Bihar Study Notes: Indian Paintings

By Brajendra|Updated : February 24th, 2022

Indian painting has a very long tradition and history in Indian art, though because of the climatic conditions very few early examples survive. The earliest Indian paintings were the rock paintings of prehistoric times, such as the petroglyphs found in places like Bhimbetka rock shelters.

Indian Paintings


  • Painting is one of the most delicate forms of art giving expression to human thoughts and feelings through the medium of line and colour.
  • The rocks have been painted by the cave dwellers to satisfy their aesthetic sensitivity and creative urge.
  • Paintings in India was started in the ancient period, since the pre-historic era.
  • The painting history has originated from rock paintings and carried through pottery, in textiles, miniature paintings and finally with modern paintings.
  • The diversity in the style of paintings in different parts of the country indicates the diversity in culture as culture and livelihood being the themes of paintings and later dominated by Religion.
  • The major inspiration for paintings in India was the birth of three religions – Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
  • The major influence has been the deep-rooted history, culture and foreign races, etc..
  • Paintings in India projects the Spiritual contents, high ideals and common belief of the people


  • Mudrarakshasa - Sanskrit play was written by Vishakhadutta – mentions many types of Paintings during the 4th century period.
  • Brahmanical Literature – the reference to the art of paintings with the representation of myths
  • Buddhist Literature – mentions different styles of paintings with various base and themes.
  • Vinaya Pitaka – 3rd – 4th century BC – houses containing paintings

Pre-historic Paintings

  • The pre-historic paintings are generally executed in rocks in the caves.
  • The major themes are Animals like elephant, rhinoceros, cattle, snake, deer, etc.. and other natural elements like plants.
  • The pre-historic paintings are categorised into three phases – Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Chalcolithic.
  • Characteristics
  • Used minerals for pigments Eg: ochre or geru. They used minerals in different colours.
  • Major Themes: group hunting, grazing, riding scenes, etc..
  • The colours and size of the paintings have been evolved through the ages.
  • Examples: Bhimbetka caves, MP; Jogimara caves, Chattisgarh; Narsingarh, MP


  • The wall paintings in India has existed from the 2nd century BC to Medieval times.
  • They are also referred to as Mural paintings as they are painted on the walls of solid structures.
  • Natural caves and rock-cut chambers are the predominant places for wall paintings
  • Major Themes: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism
  • Examples: Ajanta caves, Ellora Caves, Bagh cave paintings, Ravan Chhaya rock paintings, etc.

Wall Painting Places





· From 4th to 8th century AD under different rulers;

· Only Buddhism;

· Medium of Paintings: Mineral and vegetable dyes;

· Tempera style (use of pigments)

·  Also Fresco Paintings

Ellora Caves


· From 7th century AD

· Paintings related to all three religions

· Later paintings in Gujarati style

Bagh Caves

Madhya Pradesh

· Tightly modelled and stronger outline

·  More earthly and human

·  Mostly secular in nature

Ravan Chhaya


· 7th century AD

·  Fresco Paintings

Sittanavasal Cave paintings

Tamil Nadu

·  Around the 9th and 10th century

·  Not only on walls but also on pillars and ceilings

·  Mostly paintings in Jain temples



· Mostly in temple walls

· Vijayanagara period

· Religious and secular themes


  • Miniature paintings are characterised with small and detailed paintings
  • Human figures are mostly seen in side profile, bulging eyes, slim waist, pointed nose, etc..
  • Different colours were used for different characters and the variety of base was used.
  • Often painted on paper, clothes palm leaves, etc.,
  • Mostly developed after the 11th century AD and mostly concentrated on eastern and western regions.
  • The arrival of Muslims changed the characteristics of miniature paintings to a great extent. The major changes have been earthy tones, the absence of primary colours, detached appearances, etc.,
  • The characteristics of Miniature painting was varied in different regions of the country.








11th – 12th AD

· Sinuous lines and subdued tones of colour

· Lonely single figures and rarely finds group figures

· Majorly influenced by Buddhism

Manuscript of Astasahasrika prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom)



12th – 16th AD

· Enlarged Human organs like eyes, breasts, hips.

