohli Paintings (17th – 18th century) 
  • known for its bold vitality of colour, lines & red borders
  • Emotional scenes from a text called “Rasamanjari” →  Krishna legend
  • Favoured oblong format, with the picture space usually delineated by architectural detail, which often breaks into the characteristic red borders
  • Stylized facial type, shown in profile, is dominated by the large, intense eyes

Basohli Paintings



Guler painting (Jammu) 
  • Mainly consisting of portraits of Raja Balwant Singh of Jasrota (Jammu) designed by Nainsukh
  • Colours used are soft and cool unlike Basohli school

Guler painting

  • Style appears to have been inspired by the naturalistic style of the Mughal painting


Kangra painting (Late 18th century) 
  • The Kangra style is developed out of the Guler style & possesses its main characteristics, like the delicacy of drawing & naturalism
  • The Kangra style continued to flourish at various places namely Kangra, GuIer, Basohli, Chamba, Jammu, Nurpur and Garhwal etc.
  • However, Named as Kangra style as they are identical in style to the portraits of Raja Sansar Chand of Kangra
  • In these paintings, the faces of women in profile have the nose almost in line with the forehead, the eyes are long & narrow, & chin is sharp.

Kangra painting

  • There is, however, no modelling of figures and hair is treated as a flat mass.
  • Paintings of the Kangra style are attributed mainly to the Nainsukh family.


Kullu – Mandi painting 
  • A folk style of painting in the Kulu-Mandi area, mainly inspired by the local tradition
  • The style is marked by bold drawing and the use of dark and dull colours


Independent Paintings

Kalighat Paintings (Kolkata – 19th century)

  • Patua painters from rural Bengal came and settled in Kalighat to make images of gods and goddesses in the early 19th century
  • They evolved a quick method of painting on mill-made paper
  • Used brush and ink from the lampblack

Kalighat Paintings


Madhubani Paintings (Mithila – Bihar) 

  • Colorful auspicious images on the interior walls of homes on the occasion of rituals & festivity → painted by women
  • This ancient tradition, especially elaborated for marriages, continues today.
  • Used to paint the walls of room, known as KOHBAR GHAR in which the newly wedded couple meets for the first time
  • Very conceptual, first, the painter thinks & then “draws her thought”

Madhubani Paintings


Phad paintings (Bhilwada, Rajasthan) 

  • Phad is a painted scroll, which depicts stories of epic dimensions about local deities and legendary heroes.
  • Bhopas (local priests) carry these scrolls on their shoulders from village to village for a performance

Phad paintings

  • Represents the moving shrine of the deity and is an object of worship
  • Most popular & largest Phad – local deities Devnarayanji and Pabuji


Kalamkari Paintings (Andhra Pradesh) 

  • Literal meaning is painting done by kalam (pen) , Mainly in Andhra Pradesh (developed under Vijaynagar rulers)
  • Stories from the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas are painted as continuous narratives
  • Mainly to decorate temple interiors with painted cloth panels scene after scene; Every scene is surrounded by floral decorative patterns
    Kalamkari Paintings



Warli painting

  • Practiced in tribal regions of Maharashtra with subjects, predominantly religious
  • decorative paintings on floors & walls of ‘gond’ and ‘kol’ tribes homes and places of worship
  • made in a geometric patterns like squares, triangles, and circles
  • Unlike other tribal art forms, Warli paintings do not employ religious iconography and is a more secular art form.


Kashmir Embroidered shawls, carpets, namdar silk and walnut wood furniture
Rajasthan precious stone and jems + tie & dye (Bandhani) fabric + minakari work
Andhra Pradesh Bidri work and Pochampad saris
Tamil Nadu bronze sculpture and Kajeevaram silk saris
Mysore silk, sandalwood items
Kerala ivory carvings and rosewood furniture
Assam cane furniture
Bengal Bankura terracotta modelling and handloom items
Benaras Brocade & silk saris
Madhya Pradesh Chanderi and kosa silk
Lucknow chikan work  (Zardozi Embroidery – Muslims in Lucknow)
Punjab Phulkari embroidery
Bengal Kantha embroidery
Orissa Patola embroidery
Budhhists Thangka painting
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