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Painting as an art form has flourished in India from very early periods as is evident from literary sources and also from the remnants that have been discovered. Numerous paintings or Patas are mentioned in the Mudrakshaka. There are isolated paintings like the Yama-pata; isolated framed drawings like Cauka-patas and the Dighala-patas or long scroll of paintings, representing a complete legend. In another book Vishnudharmottara, the section Chitrasutra describes the basic tenets of painting. According to this treatise, the six limbs of painting are: variety of form, proportion, infusion of emotions, creation of luster and iridescence, portrayal of likeness and colour mixing to produce the effect of modeling. The Vinayapitaka (3-4 century BC) describes the existence of painted figures in many royal buildings.

Paintings and drawings of animals dating back to prehistoric times have been found in the Bhimbetka caves in Madhya Pradesh. The Mesolithic paintings of Narsingarh ( M.P.) show skins of spotted deer left drying which indicate that man has acquired the art of tanning skins for clothing and shelter. In the paintings of these period musical instruments like the harp figure to show that the awareness of creation of sound and the concept of rhythm had appeared. The paintings of the Mesolithic period contain geometric forms like the spiral, square, circle and rhomboid. A painting from Joanna (M.P.) shows a square divided by vertical lines into compartments.
  Thousands of years later, paintings appear on the seals of the Harappan Civilization. In the early historic rock paintings the animals are depicted as half human and half animal. In the paintings of the later period, men are depicted as riding on cattle and elephants. Battle scenes, royal processions, men riding garrisoned horses predominate the rock canvas as in Mahadeo Hills, M.P. The Ajanta and Ellora caves and the Bagh caves are excellenct specimens of paintings of the early Christian era.
  The Guptas were the great patrons of art and the period 4-6 centuries is often described as the Golden Age of Indian Arts. The Pallavas also left behind excellent examples of paintings in temples. The Cholas promoted both painting and sculpture. The Palas, who ruled the eastern India during 9-16th Centuries A.D. gave immense encouragement to painting. The earliest paintings of this period are on palm leafs and wooden covers of manuscripts. These can be described as the earliest examples of Miniature painting in India.


The pre-historic Bhimbetka paintings were executed on quartzite walls of the rock shelters using minerals for pigments, the most common being ochre or geru mixed with lime or water or other medium. The earliest paintings are of Mesolithic times followed by the Chalcolithic and the historic periods. These paintings, done with the help of thin brushes probably made of twigs, show a myriad of animals and human figures, intricate designs, riders, royal procession, hunting and battle scenes. Majority of paintings are in various shades of red and white apart from some paintings in green and yellow colours. In Mesolithic paintings wild animals and human figures are more common. The animals are shown standing, moving, running, grazing or being hunted singly or collectively. The paintings of the historic period overlap the earlier paintings and depict royal processions, battle scenes and men riding garrisoned horses. Conveying dynamism and movement, these paintings specially of animals, are extremely natural in their depiction. The site was also inhabited during the late historical times as is evident from paintings and writings in


Indian Paintings can be broadly classified as the murals and miniatures. Murals are huge works executed on the walls of solid structures, as in the Ajanta Caves and the Kailashnath temple. Miniature paintings are executed on a very small scale on perishable material such as paper and cloth. The Palas of Bengal were the pioneers of miniature painting in India.  The art of miniature painting reached its glory during the Mughal period. The tradition of miniature paintings was carried forward by the painters of different Rajasthani schools of painting like the Bundi, Kishangarh, Jaipur, Marwar and Mewar. The Ragamala paintings also belong to this school.

Indian paintings provide an aesthetic continuum that extends from the early civilization to the present day. From being essentially religious in purpose in the beginning, Indian painting has evolved over the years to become a fusion of various cultures and traditions.  The Indian painting was exposed to Greco-Roman as well as Iranian and Chinese influences.  Cave paintings in different parts of India bear testimony to these influences and a continuous evolution of new idioms is evident. 




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