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When you go to the market or to a museum you will find many paintings, wall hangings or work done on terracotta. Do you know that these paintings have their origin in our ancient past. They depict the life and customs followed by the people of those times. Literacy records which had a direct bearing on the art of painting show that from very early times painting both secular and religious were considered an important form of artistic expression and was practised. This want for expression may be a terribly basic demand for human survival and it’s taken varied forms since prehistoric times. Painting is one such form with which you may have been acquainted in some way or the other. Indian painting is that the results of the synthesis of assorted traditions and its development is an in progress method. However while adapting to new styles, Indian painting has maintained its distinct character. “Modern Indian painting in thus a reflection of the intermingling of a rich traditional inheritance with modern trends and ideas”.
ANCIENT PERIOD: ORIGIN
Painting as an art form has flourished in India from very early times as is evident from the remains that have been discovered in the caves, and the literary sources. The history of art and painting in India begins with the pre-historic rock painting at Bhimbetka caves wherever we’ve got drawings and paintings of animals. The cave paintings of Narsinghgarh (Maharashtra) show skins of spotted deer left drying. Thousands of years ago, paintings and drawings had already appeared on the seals of Harappan civilization.
Both Hindu and Buddhist literature talk to paintings of varied varieties and techniques as an example, Lepyacitras, lekhacitras and Dhulitcitras.. The first was the representation of folklore, the second one was line drawing and painting on textile while the third one was painting on the floor.
Materials used in the paintings
Different materials were used in different types of paintings. Mention of chitra shalas (art gallery) and Shilpasashtra (technical treatises on art) have been made in literary sources. However, the principal colours used were red ochre (dhaturaga), vivid red (kum kum or sindura), yellow ochre (haritala), indigo (blue) lapis lazuli blue, lampblack (kajjala), chalk white (Khadi Mitti) terra verte (geru mati) and green. All these colours were locally available except lapis lazuli which came from Pakistan. Mixed colours e.g. grey were used on rare occasions. Use of colours were decided by the theme and local atmosphere.
Art in the Modern Period
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries paintings comprised semi westernised local styles which were patronised by British residents and visitors. Themes were generally drawn from Indian social life, popular festivals, and Mughal monuments. These reflected the improvised Mughal traditions. Shaikh Zia-ud-Din’s bird studies for Lady Impey and the portrait paintings of Ghulam Ali Khan for William Fraser and Colonel Skinner are the examples of some excellent paintings of this period.
Gradually some deeper changes took place in the thinking of the English educated urban middle class which began to be reflected in the expressions of the artists. Increasing awareness about British rule, ideals of nationalism and the desire for a national identity led to creations which were distinct from earlier art traditions.
The artistic expression of the Indian people is not limited to painting on canvas or paper only. Decorative painting on walls of homes even in rural areas is a common sight. Rangoli or decorative designs on floor are made for auspicious occasions and pujas whose stylised designs have been passed on from one generation to the other. The designs are called rangoli in the North, alpana in Bengal, Kollam in Tamilnadu and mandana in Madhya Pradesh. Usually rice powder is used for these paintings but coloured powder or flower petals are also used to make them more Colourful.
Mithila painting also known as Madhubani folk art is the traditional art of the Mithila region of Bihar. 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. and Architecture Apart from these women also paint celestial subjects like sun and moon. Tulsi, the holy plant also is to be found in these paintings. They also show court scenes, wedding and social happenings. Drawings in Madhubani pictures are very conceptual. First, the painter thinks and then she “draws her thought”. No pretence is there to describe the figures accurately. Visually they are images that speak in lines and colours and are drawn for some rituals or festivals on household and village walls to mark the seasonal festivals or special events of the life cycle. Intricate flora, animal and birds motifs can also be found along with geometrical designs to fill up the gap. In some cases it is a special practice for mothers to make these art items in advance for their daughters as a marriage gift. These paintings also convey advice on ways to lead a good married life. There is also a social variation in subjects and use of colours. 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. But the technique of painting is safely and zealously guarded by the women of the village to be passed on by the mother to the daughter.
Nowadays Madhubani art is being used as decorative gift items, greeting cards and has become a source of income for local women folk.