From early rock carvings to a thriving contemporary art scene, India’s vibrant artistic heritage is the result of a wide variety of cultural influences. The diversity of art from the region – which includes everything created in the historical regions of today’s India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan – is reflected in vibrant, distinct and fascinating styles that reflect many different civilizations.
Since some of the world’s major religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam originated or developed in India, much of Indian art is based on religious or political content. Here we discover the history of Indian folk art, architecture, and sculpture and explain how they evolved from sociopolitical influences. From early rock carvings to a thriving contemporary art scene, India’s vibrant artistic heritage is the result of a variety of cultural influences. The diversity of art from the region – which includes everything that was created in the historical regions of today’s India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan – is reflected in lively, independent and fascinating styles,
Since some of the world’s major religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam originated or developed in India, much of Indian art is based on religious or political content. Here we discover the history of Indian folk art, architecture and sculpture and explain how they developed from socio-political influences.
The history of Indian art
Archaeologists discovered evidence of prehistoric rock art carvings or drawings on cave rocks – in this area, which dates back at least 290,000 years. The oldest examples are the rock paintings of Bhimbetka found in central India. Cup-shaped depressions that were knocked out of the rock surface were combined with the painting. This type of rock art was the most important form of cave painting in the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic, often depicting animal and human forms.
The earliest known sculptures in Indian art were made between 2,500 BC. BC and 1,800 BC Created. They created small terracotta and bronze figures that also depicted people and animals such as cows and monkeys. In the 6th century BC The rise of Buddhism paved the way for religious art, often in the form of stone and bronze sculptures. During this period, religious artists also experimented with creating huge temples carved in stone and decorated with Greek columns.
Sculpture was a widespread practice among Indian Buddhists and Hindus. Hinduism remained a focus of Indian art for centuries, as sculptures of deities like Shiva were made many times. In the 16th century, Islam gained importance under the Mughal Empire and art production grew under the Islamic rulers. During this time the art flourished and construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1631.
British activities in India began in the 18th century when they established art schools to promote European styles. As a result, local art styles merged with foreign influences, and traditional art forms were often romanticized or exaggerated to attract European buyers.
In 1947 India gained independence from the British Empire, which led local artists to look for a new style. Contemporary Indian art combines traditional elements and influences from the country’s eventful history.
Types of Indian Art
Each region of India had its own style of art. Religious motifs are among the most common themes, often with mythological human and animal shapes and elaborate decorations.
The three most common art forms that comprise the history of India are painting, architecture and sculpture.
Indian art: paintings and painting
Every style of painting that originated in India embodied traditions, customs and ideologies passed down from previous generations. Although there were early paintings as murals, the art form was ultimately carried over to more modern materials such as paper, canvas, cloth, and other media.
Below are some of the most popular styles in Indian art.
Some of the most popular paintings from India are Madhubani paintings. This style originated in the Mithila region of Bihar as a form of wall art, but was not too well known to the western world until 1934, when British art historian WG Archer stumbled upon its ingenuity while investigating damage from an earthquake near the border between India and Nepal .
The Madhubani style is represented by a simple and vivid display of culture and tradition, typically depicting mythological scenes. Artists juxtapose vivid pictures with reduced patterns, which often have floral, animal or bird motifs. The art form is practiced in many different styles including Bharni, Katchni, Geru, Godna, and Tantric.
These little works, created primarily as illustrations for manuscripts, were first found on palm leaves painted for traders who carried them on their travels in the 10th and 12th centuries. The art form became increasingly important in the Mughal and Rajput courts.
The miniature painting was very detailed and elaborate and was characterized by Persian techniques. The subjects ranged from religious and historical scenes to depictions of everyday life.
Another early form of painting dates back to the 12th century BC. Near Orissa, an East Indian state on the Bay of Bengal. The small villages in the area still produce this type of painting today. Pattachitra literally means “fabric picture” and aptly describes this traditional, fabric-based type of scroll painting.
Known for their intricate details and mythological narratives, the paintings use angular lines and draw on influences from the Mughal period.
The Warli folk paintings, a form of indigenous art, go back 2,500 years. The style has its origins in Maharashtra, a state that encompasses the western part of central India. Warli paintings, typically made on the walls of huts, use linear and monochromatic tones and a basic style of execution reminiscent of cave painting.
Unlike other types of tribal art that have an abundance of colors, this style uses earth tones and neutral hues to represent the people’s daily activities such as farming, dancing, and hunting.
