The History of Indian Art

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Written by: Trâm Anh + Huỳnh Huy

A GLIMPSE OF CULTURE | INDIA

The rich, diverse, and extensive artistic history of India is one of the oldest in the world. Indian subcontinent residents have been creating art for at least 12,000 years, from the Indus Valley’s cave paintings to the Mughal Empire’s renownedly complex miniature paintings. There are repeating themes that have influenced Indian art and culture, even if each period of Indian art history has its own distinct tone and style.

indian art

The History of Indian Art

By far the most frequent theme and inspiration in Indian art is spirituality. Despite the lengthy history of great religious diversity in India, religious devotion is a common theme in all works of art, regardless of the individual religion. Indian art has been influenced for many centuries by a sense of transcendental awe for the eternal.

Other characteristics that unite Indian art include an eye-catching color scheme and labor-intensive artistic methods. Every culture, dynasty, and empire contributed to the definition of Indian art.

indian art

Early Indian Art

The term “ancient India” refers to the time from roughly 7000 BCE to 500 CE in Indian history. The residents of the Indus Valley Civilization during the Bronze Age of India before the Stone Age nomads of the Indian subcontinent. The earliest artists to create works on the Indian subcontinent were these nomads. As far back as the Lower Pleistocene, the planet’s most recent Ice Age, which occurred roughly 12,000 years ago, Stone Age art has been discovered.

The Indus Valley Civilization, a Bronze Age civilization that dominated the Indian subcontinent and extended into modern-day Afghanistan, emerged after the Stone Age. One of the biggest and oldest ancient civilizations was the Indus Valley Civilization.

Petroglyphs (Rock Carvings)

Carvings or engravings cut into rock are known as petroglyphs. These are some of the earliest examples of human artistic creation still extant today.

Some of the earliest petrogylphs in the world can be found in the Bhimbetka rock shelters, which are situated in the Vindhya Mountain Range in central India. Scientists have had a tough time pinpointing the exact age of these petroglyphs, despite the fact that they can date the artwork to the Lower Paleolithic. The most popular method for dating this kind of artwork is radiocarbon dating, but it can only go so far back in time. After that, alternative dating strategies must be adopted.

indian art

Carvings or engravings cut into rock are known as petroglyphs. These are some of the earliest examples of human artistic creation still extant today.

Some of the earliest petrogylphs in the world can be found in the Bhimbetka rock shelters, which are situated in the Vindhya Mountain Range in central India. Scientists have had a tough time pinpointing the exact age of these petroglyphs, despite the fact that they can date the artwork to the Lower Paleolithic. The most popular method for dating this kind of artwork is radiocarbon dating, but it can only go so far back in time. After that, alternative dating strategies must be adopted.

Modern Indian Art

Along with the invasion of British soldiers, major shifts took place over India, especially their traditional art.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, semi-western paintings were on the rage thanks to the significant increase of British residents and visitors. Like the traditional, most drawings revolved around the local’s daily life, popular festivals as well as Mughal monuments. 

Art schools on the European models have been increasingly established throughout the country, mostly in Bombay, Calcutta,… Raja Ravi Varma was one of the greatest artists of this period, boasting of his unique oil paintings, which depicted mythological and social themes.

Some of the artists who made their mark as modern Indian artists are Tyeb Mehta, Satish Gujral, Krishan Khanna, Manjit Bawa, K.G. Subramaniyan Ram Kumari, Anjolie Ela Menon, Akbar Padamsee, Jatin Das, Jehangir Sabavala and A. Ramachandran.

Two government institutions have been set up to promote art, music etc in India. The National Gallery of Modern Art has the largest collection of modern art under one roof. The second one is the Lalit Kala Akademi which recognizes and patronizes artists in all fields.

indian art

India is well-known for its various traditions, which end up enriching a great legacy for the country’s art.

 

MITHILIA PAINTINGS

They are produced by village women who make three dimensional images using vegetable colour with few earthen colours and finished in black lines on cow dung treated paper. These pictures tell tales especially about Sita’s exile, Ram-Laxman’s forest life, or depict the images of Lakshmi, Ganesha, Hanuman and others from Hindu mythology.

One can identify the community to which the painting belongs from the colours that are used in them. Paintings made by the upper, more affluent classes are colourful while those made by the lower caste people use red and black line work.

 

KALAMKARI PAINTINGS

The literal meaning of Kalamkari is a painting done by kalam (pen). Subjects are adopted from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and Hindu religious Mythology. This art form is a continuous legacy from father to son.

 

ORISSA PATACHITRA

Mostly painted on cloth are more detailed and more colourful and most of these depict stories of Hindu gods and goddesses

 

PHAD PAINTINGS

Phad is a type of scroll painting. The paintings depicting exploits of local deities are often carried from place to place and are accompanied by traditional singers, who narrate the theme depicted on the scrolls. Phad painting depicts the heroic deeds of a heroic figure, the daily life of a peasant, rural life, animals and birds, flora and fauna. These paintings are created using bright colours and subtle colours. The outlines of the paintings are first drawn in black and later filled with colours.

 

WARLI PAINTING

Subjects are predominantly religious with simple and local materials like white colour and rice paste and local vegetable glue on a plain contrasting background, 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.

 

KALIGHAT PAINTING

Patua painters from rural Bengal came and settled in Kalighat to make images of gods and goddesses in the early nineteenth century. These paintings on paper made with water colours comprise clear sweeping line drawings using bright colours and a clear background. Subjects are images of Kali, Lakshmi, Krishna, Ganesha, Shiva, and other gods and goddesses

Conclusion

The art of India is one of the most ancient arts in the world. Despite various religions, traditions, and languages, every region has its own iconic genre of painting, which gradually enriches the diversity of Indian culture. 

However, the more diverse the country is, the harder for not only the government but also residents to preserve these precious traditions. In the Indian case, it is likely that the problem has been ingeniously handled since the locals learned how to pass down their culture to the younger generation. 

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