Indian Paintings: Types, Modern and Traditional Paintings | Famous Paintings of India

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Indian Paintings have a rich diversity and history, just like any other art form. The earliest Indian paintings from pre-historic times (around 30,000 years old) are found in places like rock shelters. Primarily, Indian painting can be classified into miniatures, murals, and folk paintings. Painting is one of the most delicate art forms, using colour and line to portray the ideas and emotions of people. Indians’ appreciation of colours and textures is so engrained in their culture that they have been producing paintings and sculptures since the beginning of time.

Painting in India gained huge popularity during the Gupta period. Below we have covered all the important information related to Indian Paintings for the UPSC Exam. Students can download the Indian Paintings UPSC Notes PDF to learn more about the Famous Paintings of India.

Indian Paintings

There have been Indian Paintings there from the beginning of time. The art of painting has a long history that started with cave paintings and subsequently moved on to pottery, textiles, miniature paintings, and modern Indian paintings. The variety of painting techniques used throughout the nation represents the country’s cultural diversity.

The ancient cave paintings at Bhimbetka, Mirzapur, and Panchmarhi provide information about the development of ancient Indian paintings. The painted ceramics of the Indus Valley Civilization came next, despite the Indian painting’s historical history beginning in the Gupta Dynasty.

Principles of Indian Paintings

Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism were three new religions that emerged in India, and they all provided important sources of inspiration for artists. The development of Indian Paintings has been significantly influenced by various factors, including India’s deep-rooted history and culture. In the famous paintings of India, spiritual themes, noble ideals, and common beliefs are depicted.

In the third century AD, Vatsyayana wrote about the six main shadanga or principles of Indian painting in his work Kamasutra. These were:

  • Various Forms: Rupabheda
  • Emotional immersion: Lavanyayoganam
  • Combining colours to simulate modelling effects: Varnikabhanga
  • The proportion of the object or subject: Pramanam
  • The portrayal of the subject’s likelihood: Sadrisyan
  • The use of colour to create lustre and gleam: Bhava

Prehistoric Paintings of India

Twelve years before the discovery of Altamira in Spain, an archaeologist named Archibold Carlleyle discovered the first documented discovery of rock paintings in India in 1867-1868. On the cave walls in several areas in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Bihar, remnants of rock paintings have been discovered. Petroglyphs are prehistoric artwork that was typically made on cave rocks in caverns.

Features of Prehistoric Paintings in India include:

  • Animals like elephants, rhinoceroses, cattle, snakes, and deer, as well as other aspects of nature, like plants, are among the popular themes.
  • Prehistoric paintings can be seen throughout the MesolithicChalcolithic, and Paleolithic periods. The scale and colour of the artworks have evolved over time.
  • Mineral pigments include elements like ochre and geru. Minerals of various hues were employed.
  • Grazing scenes, equestrian sequences, and group hunting are only a few of the major subjects of these famous paintings of India.
  • Examples of Prehistoric Paintings of India – are Madhya Pradesh’s Bhimbetka and Narsingarh Caves, Chhattisgarh’s Jogimara Caves, Gujarat’s Langhnaj, Karnataka’s SanganaKallu, etc.

Indian Mural Paintings – Wall Paintings in India

Murals are artworks that are painted on solid surfaces like walls. From the second century BC until the tenth century AD, they were discovered in India. Natural caverns and rock-cut chambers are the places where wall paintings are most frequently found. The major religious themes in the wall paintings of India relate to Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism.

Armamalai Cave, Kailashnath Temple in Ellora Caves, Ravan Chhaya Rock Shelter, Ajanta, Bagh, and Sittanavasal, are a few locations where the most famous Indian mural paintings can be discovered.

Wall Painting in India State Characteristics of Famous Paintings of India
Ajanta Maharashtra Major theme- Buddhism

Medium of Paintings- Mineral and vegetable dyes.

They are primarily connected to the Jataka tales.

Tempera style and Fresco Paintings have been used

Ellora Caves Maharashtra Paintings related to all three religions- Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.

34 caves total, 12 Buddhist, 17 Brahmanical, and 5 Jain.

Later paintings in Gujarati style.

Bagh Caves Madhya Pradesh These paintings have darkly painted contours that stand out against a light red background.

More earthly and human characters are drawn.

Mostly secular in nature.

Ravan Chhaya Odisha Dates back to the 7th century AD.

Influenced by Fresco Paintings.

