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The fancy of Indian art is quite hypnotising. With a long cultural history that threads across centuries, various types of Indian artworks offer nothing less than a pleasing and blissful experience to eyes. With every painting speaking a tale of the time period it belongs to, Indian art renders an ecstatic narrative of rich inheritance of culture and virtuosity.

The global stage glorifies European culture quite lavishly, which is understood, considering the constant evolution of art in those nations. Indian art, on the other hand, has survived a lingering history of invasion, battles, colonial rules, and whatnot. The beauty in all these barbaric and vicious times lies in the tolerance and the spunky nature of art forms of India.

From the deep-rooted seed of art, different types of Indian paintings blossomed, some of which are still practiced, reflecting that art has no expiration date. We are in fact, quite fortunate to see and enjoy the serenity of variegated art forms of India even today.

For the art lovers, who love to know about different types of paintings in India, this is the perfect opportunity as we present a vivid and a delineative anecdote of art in this beautiful nation. Let’s start:

Cave paintings

Even when humans didn’t learn how to cook food or how to wear clothes, art was alive in India. When it comes to the perennial drift of Indian art, cave paintings are perfect epitomes. The pre-historic times in India was quiet, sparsely populated, and full of artworks. Whether it is rock art or cave paintings, the redolence of Indian art travelled across thousands of years.

The Bhimbetka rock shelters in Central India showcase the art that dates back to the 30,000 BCE. 

Cave paintings - Types of Indian Paintings

Bhimbetka rock shelters

Source: The History Hub

Then there are frescos at the sites of Ajanta and Ellora caves that are amongst the most appealing tourist spots in India. These wall & rock art of Buddha, Krishna, and Shiva give the narrative of Indian culture from 8th to 10th century CE. 

Ajanta Caves - types of Indian art

Ajanta Caves

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The other cave paintings include the Palaeolithic cave art of Tamil Nadu. These cave artworks are estimated to be as old as 10000 years to 30000 years old.  The origin of these paintings is in the region of Padiyendhal, Alampadi, Kombaikadu, Kilvalai, Settavarai, and Nehanurpatti. Along with this, cave paintings were also found in Karnataka in Hiregudda area.

Eastern India also has an affluent stock of ancient cave paintings and rock art with various geometric signs, animal’s depictions along with dots and lines, and paintings of men from the Pleistocene epoch. These enigmatic cave paintings can be especially found in Odisha state. 

Madhubani Paintings

Looking to reconnoitre the folk paintings of India? Welcome to the wondrous and magnificent world of Madhubani art. These paintings are a sheer example of exquisiteness and royalty of ancient India. The tale of the origin of Madhubani paintings takes us back to the time of Hindu epic, Ramayana. It was the wedding of Lord Ram and Lady Sita. King Janaka (the father of Sita) summoned his greatest artists to beautify the entire palace with mesmerising artworks. Thus Madhubani art or Mithila paintings were born. These paintings originated in the State of Bihar in the Mithila region and are quite prominent in Northern India, especially Uttar Pradesh. 

Madhubani Paintings - Types of Indian Paintings

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Despite the heavenly and majestic look of this art, the outside world was unaware of its existence. In the year 1934, when British officer William G. Archer was inspecting the aftermath of ferocious Bihar Earthquake, he couldn’t help but notice the vivacious depictions on the exposed walls of the damaged houses. 

Madhubani paintings are made using natural ingredients like pigments and dyes. In the beginning, Madhubani paintings were designed on the mud walls but today you can see these illustrations being crafted on mediums like paper and canvas too. The theme of Madhubani art revolves around the representation of Ardhanarishvara or the supreme creator and portrayal of festivities, sunrise, rain, sunset, birth, marriage, and pujas (holy rituals). Known for their subtle geometric patterns and bold colour compositions, these pieces of art are created on the Hinduism belief that the union of female (Goddess Parvati or Shakti) and male (Lord Shiva) balance the equilibrium of life.  This theory can be clearly seen in the Madhubani paintings where artists never fail to draw double lines exemplifying the unanimity between the two sources of life.

Miniature Paintings

There are quite many strikingly beautiful and splendid types of Indian paintings but none could match the elegance and enchantment of Miniature paintings. The origin of Miniature paintings is believed to belong to the period between 7th to 10th centuries AD. However, the available miniature paintings on leaves were made in the 10th century and on canvas were crafted in the 14th century. 