Indian paintings and their regional differences
Although Madhubani, Pattachitra, Warli, and miniature painting are some of the most popular styles, there are several types of Indian folk painting that date from different periods and regions within the subcontinent, including:
- Thanjavur painting: This South Indian painting style developed between the 16th and 18th centuries. Thanjavur paintings are brightly colored panel paintings painted on a wooden board, usually depicting a deity as the primary subject of the composition.
- Kalamkari: This type of hand-painted or block-printed cotton fabric is made in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Traditionally it was used to make narrative writings and panels and has a strong connection to Persian motifs.
- Gond pictures: Indian art, which was developed by the central Indian tribe of the Gond, celebrates the natural world and depicts impressive scenes from lush green to animals. The pictures are created from a series of intricately arranged dots and lines.
- Phad Paintings: Phad paintings date back thousands of years as a religious form of scroll painting depicting battlefields, adventure stories, and folk deities. Although Madhubani, Pattachitra, Warli, and miniature painting are some of the most famous styles, there are several types of Indian folk painting dating from different periods and regions within the subcontinent.
Notable Indian paintings
Raja Ravi Varma, “Shakuntala”, 1870
This painting shows Shakuntala, an important figure from the Mahabharata, one of the two great Sanskrit epics of ancient India.
Abindranath Tagore, “Bharat Mata”, 1905
Tagore’s painting is of great historical value as it depicts a woman dressed like a sadhvi (virtuous woman) in a sacred sari, holding white cloth and a garland in her four hands.
Amrita Sher-Gil, “Self-Portrait”, 1931
Amrita Sher-Gil was one of the most important modern artists in India. This was the artist’s first painting to be offered by Christie’s and one of only eight by the artist that has ever been auctioned.
Indian art and its architecture
Much like painting, Indian architecture took on various styles and forms over the years. Many of these structures have become known worldwide, such as the Taj Mahal and the temples of South India. Architectural styles have changed over time, and modern structures reflect influences from different countries as a result of global change in India.
Cave architecture was one of the earliest forms of architecture. They made entire temples out of stone. One of the most famous rock temples is the Kailasa Temple, which is located in the Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, India and is known for its size and sculptural design. From the 5th century BC Large, free-standing temples were built. Indian architecture often included religious elements such as an altar and shelter for believers in search of enlightenment.
In the course of the 12th century, architecture for Islamic patrons emerged after Mohammed von Ghor made Delhi the Muslim capital in 1193. The Delhi Sultanate, which was formed in 1206 and ruled over large parts of the Indian subcontinent for 320 years, came from Central Asia via Afghanistan and preferred an architectural style that was largely influenced by Iranian influences.
Muslim leaders hired local artisans to build large structures that are quite different from those previously built in India. This included mosques with open courtyards surrounded by covered walkways. During this period, a variety of Indian-Islamic architectural styles emerged, fusing local and Islamic traditions and influencing modern Indian and Pakistani architecture.
Modern Indian architecture respects and preserves tradition while meeting the needs of a growing population. Modern structures did not emerge until India gained independence in 1947. At that time, the Indian government commissioned the famous Swiss-French architect and designer Le Corbusier with the urban planning of the city of Chandigarh. The project created a new interest in Indian architecture.
Sculpture is still a popular medium for artistic expression in India, especially as a form of religious art. The buildings were lavishly decorated and the theme consisted largely of abstract human figures used to illustrate the principles of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Indian art often depicted deities such as Shakti, Kali and Brahma as sculptures.
Indian sculpture has its origins in the Indus Valley, where terracotta figures were among the first sculptures to be made. During the entire Moorish dynasty, from the 4th to the 2nd centuries BC, Continued, large stone pillars appeared at crossroads and important places. They often had lotus-shaped tips and lion figures that were symbols of imperial rule. During this period, many large stone figures of gods were created, followed by smaller versions that were placed on Buddhist monuments.
In the centuries that followed, a wide range of styles and traditions developed in different areas. One of the most famous structures is the Elephanta Cave, a collection of cave temples mainly dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and built from the middle of the 5th to 6th centuries AD. By the 9th and 10th centuries Indian sculpture had reached a form that was only slightly different from what it is today and was used primarily as part of architectural design.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Indian art and sculpture was adapted to the western academic art traditions. The styles were heavily influenced by realism artists working on secular subjects in British art schools. There has been a marked departure from ancient and traditional forms that depict myths and deities.
In the 1940s and 1950s, painter and sculptor Ramkinkar Baij worked to fuse both Western art and traditional Indian forms, experimenting with unconventional materials like concrete, gravel and cement. This experimentation lives on in contemporary Indian sculpture, which is equally oriented towards traditional techniques and themes and at the same time explores new approaches.