Sittanavasal Cave paintings Tamil Nadu Date around the 9th and 10th centuries.

Paintings are not only on walls but also on pillars and ceilings.

These types of Indian paintings are found in Jain temples

Lepakshi Karnataka Dating back to the Vijayanagara period.

Mostly in temple walls.

Religious and secular themes.

Miniature Indian Paintings

The Buddhist Pala period palm leaf manuscripts from eastern India’s 9th-10th century and the Jaina palm leaf manuscripts from western India are the earliest examples of Indian miniature paintings.

When India first came into contact with the Islamic civilization, miniature painting finally reached its full potential. Indian painting underwent a new stage of development during the Mughal Empire when the workshops were created at the Imperial court. From there, artworks like illustrated manuscripts, book miniatures, portraiture, celebratory or genre scenes, and many others spread throughout India.

  • Miniature Indian paintings are characterized by small and detailed paintings.
  • Human figures are mostly seen in side profiles, bulging eyes, slim waists, pointed noses, etc.
  • Different colours were used for different characters, and various bases were used.
  • Often painted on paper, clothes, palm leaves, etc.
  • The characteristics of Miniature painting varied in different regions of the country.
Region/ Period of Indian Paintings Period Characteristics of Miniature Paintings of India
Eastern India 11th- 12th AD Pala School of Painting;

Sinuous lines and subdued tones of colour;

Lonely single figures and group figures are rarely found;

Majorly influenced by Buddhism.

Example- manuscript of Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Western India 12th – 16th AD Western Indian school;

Enlarged Human organs like eyes, breasts, and hips;

Figures are flat with eye protruding into space;

Majorly influenced by Jainism;

Example- Manuscripts of Kalpasutra in Devasano, Pado Bhandar at Ahmedabad.

Delhi Sultanate Period 13th – 16th AD Synthesis of Indigenous and Persian elements;

Illustrated Manuscripts and traditional elements;

An example includes Nimatnama during the Nasir Shah period.

Mughals 16th – 19th AD Two Persian Masters- Mir Sayyed Ali and Abdul Samad Khan;

Synthesis of Indigenous and Safavid school of Persian Painting;

Naturalism with fine and delicate drawing and high aesthetic merit;

Aristocratic and secular in nature;

Under Jahangir reached its peak and lost significance during the Aurangzeb period.

Examples- Tutinama, Hamaznama, Gulistan of Sadi.

Deccan 16th AD Found at Ahmednagar;

Rich and brilliant colours;

Persian influence;

Example- Portrait of Burhan Nizam Shah II of Ahmednagar.

16th AD Found at Bijapur;

Rich colours and the presence of trees and animals;

Use of gold colour due to Persian influence;

Example- Nujum Al Ulum.

16th AD Found at Golconda;

Persian Influence with rich and bright colours;

Example- Lady with the Myna Bird, Dublin.

18th AD Found at Hyderabad;

Treatment of ethnic types with costumes, jewellery, flora, fauna, landscape, and colours;

Example- A Lady with the maid, Vilaval Ragini.

18th- 19th AD Found at Tanjore;

Bold painting and shading techniques;

Use of pure and brilliant colours;

Example- Coronation of Rama in wooden painting

Rajasthani School of Indian Painting 17th AD Region- Malwa;

Use of contrasting colours;

Refinement of drawings;

Example- Ragamala (1680 AD).

17th AD Region- Mewar;

Use of bold colours that were bright and contrasting;

The text of the painting is written in black on the top against the yellow ground;

Example- Aranya Kanda, Saraswati Bhandar

17th AD Region- Bundi;

Red colour brilliant border;

Overlapping and semi-naturalistic trees;

The rising sun in golden colour;

Example- Bhairavi Ragini Painting, Allahabad Museum

18th – 19th AD Region- Kota;

Most of the space is occupied by a hilly Jungle;

Themes of Tiger and Bear hunts are very popular;

Example- Ragin Vasanta.

18th AD Region- Amber/Jaipur;

A fairly large number of portraits of Jaipur Rulers;

Example- Paintings at Jaipur forts and palaces.

17th AD Region- Marwar;

Executed in primitive and vigorous folk style;

Completely uninfluenced by Mughal style;

Example- Ragamala (collection of Kumar Sangram Singh).

17th AD Region- Bikaner;

Have greater Mughal Influence;

Themes of Religion and Court Scenes;

Example- Krishna and Radha Painting.