Miniature Painting: Radha Krishna - art forms of India

Miniature, Radha-Krishna

Source: Oh My Rajasthan

Miniature paintings were eulogized because of their modest size and the baroque brushwork that still make these art pieces stand out. Like every other folk paintings of India, the colours were made from natural ingredients like indigo, stones, vegetables, tree barks, silver, and gold. The commonest theme for the miniature paintings was the ‘Raga’. ‘Raga’ is the pattern of musical notes. Other subject matters revolved around the religious and mythological tales of the Gods and Goddesses.

It was the rise of the Mughal Empire in India that diversified the scope of miniature paintings. During the mid-16th century, miniature paintings started including the varied subject lines such as portraits, court scenes, the depiction of landscapes, representation of flora and fauna, etc. 

Miniature painting - Types of Indian Paintings

Miniature painting ~ royal Kings riding on royal elephants ~

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Rajasthan, the land of Rajputs was also a big market for the miniature paintings with artists creating enthralling life poetries, variegated moods of love, changing seasons, and epic legends of warriors. The base of miniature paintings was to create an emotion and convey the same mood or ‘bhava’ via well-heeled and melodic style. Pahari culture (State of Punjab) also have some breath-taking miniature artworks. 

Warli Art

Talking about art forms of India, Warli paintings hold a special place. This art form comes from the state of brave Marathas. Actually, Warli is the name of a tribe, the largest one in western India, which was found on the outskirts of northern Mumbai.

Now you may think that since it was so close to the biggest urban hub of India, the art form may be influenced by modern urbanization. This isn’t true.

This art form is quite mystical in terms of its origin. No one knew this art style until it was discovered in the early 1970s. However, some experts believe that Warli art started in the 10th century AD, no records are found though.

Warli Art - types of Indian artImage Credit

The artists who developed these paintings were mainly focused on the representation of the mundane life routine of the people living in the Warli tribe. These art pieces were made on the walls itself or sometimes hanged on the houses for the purpose of embellishment. What’s more astonishing is that the tribe used these paintings as a way to convey the folklore with zero dependencies on written words. Unlike the other type of Indian paintings, Warli art is much subtle. 

Out of all the folk paintings of India, Warli art is the only style that doesn’t have any religious theme or focus. Instead, artists were more keenly interested in the representation of the social brio. You can find pictures of animals, human beings, people working, etc in these paintings. Women were and are the main creators of Warli artworks. Even today, following the traditional ways, Warli paintings are created in the homes.

One look at these depictions that are crafted white on the mud walls, you can easily relate this art style with the pre-historic cave paintings. The distinguishable characteristic of Warli paintings is their creation on austere mud base with just one colour, i.e. white. An occasional hint of red and yellow is included to make the pieces more unique. You can find Warli paintings today all over India being sold at different price brackets. These pieces are also available on the clothes and canvas, however, if you really want to experience the classicism of Warli tribe, walls are the ideal place to hang these paintings.

Pattachitra Paintings

On the eastern side of India, on the Bay of Bengal, lies the state of Odisha, where one of the most popular types of Indian paintings took its birth. Pattachitra form took its first eupnoea in Raghurajpur, a small village near Puri, in around the 12th century.    

Derived from the Sanskrit language, Pattachitra is an amalgamation of two words, ‘Patta’, which means canvas, and ‘Chitra’, which refers to picture. Pattachitra is the art of creating paintings on cloth.

Even today, the village of Raghurajpur prides on its artistic roots and atleast a single family member from every home is still associated with art. Unlike the other art folk paintings of India, males are creators of Pattachitra pieces. Females are responsible for developing the canvas, fragmenting the pigments, and boiling the gum. 

Pattachitra Paintings - Types of Indian Paintings

Pattachitra art

Source: The Culture Trip

There are a number of themes on which Pattachitra paintings were developed. These are:

  • Thia Badhia – Representation of temple of Lord Jagannath
  • Krishna Lila – Impersonation of Lord Jagannath as toddler Krishna
  • Dasabatara Patti – The ten manifestations of God Vishnu
  • Panchamukhi – Lord Ganesh as a five-headed divinity

The creators of these paintings are termed as Chitrakars, who firstly prepare a tamarind paste, which is made to blend the two pieces of cloth together that eventually carves out a canvas. It is also glazed with the soft clay stone to further bolster the grip and then left for a specific time period to become firm enough. When the cloth is dried, it is gleamed with rough stone and later on with wood to make the upper layer glossy. 