· Figures are flat with eye protruding into space

· Majorly influenced by Jainism

Manuscripts of Kalpasutra in Devasano Pado Bhandar at Ahmedabad



13th – 16th AD

· Synthesis of Indigenous and Persian elements

· Illustrated Manuscripts

· Traditional elements

Nimatnama during Nasir Shah period



16th – 19th AD

· Two Persian Masters – Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdul Samad Khan (Humayun Period)

· Synthesis of Indigenous and Safavid school of Persian Painting

· Naturalism with fine and delicate drawing

· High aesthetic merit

·  Aristocratic and secular in nature

·  Under Jahangir reached its peak

·  Lost significance during Aurangzeb period





Gulistan of Sadi




16th AD

·  Rich and brilliant colours

·  Persian influence

Portrait of  Burhan Nizam Shah II of Ahmednagar





16th AD

· Rich colours

· Presence of trees and animals

·  Use of gold colour (Persian influence)


Najum-al-ulum (Stars of Science)


 16th AD

· Persian Influence

· Rich and bright colours

 Lady with the Myna Bird, Dublin


18th AD

· Treatment of ethnic types. Costumes, jewellery, flora, fauna, landscape and colours

A Lady with the maid, Vilaval Ragini


18th – 19th AD

· Bold painting, shading techniques

· Use of pure and brilliant colours

Coronation of Rama in wooden painting

RAJASTHANI SCHOOL (17th – 19th AD) (Western India)


17th AD

· Use of contrasting colours

· Refinement of drawings

Ragamala-1680 AD




17th AD

· Bold colours

· Colours are bright and contrasting

· Text of painting is written in black on the top against yellow ground

Aranya Kanda, Saraswati Bhandar 





17th AD

· Red colour brilliant border

·  Overlapping and semi-naturalistic trees.

·  Rising sun in golden colour


Bhairavi Ragini Painting, Allahabad Museum


18th – 19th AD

· Most of the space is occupied by hilly Jungle

· Themes of Tiger and Bear hunt are very popular

Ragin Vasanta



18th AD

· Fairly large number of portraits of Jaipur Rulers

Jaipur Painting 




17th AD

· Executed in primitive and vigorous folk style

 · Completely uninfluenced by Mughal style

Ragamala (collection of Kumar Sangram Singh)




17th AD

 · Have greater Mughal Influence

 · Themes of Religion and Court Scenes

Krishna & Radha Painting




18th AD

· Delicate drawing

· Fine modelling of human figures

· Use of nature to the great extent

· Bani Thani (Monalisa of India) by Nihâl Chand

· Radha and Krishna, Kishangarh

PAHARI SCHOOL (Himalayan States)


17th AD

· Vigorous and bold lines

· Strong glowing colours

Devi rides on a Chariot




18th AD

· Soft and cool colours

· Inspired by the naturalistic style of Mughals


Portrait of Raja Bishen Singh of Guller




18th AD

· 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 and narrow and the chin is sharp



18th AD

· Bold drawings

· Use of dark and dull colours

· Has distinct folk character

The lady and the Crane



18th – 19th AD

· The outline drawing was rendered with a stylus on the palm-leaf

·  Charcoal or ink was rubbed on the drawing

Gita Govind, Palm Leaf Painting


  • The folk paintings have been existing since ancient times and the styles and patterns have the huge diversity in various regions of the country.
  • Most of the folk paintings are pictorial representations and the subject varies from religion to natural things and also the day to day activities.
  • Folk paintings generally use vibrant and natural colours with various natural ground substances.






· Bright colours with contrasts or patterns

· Traditionally done by women

· Use of tribal motifs and bright earthly colours



· Vivid expression of daily and social life 

· Generally in walls of village houses



· Painting done on canvas

· Manifested by rich colourful motifs and designs

· Mostly mythological depiction



· Ritualistic art practised in temples and sacred groves of Kerala

· Representation of deities like Kali and Lord Ayyappa is made on the floor.


Eastern India (Calcutta)

· Use of watercolour on mill paper

· General themes are religion, social sentiments, etc..


Andhra Pradesh

· Sharp pointed bamboo as pen and the base is cotton fabric

· Vegetable dyes as colours



· Also known as Snake painting (use of snake motifs)

· Paintings executed on jute and paper



· Cotton canvas as the base

· Influence of Buddhism

· Use of different colours for different scenes

Indian Painting Download PDF In English

Indian Painting Download PDF In Hindi

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