18th AD Region- Kishangarh;

Delicate drawing and fine modelling of human figures;

Use of nature to a great extent;

Example- Bani Thani (Monalisa of India) by Nihâl Chand and Radha and Krishna of Kishangarh.

Pahari School of Indian Painting 17th AD Region- Basholi;

Vigorous and bold lines;

Strong glowing colours;

Example- Devi rides on a Chariot.

18th AD Region- Guler;

Soft and cool colours;

Inspired by the naturalistic style of the Mughals;

Example- Portrait of Raja Bishen Singh of Guller.

18th AD Region- Kangra;

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 Region- Kullu – Mandi;

Bold drawings;

Use of dark and dull colours;

Has distinct folk character;

Example- The lady and the Crane.

Orissa 18th- 19th AD The outline drawing was rendered with a stylus on the palm leaf;

Charcoal or ink was rubbed on the drawing;

Example- Gita Govind, Palm Leaf Painting.

Folk Paintings of India

Folk Paintings are a visual expression of the shared culture of a certain group of people and include behaviours that are particular to that culture, subculture, or group. Every region of India has its own Indian traditional painting traditions, from prehistoric cave paintings of Bhimbetka to Madhubani, which are claimed to be as old as the Ramayana, to the frescoes of Ajanta and Ellora.

  • Folk Painting in India is the traditional artwork of any community or group that has been handed down through the ages.
  • The Ramayana, MahabharataVedas, Bhagavata Purana, as well as day-to-day village life, birds and animals, and natural objects like the sun, moon, plants, and trees, have a significant effect on Folk Paintings of India.
  • Folk paintings generally use vibrant and natural colours with various natural ground substances.
Indian Traditional Paintings Region Characteristics Of Indian Folk Paintings
Madhubani Bihar (Terai) Bright colours with contrasts or patterns;

Traditionally done by women;

Use of tribal motifs and bright earthly colours.

Warli Maharashtra A vivid expression of daily and social life,

Generally in walls of village houses.

Pattachitra Odisha Painting is done on canvas;

Manifested by rich, colourful motifs and designs;

Mostly mythological depiction.

Kalamezhuthu Kerala Ritualistic art practised in temples and sacred groves of Kerala;

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

Kalighat Eastern India (Calcutta) Use of watercolour on mill paper;

General themes are religion, social sentiments, etc.

Kalamkari Andhra Pradesh Sharp-pointed bamboo as a pen, and the base is cotton fabric;

Vegetable dyes as colours.

Manjusha Bihar, Also known as Snake painting (use of snake motifs);

Painting executed on jute and paper.

Thangka Sikkim Cotton canvas as the base;

Influence of Buddhism;

Use of different colours for different scenes.

Modern Indian Paintings

Only a few small forms of artistic expressions, such as the Bazar and Company styles of painting, persisted when Indian painting as an extension of Indian miniature painting began to fade towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Then there was naturalism, a modern Western idea whose leading proponent was Raja Ravi Verma. A new style of painting that was especially romantic and nostalgic evolved under the inspiring leadership of Abanindranath Tagore as a result of his efforts to stop this cultural confusion. But when we talk about contemporary Indian art, we usually start with the Bengal School of Painting.

  • For well over three decades, the Bengal School of Painting, also referred to as the Revivalist School or the Renaissance School, maintained its dominance.
  • One of the most distinctive features of modern Indian paintings is that the approach and method have acquired new relevance. In New Delhi, the National Gallery of Modern Art has pieces from this time in its collection.
  • A certain lack of innovation, acknowledgement of an interdisciplinary perspective that positions artistic expression in an international rather than a local context, a constructive elevation of technique that has become both common and unquestionable, and the emergence of the artist as a singular person are characteristics of modern or contemporary art.

List of Famous Paintings of India

Paintings are one of the art forms that accurately depict one’s expression and, if correctly evaluated, allow one to comprehend the viewpoint and opinion of the artist towards the subject.

Famous paintings in India, some of which might be a portrait of anybody or anything, thus serve to reflect famous cultures.

Here, we’ll talk about a few famous paintings of India.

Bharat Mata by Abindranath Tagore:

  • This is one of the famous Indian paintings by Abindranath Tagore, which was drawn in 1905 during the independence movement in response to the Partition of Bengal.
  • The painting can be considered as one of the earliest personification/humanizations of the nation as a mother goddess in the form of a lady wearing saffron cloth with four hands, each holding different things, which is a book, sheave of paddy, a white cloth, and a rudraksha mala.
  • Each item the lady is holding can be considered to be representing different cultural practices in India.
  • This famous painting of India has been displayed at Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata.