Development of paints is one of the arduous tasks in the processing of Pattachitra paintings. Natural ingredients are utilized as raw materials like gum of kaitha tree, which is the primary element to process pigments. These pigments are then utilized as a base on which the raw ingredients are blended to extract various colours.

The Chitrakars or Indian artists are extremely disciplined and focused while paintings this exquisite art form maintaining the severity in the utilisation of designs and colour compositions. Pattachitra paintings’ creators always look to limit the colours to a singular tone by working under the rigid guidelines. This is why these paintings have such intense expression of colours and patterns.

Kalighat Paintings

This one originated in the 19th century in the City of Joy, Kolkata. During that time, India was under the colonial rule of the British Empire, and Kolkata was the capital. Artists who create this spectacular art form are referred to as ‘Patuas’.

The story of the inception of Kalighat paintings goes like this.

In Bengal, the paintings were earlier created on cloth pieces or what they were termed as patas. Art forms such as paper scrolls having a descriptive form of depictions like that of Rama Charita Manas. Later, to have a much wider audience and better sale, artists decided to move to a much-urbanised area and hence settled in Calcutta. They settled in place near the Kalighat temple deliberately. The idea was to spray the art form from a place where it is accolade the most.

Hence, the dawn of an impeccable art form started and Kalighat paintings came into origin. 

Kalighat Paintings - art forms of India

Kalighat painting, ‘Ganesha in the lap of Parvati’

Source: Wiki

The predominant inspiration of these paintings whirled around the representation of religious characters, events from the legends, and depiction of Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi, and Kali. Kalighat painting’s subject matter was also focused on showcasing the personification of Lord Ram and Lady Sita while depicting the scenes from the religious tale of Ramayana. 

The hair of squirrel and goat were utilised to craft the brush for the sketch drawing. The ink used for the sketch was prepared by burning oil lamp under a pot that produces soot. All the other colours were made using natural ingredients like vegetables, pigments, dyes, etc. The most used colours for the creation of these paintings are black, blue, indigo, red, green, etc.

One of the most highlighted aspects of the Kalighat paintings is that a comprehensive family used to get indulged in the creation process. For every member, there was a designated function depending on the age, sex, and competency. During the late 19th and the early 20th century, development of this art form led to the origination of biggest cottage industry in Bengal.

Phad

This legendary 700-year-old art form is the living epitome of how artistry is being passed down from generations within a single family. Originated in Shahpura, Rajasthan, Phad art is a captivating kind of scroll painting that expatiates the tales of local Gods and Goddesses. These paintings are also utilised as portable temples, the story of the inception of this art form goes back to the singers of Rabari tribe, who were known as Bhopas and Bhopis (the female ones). The songs and the performances of these singers were centred on the glorification of Lord Devnarayanji (Vishnu’s reincarnation) and a local hero known as Pabuji. 

phad painting - art forms of India

Phad Painting, Ramayana

Source: scroll.in

The male singers would sing the tale and the female artists would perform the dance putting a straight spotlight on the ongoing section in the painting using a lamp. Phad paintings were ordered by Bhopas to a particular family of Joshi’s that was the sole creator, making this art form even more rare and exclusive.

These mesmerising pieces were carved on the hand-made cotton cloth. This cloth is soaked and dried to make the threads thicker. Natural fibres and paints are used in the creation of Phad paintings. Lavish stones, plants, herbs, flowers, etc are some of the key ingredients that are utilised to carve out these superb artworks. 

Colours used in the Phad paintings have specific meanings. For example, the yellow colour is used to make the outline, orange is utilised for limbs, brown for architectural monuments, blue for water or curtains, red for royal clothing, black in the end for the outlines, and green for fauna. The main point of focus from the artist’s side is to make eyes as splendid as possible. As soon as the artist finishes the deities’ eyes, the piece if regarded ready for the worship. What you can look at these paintings is that all the subjects in the paintings are facing each other.

Final Words

While there different types of paintings in India, the essence of cultural and heritage conjoins each form to a single thread. Other types of Indian art such as Pichwai, Gond, Kalamkari, Mughal, Tanjore, and Santhal paintings are also popular are successfully able to cross the span of time. I will try to cover these in my next posts. Till then, enjoy the ecstasy and striking nature of enchanting art forms of India. Thanks!