Shakuntala by Raja Ravi Verma:

  • The painting is the portrait of Shakuntla, one of the characters from Mahabharata who was the mother of Bharata, the emperor who united India under his rule.
  • This Indian painting shows Shakuntala pretending to remove a thorn from her foot while actually looking for her husband, Dushyanta.

Self Portrait by Rabindranath Tagore:

  • Rabindranath Tagore, one of the famous Nobel laureates, started drawing paintings in his 60s.
  • He has drawn many sketches, among which one is a self-portrait that draws the attention of many people.
  • The famous painting of the bearded artist has become very popular today.

Mahisasur by Tyeb Mehta:

  • Tyeb Mehta was a popular Indian artist and filmmaker. During the great span of his career, he has sold many paintings, among which one holds a record for the highest prices.
  • Apart from the highest prices, a famous painting by Tyeb that holds cultural significance is Mahisasur, which shows the goddess Durga locked in an embrace with the Demon.

Three Pujarins by Jamini Roy:

  • Jamini Roy is a well-renowned Indian artist famous for Pattachitra, classical paintings representing Odisha and West Bengal culture.
  • Among many Pattachitra paintings by her, one of the very famous paintings is Three Pujarins which shows three almond-eyed priestesses.
  • The painting represents the social practices and various other points of Indian culture.

Self Portrait by Amrita-Sher-Gil:

  • Amrita-Sher-Gil was a famous Indian Hungarian painter who is regarded as one of the greatest women artists of the early 20th century.
  • Her self-portrait is the one that receives recognition from various parts of India and the world.
  • The painting is considered to be drawn with such intensity it is hypnotic, which draws the viewer towards itself.

Bapuji by Nandalal Bose:

  • The early 20th century was a high time in India for its struggle for freedom against the British Empire, where leaders became an inspiration for many artists who represented them in the form of portraits to motivate many people for India’s Independence.
  • One of the famous paintings was Bapuji, drawn by Nandalal Bose, which shows Gandhiji with a lathi going on Dandi March.
  • The famous painting of India is a sign of respect for Gandhiji Nandala and can be viewed by people at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi.

The Glow of Hope by S.L. Haldankar:

  • This is one of the most famous paintings worldwide. The painting consists of a lady consisting of a lamp in one hand and the other hand covering the lamp.
  • The lady in the painting is the daughter of the painter, who stood there steadily for 3 hours holding the lamp, wearing only a traditional Indian dress, according to some people.
  • The painting can be considered to represent or teach us not to lose hope even during the darkest time.

The above are some of the famous paintings by Indian artists. Apart from these, some other famous Paintings of India that gained worldwide recognition are listed below:

  • John Wilkins’s “Gossip”
  • M. Narayan’s “Indian Ethnic” “Horses” Mother Teresa”
  • MF Hussain’s “Horses-series”
  • Jainul Abedin’s “Series on Bengal Famine”
  • Sudip Roy’s “Charulata Series”
  • Jamini Roy’s “Jesus”
  • Sunil Das’s “Bull Series”
  • Bikash Bhattacharjee’s “Doll series.”
  • Geeta Vadhera’s Jogia “Dhoop series.”
  • Aman Singh Gulati’s “Almond Portraits Series”
  • Rakesh Vijay “Persian and Mogul styles.”
  • B. G. Sharma’s Krishna miniatures
  • ShakthiDass’s
  • Ramkinkar Baij’s “Jakkha 0 Jakkhi”
  • Devajyoti Ray’s “In Despair”
  • Jahar Dasgupta’s “Confrontation”

Indian Paintings UPSC

One of the main artistic expressions used to illustrate India’s rich artistic heritage is Indian paintings. Numerous sources indicate that painting has been practised extensively in India since ancient times. Many locations in India exhibit wall murals that have been uncovered by archaeologists, proving that even early historical civilizations in India were engaged in creative and leisure painting activities.

It is important to study Indian Paintings as the topic is exhaustively covered both in UPSC Prelims and Mains exams. Looking at the UPSC Previous Years Question papers, we have a significant number of questions being asked directly or indirectly related to the famous paintings of India or to the various Indian paintings.

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